Metals Market Report Archive

The Mike Fuljenz Metals Market Report

February 2017 – Week 4 Edition

No Big Blunders Among Oscar-Winning Collectors

Millions of ordinary people read gossip magazines week after week, from cover to cover. Celebrities fascinate Americans, especially after two major blunders at the Academy Awards last Sunday night.  Nearly 33 million watched the Oscars telecast. The two big blunders included a mistaken envelope for Best Picture and the unfortunate photo of a living person accompanying those honored “In Memoriam.”

The lavish dresses adorning actresses on the Red Carpet are equally fascinating to followers of movie lore.  In fact, Hollywood collectibles are highly desirable, like Judy Garland’s ruby slippers or blue cotton dress from “The Wizard of Oz” … or James Bond’s Aston Martin DB5 from “Goldfinger” … or the DeLorean DMC-12 from “Back to the Future,” which made a cameo appearance on the Oscars telecast.

Less publicized but no less intriguing is the fact that celebrities themselves frequently collect items that appeal to them, such as objects related to the fields in which they are famous – like props from movies in which they have appeared.  In other cases, famous actors pursue collectibles in totally unrelated areas.

Oscar-winning actor Nicolas Cage assembled a fantastic collection of vintage comic books.  In 2011, when he sold his most prized comics at a major online auction, its star attraction – a nearly pristine copy of Action Comics No. 1, where Superman first appeared – brought a record price of over $2.16 million.  Cage had purchased the comic in 1997 for just $110,000.  In addition, Oscar-winning actress Angelina Jolie is a prominent collector of such diverse objects as rare knives and daggers and first-edition books.

The collectibles coveted by celebrities can be totally unrelated to their careers – sometimes wildly so.  Swashbuckling movie star Johnny Depp – nominated for three Academy Awards as Best Actor – collects rare insects, for example.  Jay Leno – who turned down an offer to host the Oscars – certainly could have arrived on the Red Carpet in style: He owns a world-class collection of classic cars and motorcycles, including a Lamborghini Miura, a Jaguar XKE, a Shelby Mustang GT 350, Bugattis and Duesenbergs.

Celebrity Coin Collectors Include Several Oscar Winners

Not surprisingly, many celebrities are active – even ardent – coin collectors.  This makes perfect sense, since men – and lately women – of fame, wealth and power have found rare coins fascinating and desirable down through the centuries.  Indeed, the pursuit of coins came to be known in bygone days as “The Hobby of Kings” because its adherents included so many monarchs and other members of nobility.

Some coin collectors from the Oscar-winning list include “Stardust” songwriter Hoagy Carmichael, who won an Oscar for best song in 1951, Academy Award-winning actress Nicole Kidman, and actor James Earl Jones, who won an honorary Oscar and has provided the distinctive deep baritone voice of Darth Vader in the “Star Wars” movies.  (He was also nominated for Best Actor in 1971 for “The Great White Hope.”) In the TV world, Emmy-winning actor John Larroquette is also a noted coin collector.

Jerome Kern, one of the most famous composers of American popular music, won two Oscars for Best Song in the movies (for “The Way You Look Tonight” in 1936 and 1941’s “The Last Time I Saw Paris”).  He was nominated for five other songs.  Before the Oscars were born he wrote multiple hits for Showboat in 1927, including “Old Man River.”  He is also ranked among the greatest collectors of U.S. coins.  Kern had an eye for “hit” collectibles in several categories, including rare books (prior to 1928), then rare coins and stamps in the 1930s. He was introduced to coin-collecting by Clint Hester, his masseur, who was also Chairman of the American Numismatic Society in New York. Hester later said, “he didn’t know a George IV florin from a quarter when I first got him interested. Now he’s the canniest coin buyer in the country.” It wasn’t long before Kern had one of the most valuable numismatic collections in the country.  His Show Boat full of rarities included an Ultra-High-Relief 1907 Saint-Gaudens double eagle, a gem proof 1842 small-date Liberty Seated quarter and a complete four-coin set of 1879 and 1880 stellas.

