Everything started already in July 2007, long before the actual founding of the company. The USA was shaken by a real estate crisis. And the Swiss bank UBS had been heavily exposed in this market. The UBS had to write off 21 billion francs in 2007. When Lehmann Brothers went bankrupt, the shares of the once successful major bank plummeted from CHF 70 to just over CHF 10 within a few months. The UBS survived only thanks to a state aid package – the winged word “too big to fail” was invented in this context. Why was this of any importance for numismatics? Well, thanks to this crisis, a highly flexible and innovative auction house emerged, which has changed the numismatic world of Switzerland over the course of the last 10 years.
The Founding of SINCONA
The UBS was one of the few banks that still had a numismatic department operating successfully on the international market. In Basel, Geneva and Zurich, the UBS operated successfully in the gold and precious metal trade and had competence centres for numismatics. In 2008, this department was headed by Jürg Richter, and he saw it threatened by the UBS’s efforts to focus on its core business.
However, his successful department was not simply streamlined away. Instead, the UBS decided to facilitate a management buyout, i.e. the company was taken over by the management. This transition was lengthy, complex and difficult. But on 3 May 2011, SINCONA AG – short for Swiss International Coin Auction AG – was able to go into business. First at the old premises of the UBS, Pelikanstraße 11, right in the centre of Zurich.
SINCONA’s First Auction
Although the first auction was held as early as from 29 June to 1 July of the same year: not everything continued as before. Most importantly, SINCONA had to build its customer list completely from scratch. At the time, many clients didn’t understand why it was necessary to return the letters asking for their address – and were annoyed later because they no longer received the catalogues …
Even though the business with gold, precious metals and numismatic objects boomed due to the banking crisis, it wasn’t easy for Jürg Richter and his team to turn the former banking department into a modern coin dealership.
New Freedoms, New Businesses: The Precious Metals Trade
But it also turned out that this new freedom of operating without a bank in the background enabled the company to pursue completely new areas of business: as early as in February 2013, the SINCONA TRADING AG was founded, a company that focused exclusively on trading in precious metals of all kinds. The experiences made there led to SINCONA starting to hold bullion auctions at special conditions, which have been taking place regularly and with great success since 25 October 2016.
A New Home at the Limmatquai
SINCONA started with four employees, however, the many tasks that needed to be done made it necessary to expand the team and, after only a few months, additional offices had to be rented. But even that location quickly became too small. And, once again, the changes triggered by the banking crisis of 2008 became apparent.
The Zürcher Kantonalbank was downsizing its network of branches and closed the premises at Limmatquai 112. SINCONA was able to take over the location. It was perfect for a coin shop! Located in the centre of Zürich, the premises had many security features and, what’s particularly remarkable: Jürg Richter decided to also take over the large system of safe deposit boxes in the basement. Ever since, SINCONA has offered its customers to store their treasures in these boxes, which aren’t connected to any bank. Obviously they can be accessed 24/7. A huge success! By now, SINCONA had to add additional deposit boxes twice to be able to meet the demand.
Branches in the EU: SINCONA Deutschland, Frankfurter Münzhandlung and Gut Lynt
Jürg Richter has a special talent for bringing innovative minds into his team. Dr Ruedi Kunzmann, a key figure in the world of Swiss numismatics, is only one example for this; and Arne Kirsch, who has worked for major auction houses in Switzerland and Germany, is another example. Among other things, he manages the German branches of SINCONA AG, which are three by now:
- the SINCONA Deutschland GmbH based in Weil am Rhein providing German and European customers with a contact in the EU,
- the Frankfurter Münzhandlung Nachf. GmbH in Frankfurt am Main, which holds high-quality auctions on German soil in collaboration with other coin dealers,
- and the Gut-Lynt GmbH, which is mainly dedicated to online auctions and thus transfers SINCONA’s know-how to the world of the online trade.
Coins, Coins, Coins – And a Record Every Now and Then
By now, SINCONA is holding its 70th auction. The company has become an important global player on the international auction market. Of course, the many impressive collections that have been auctioned off over the past ten years have also contributed to this development.
Everyone interested in Russian coins is probably familiar with the SINCONA Collection. The fact that in CoinsWeekly’s Top Ten Russian Coins there are only two pieces that weren’t part of the SINCONA Collection proves how impressive this material was.
The fact that SINCONA auctioned off important Swiss collections in the last years shouldn’t come as a surprise, however, they also offered paper money and US rarities.
Between Tradition and Innovation
Online auctions, live bidding, websites and state-of-the-art technology: despite all modern technologies, SINCONA is committed to not leaving traditional collectors behind. Thus, almost everything is possible: from paying with cryptocurrency to displaying the most beautiful pieces of your collection in the premises of SINCONA.
For the anniversary, SINCONA gave itself what is probably the most traditional thing you can create for an anniversary and shared it with its customers: the catalogues came with a Festschrift – in German and English. Here you can read our review of the publication.
CoinsWeekly congratulates SINCONA on the 10th anniversary of its founding!
You are a lesson in crisis management, for you demonstrated in 2008 that it’s possible to create something new and exciting in the midst of a crisis.
We wish you many more decades in the numismatic market and that you continue to come up with a wealth of good ideas that energize the numismatic market!
If you want to know what Jürg Richter has published so far, click here.
And here are the books written by Ruedi Kunzmann.
In 2016, Jürg Richter received the Otto Paul Wenger Prize. Here you can read the laudatory speech (in German).
The first entry of our Who’s who was dedicated to Arne Kirsch, who was the president of the IAPN at the time.