The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 24, Number 52, December 26, 2021, Article 17


Jeff Garrett published a great article on his NGC blog about the future of live auctions. Here's an excerpt - see the complete article online. -Editor

Online auction gavel on keyboard Nearly every company with a substantial web presence has been experiencing a massive increase in business, including rare coin auction companies. Billions of dollars trade hands each year through online auctions, and for the first time, most of it is online only.

One of my favorite numismatic stories of the distant past is about the legendary collector John J. Pittman. In the 1950s, he desperately wanted to purchase an example of the extremely rare 1854 Type-2 Gold Dollar Proof being sold at auction. When the coin came up for sale, he famously stood facing the audience with his hand raised in the air like the Statue of Liberty. This intimidating tactic worked, and he purchased the coin. The coin stayed in his collection for his entire life and was sold after his death. I later had the privilege of selling this coin to the legendary collector Del Loy Hanson.

If the coin were to be sold today, John J. Pittman would probably be facing an empty room. His scare tactic would not work, as most important buyers are now bidding from the comfort of their home or office.

Brian Kendrella, President of Stack's Bowers Galleries:

Regarding live auctions at coin shows, we have heard almost unanimous appreciation for the change to holding the auctions after the show. In today's robust market, it is too much for even the most efficient dealer or collector to successfully manage the bourse, lot viewing and auction. Moving the auction to the days after the show allows for those attending to comfortably do their bourse activity and lot view. I also believe this strategy leads to more bids and higher prices as collectors and dealers aren't distracted by other numismatic activities while the auction is happening.

Even pre-COVID, we saw fewer and fewer of our clients bid live on the auction floor. The bidders who would traditionally bid live, were now doing so from the comfort of their hotel room or while at dinner with friends. Our live bidding technology is so good, so easy and convenient, that even the few who did bid in the auction room, many did so from their laptop or phone!

John Brush, President of David Lawrence Rare Coins:

At DLRC we ran a trio of live auctions for the Richmond Collection in 2004 to 2005 that totaled around $24 million — at the time, one of the highest dollar amounts ever realized for a single collection. While we have the technology to run a live auction at any time, we've found that there are many unnecessary expenses that go along with live auctions that simply take money out of the buyer's and seller's pockets. Furthermore, the results of internet auctions over the past 5 to 10 years and, more recently, the results of the COVID-19 pandemic have proven that the live auction experience isn't really necessary. Coins can be displayed, viewed and bid on outside of the live auction event, which shows us that technology is far more important now.

At DLRC, we've focused on photography, live interactive experiences with coins with nuTilt imaging solutions and improving customer service overall, as these are the factors that drive results. While I often attend live auctions when bidding on coins for the Hansen Collection, I often find myself to be nearly the only person in a large room that is actively bidding. For better or worse, these long, lonely nights with the auctioneer are becoming less necessary with the more nimble arena of internet auctions.

Ian Russell, President of GreatCollections Coin Auctions:

At GreatCollections, while all of the bidding process happens online, we still have live viewing of the coins, with clients flying in every week to view at our office, and we show coins at many of the major shows. We find this is the best of both worlds. The internet opens up coin auctions to the world (we have bidders participating from 20 to 30 different countries EVERY week). We also offer our opinions by phone or email from one of our experts — so we can pull the coin from our vaults and discuss it with a potential bidder in real-time, giving our honest opinion about every aspect of the coin.

I remember the first six-figure coin that we sold to a brand-new bidder in our first year of business. He never viewed the coin and relied upon our images. This gave me an insight into the future of GreatCollections, as we were never planning to sell a lot of coins over $10,000 to $20,000 back when I worked on a business plan in early 2011.

I knew that imaging technology was the most important aspect; we spent a significant amount of time working out how to take "real" images, showing the coins how they are in your hand. We never enhance images to artificially make them better, which is common practice on websites with very little numismatic oversight (like eBay, Amazon, etc.).

To read the complete article, see:
Jeff Garrett: The Future of Live Auctions (

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Wayne Homren, Editor

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