Five years after Kern’s death, legendary Texas coin dealer B. Max Mehl sold the Kern collection at a glittering auction in 1950.  It was billed as the “Golden Jubilee Sale,” but Kern’s coins were clearly the stars of this major event. Mehl made this clear when he noted that its centerpiece was “the Magnificent Collection of United States Gold and Silver Coins of the Late Eminent Composer Jerome David Kern.”

Actor Buddy Ebsen never won an Oscar but his first film, “Broadway Melody of 1936” was nominated for three Oscars (including “Best Picture”) and it won an Oscar for Best Dance Direction.  That was when Buddy was best known as a dancer.  Later, he struck it rich on “The Beverly Hillbillies” as Jed Clampett, a country bumpkin who moves his hayseed family to La La Land after oil is discovered on their rustic property, turning them into millionaires overnight.  Ebsen, who was far from a hick off-screen, reaped a real-life windfall from rare coins.  Over the years, he assembled an exceptional collection of U.S. coins, which brought more than $7.6 million when it was sold at a glittering West Coast auction in 1987.

In one ironic “Beverly Hillbillies” episode, Jed Clampett scoffs when told that a collector paid $12,000 for a dime – the ultra-rare 1894-S Barber dime.  “He got slickered,” Jed tells Mr. Drysdale, his greedy banker-neighbor, who is trying to get him interested in the hobby. “A dime is only worth 10 cents,” he said, adding: “If he put that dime in one of those candy machines, would he get $12,000 worth of candy?”

Ebsen had no doubt about the value of that particular ultra-rare Barber dime at the time the episode aired in 1964.  He was not only an avid collector but he was also a serious student of the hobby and an active participant in organized numismatics.  In fact, he co-founded the Beverly Hills Coin Club.  His personal collection included a complete gold type set, a set of the Panama-Pacific commemorative coins in their original copper frame and a gem proof 1879 coiled hair stella (a pattern $4 gold piece).

Film director-actress Penny Marshall, who starred in TV’s “Laverne & Shirley” show, could have been nominated for Best Director for “Big” or “Awakenings” (each of which was nominated for multiple Oscars).  She is also a prominent coin collector – almost as much by birth as by environment.  In fact, she was named for a coin.  Marshall told an interviewer in 2002 that she was named “Penny” to mollify her brothers, who were saving their pennies for a pony, “but got a baby sister instead.”

Sports Stars Also Sport Great Coin Collections

Former pro football star Gregg Bingham began his love affair with rare and beautiful coins in 1973, his rookie year with the Houston Oilers of the National Football League, when he “wandered into” a local coin shop.  As a self-described “big history buff,” he was captivated by the rich historical background of U.S. coinage – especially commemorative coins. He built a first-rate collection of coins, as well as an extensive store of knowledge, throughout his distinguished 12-year career as an Oilers middle linebacker.

Upon retirement, Bingham devoted even more time to coins while operating a string of car service centers in the Houston area. From his earliest days, he acquired only coins of pristine quality.  And Bingham is regarded as one of the shrewdest, best-informed buyers in the rare coin marketplace. Today, his multiple sets of beautifully toned pre-1955 U.S. commemoratives are considered some of the finest in existence.

Other famous athletes known to collect coins are ice hockey legend Wayne Gretzky, baseball slugger Andre Dawson and flamboyant basketball rebounder Dennis Rodman.  The late Dr. Jerry Buss, former owner of the Los Angeles Lakers basketball team, collected coins for 40 years. During that time, he acquired such rarities as a 1913 Liberty Head nickel, an 1894-S Barber dime and a Class III 1804 silver dollar.  He authorized the purchase of these three coins at a single stroke, in fact, simply by signing a hot dog napkin.  Buss sold his coins at auction in 1985 after deciding he didn’t have sufficient time for them.

Sportscaster Chris Schenkel became synonymous with professional bowling during two decades of covering its Saturday afternoon tournaments.  He also gave voice to such diverse events as the storied 1958 NFL title game, in which the Baltimore Colts edged the New York Giants, and the flawless (perfect 10) performance of Romanian gymnast Nadia Comănici at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal.

