Ancient coin investment has surged post-pandemic — here's why

Interest in ancient coin investment has surged post-pandemic — here’s why

Interest in ancient coin investment has surged post-pandemic — here’s why

One unlikely effect of the pandemic is a surge in the market for ancient coins, says Rory Sachs

To mark the Platinum Jubilee, the Royal Mint has designed a brand new 50 pence piece, adorned on one side with the immediately recognisable royal cypher ‘ER’ and a stylised ‘70’ to mark the anniversary. A maximum mintage of 5,000,070 of these could enter circulation to celebrate the milestone, making the everyday artefacts interesting but unlikely to have much appeal to serious collectors.

The same cannot be said for all the Royal Mint’s Platinum Jubilee projects, however. As part of a wider precious metals collection to honour the occasion, a handful of golden coins have been rendered in solid gold – two of which weigh 5kg each and have a notional denomination of £5,000. At the time of writing, one of these is still available for the guide price of £385,200.

Clare Maclennan, the Royal Mint’s director of commemorative coins, says enthusiasm for the gilded pieces of specie has come from collectors scattered across Asia, the US and Australia. ‘They collect because they are avid numismatists,’ she says. ‘There has been such a buzz and excitement around the collection.’

According to Richard Beale, managing director of Roma Numismatics, the rare gold issues can be a hedge against market volatility and inflation but tend to be favoured by royal collectors.

‘You typically don’t find them coming back into auctions,’ he says. ‘They don’t command the kind of premium… that older coins struck specifically for circulation do.’ Olivier Stocker, a former JP Morgan banker who heads the auction house Spink & Son, echoes this sentiment. But he admits that they might be interesting to collectors ‘in a few hundred years’.

Beale says the market for collectable coins has surged since the pandemic began. One coin left unwanted at £1,600 in 2019 sold for more than £10,000 in March 2020. ‘People who did particularly well in cryptocurrencies or on the stock market, they’ve had extra disposable income,’ he says, which brought them to auctions. Lockdown, inevitably, also stoked curiosity among investors facing ‘a certain amount of boredom’.

Another quirk of UK coin collecting arises from the Treasure Act 1996. Most pieces found through formalised archaeological endeavours will never hit the market, but when hobbyists unearth one-off artefacts, Beale says the law promotes responsible trawling. One detectorist recently visited him with a small leather box containing five Roman gold coins. The most expensive eventually fetched £50,000 at auction.

As an alternative investment, rare coins can boast impressive performance, ‘beating the FTSE100 in terms of their returns’, according to Beale. ‘Buying rare coins and other physical assets, you know, you’ve always got something real, something tangible.’ Of a 13th-century golden penny sold by Spink for £648,000 in January, Stocker says: ‘We know that 80,000 or so were minted by King Henry III, but they were all melted back to make other coins. So only a handful survived from the 80,000 originally minted in 1257. That’s why they are rare.’

But for HNWs curious about collecting, Stocker suggests it remain first and foremost a passion. ‘Enjoy your coins – don’t do it solely for investments,’ he says. When a customer comes to the auction house, just a few yards from the British Museum, he tells them: ‘I will send you ten books. And I want you to get a feel, and then we will talk.’ Beale agrees. Proper research will ‘help their decision making along very considerably… so buy the books’, he affirms. ‘And find a reliable source.’

Image: Spick & Sons