*this is loosely translated from the Greek, which has also been interpreted as "Everything changes and nothing stands still"
Things may change less rapidly in the world of coin collecting than in other human endeavors, yet change they will.
This past year has witnessed some remarkable milestones in U.S. copper coins, with important implications for those with an interest in these series:
In most respects, the copper coin market has been holding up very well, and is apparently thriving, along with the markets for U.S. equities and real estate in most places.
However, it is often worthwhile to look beyond the headlines, and get "beneath the surface" in order to understand the dynamics of a complex market. Not every sector of the copper market is on the upswing.
While the stellar collections and high-grade rarities have been grabbing the coin news headlines, another more insidious trend has also emerged. Prices for many rare coins in less-than-flawless condition have languished or even declined recently. What could be causing this apparent contradictory behavior? Here are a couple of thoughts:
Most collectors of early copper are familiar with the Sheldon rarity scale. This logarithmic scale classifies the scarcity of copper coins into eight levels, running from R1 (common, >2000 known) to R8 (unique, 1-3 known). There are a number of early copper coins that have traditionally been highly revered and eagerly sought for being considered scarce (at least R5 or higher, with fewer than 75 examples known). These coins were considered "necessary" for a full collection, and they were sought in all grades for inclusion in collections. But lately, these coins have been pinched on both sides of the economic equation: On the demand side, there are fewer collectors trying to obtain a "full" set, especially a set in low grade. On the supply side, more coins have emerged on ebay and other internet sites. The net effect has been soft demand for these formerly desirable scarce varieties. This is neither good nor bad, but just "the way it is". The driving forces behind this trend do not look like short-term phenomena. This is the new reality with which copper collectors should learn to live.