Schenkel was far more than a casual collector.  Indeed, he collected rare objects that some might consider esoteric, such as Indian Peace medals, Hard Times tokens and U.S. Assay Commission medals.  He also collected commemorative coins and other mainstream material, including a stunning set of early U.S. quarters.  When he sold his collection at a 1990 auction, it filled a 436-page catalog with 3,404 lots.

Now-retired talk-show host Bruce Williams attracted a large following with his common-sense advice on personal finance and myriad other matters of concern to his nationally syndicated radio program. At one time, his ratings were second only to Rush Limbaugh. Just as his advice covered a broad spectrum, Williams is a collector with wide-ranging interests, including Disney memorabilia. Rare coins also figure prominently in the mix.  He admits to spending over $30,000 apiece for coins that caught his fancy.

The Hobby of Kings

In the days when rare coins were the province of kings, one of the hobby’s most illustrious practitioners was France’s “Sun King,” Louis XIV.  Louis paid regular daily visits to the French Royal Coin Collection, and once remarked that he could “always find something new to learn.”

Perhaps the most learned of all royal collectors, from a numismatic standpoint, was Italy’s King Victor Emmanuel III.  More than just a collector, Victor Emmanuel was a true scholar who considered coins his life’s greatest passion.  Upon his abdication in 1946, he donated his vast collection – over 100,000 coins, from ancient times to modern – to the people of Italy. He also gave a priceless gift to coin collectors everywhere: a 20-volume catalog of Italian coins through the centuries, which took him 12 years to write.

Unlike Victor Emmanuel, Egypt’s King Farouk had relatively little interest in a coin’s historical significance.  He took great interest, though, in their rarity and value, diverting huge sums of money from his nation’s treasury to his personal collection.  Eventually, Egyptian military leaders, weary of Farouk’s extravagant expenditures and dissolute lifestyle, forced him to abdicate in 1952.  Two years later, they arranged for a now-famous auction to dispose of his bloated (disorganized but enormous) coin collection

The Farouk Collection contained a number of great rarities, including a 1913 Liberty Head nickel and a 1933 Saint-Gaudens double eagle, which the king had acquired in 1944 with the help of a U.S. export license authorized by the U.S. State Department in deference to his status as a World War II ally.  The double eagle was sold at an auction in 2002 for $7.59 million – a figure that stood for more than a decade as the highest price ever paid for a U.S. coin.  It’s the only example of the rare 1933 Saint-Gaudens double eagle recognized as legal by the U.S. government – thanks to that 1944 export license.

America doesn’t have kings, but John Quincy Adams was the only U.S. president known to have been a serious collector of rare coins – though others undoubtedly dabbled in the hobby and some, including Thomas Jefferson and Franklin D. Roosevelt, are said to have had a more than passing interest in coins. 

Foreign leaders of recent years who have been identified as coin enthusiasts include former Israeli Prime Minister Moshe Dayan and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

In modern times, “The Hobby of Kings” has morphed into “The King of Hobbies” as broader distribution of wealth has permitted people of less-than-regal means to enjoy its many pleasures and rewards.  At the height of public interest in the 50 State Quarters program, the U.S. Mint estimated that upwards of 140 million Americans – nearly half the population – were actively collecting coins on at least a limited basis.

Impressed by coin collecting’s mass appeal to the public, the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History opened a new exhibit area devoted to numismatics, amounting to more than triple the size previously devoted to the subject. This has become a top attraction for coin enthusiasts visiting Washington, D.C., and serves as an engrossing introduction to the hobby for multitudes of non-collectors.

Still, amid the mass appeal of modern-day collecting, it’s reassuring to know that rare coins retain the same kind of allure for today’s celebrities – including Oscar winners – as they held for history’s nobility.  And it’s nice to know that people of moderate means share this common bond with the rich and famous.

Gold Hit New 2017 Highs

Gold hit new 2017 highs last week, leaping above the previous resistance level at $1,242 to reach $1,247 on Thursday and then $1,260 on Friday before settling the week at $1,257, up 1.5% for the week and 8.5% for the year to date.  Gold and silver continued their strong move on Monday, February 27, with gold rising to $1,265 and silver to $18.50, before correcting at the end of the day, to $1,252 and $18.30.


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