Changes at the London coin market

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by Ursula Kampmann
translated by Christina Schlögl

6 October 2016 –“I want to deal with coins again, meet collectors and discuss numismatics with them. I want to have an old-fashioned numismatic dealership, offering a great stock of top-quality coins to its customers. We will surely hold auctions in due course but with less frequency, as our primary raison d’etre will focus on retail.” That is Ian Goldbart’s own description of his plans for Sovereign Rarities, the numismatic dealership he founded in April 2016.

Relating Ian Goldbart to a small numismatic dealership will surprise insiders of the international coin market. After all, this former stockbroker and collector has stirred up the traditional auction business quite a bit. He came up with the idea of a listed company that would assemble high-class auction houses of different branches under one roof. Goldbart founded Noble Investments, which bought the traditional English auction house Baldwin for GBP 4.5 Mio in 2005 and thus covered numismatics. In 2008, Apex Philatelics followed as an auction house of the stamp market for GBP 1.25 Mio. In 2012, Noble Investments bought The Fine Art Auction Group for GPB 5.5 Mio. With that step, the group became active on the art market. It is an impressive portfolio, but Ian Goldbart discloses: „There was no other way. We were a listed company. Investors simply expected us to expand. Since this was not possible on the coin market, we looked for other branches.”

The investment market was actually convinced by the concept. In 2013, the Stanley Gibbons Group bought Noble Investments for the striking amount of GBP 42 Mio. They were honoured with the “Deal of the Year”-award for it.

With Stanley Gibbons taking over however, the company conglomerate was now lead by people, who were not familiar with the passions and imponderables the collector’s market entails. Collectors cannot easily be crammed into quarterly predictions. And employees at Baldwin were suddenly faced with the question, how much they thought they could buy in the next quarter and which total hammer price could be expected for the coming auction. What counted now, were the expectations of potential shareholders and it must have been somewhat difficult to convey to them, that the collector’s market works a lot differently than a bank or an automobile brand.

The result of this development is a change of staff who decide to go back to small, manageable units. (Ian Goldbart is just one example, Stephan Ludwig is another. Stephan Ludwig was a founding member of “The Fine Art Auction Group”, an auction house specialised in different sorts of art objects. In 2012, “The Fine Art Auction Group” had been bought by Noble Investments. Stephan Ludwig stayed at Stanley Gibbons until 2015 and started his own independent auction house under the name Forum Auctions in May 2016 – just like Ian Goldbart has.

The question arises, whether the collector’s market is well-suited for investors without passion for this same collector’s market. Ian Goldbart is optimistic: „I think there is room for both the Baldwins of the coin market and small firms like Sovereign Rarities. I wish my colleagues at Baldwin great success. ‘It would be sad if long established firms like Baldwin’s did not still flourish’.

You will find two articles about the latest changes at Stanley Gibbons Group in the Antiques Trade Gazette: Five members of Baldwin’s staff leave Stanley Gibbons Group and join Ian Goldbart’s new business and New senior team appointed to Dreweatts.