Coins and stamps – an insider’s view from a local dealer

Not that many years ago, before the arrival of social media, children would wile away their time collecting stamps and filling albums and looking out for rare-date coins in their change. Pocket guides mentioning items such as the elusive 1950 and 1951 pennies (issued for use in Bermuda) the H and KN branch mint pennies from 1946 and 1949 brass threepences were abundant: we became a nation obsessed with going through change and bags of pennies from the banks looking for valuable rarities. There were coin shows every weekend all over the country. Portobello Road market In London had several dealers in attendance every weekend and Coin Monthly and the Exchange and Martwere popular publications to buy through. There also were coin and stamp shops in almost every town.

Much has changed over the years, although the Royal Mint has done a stellar job in recent years of making the coin collecting hobby come alive again with the issue of rare coins you can still find in circulation. The Kew Gardens fifty pence issued in 2009 is a prime example. These can still be found in circulation from time to time, if you are lucky, and I happily pay £80 a piece for any that are brought into me. Other rarities worth looking out for are the Olympic Games issues, especially the offside football, and the very elusive swimmer with water over the face. The latter commands four figures in good condition as only 200 were believed to have been issued. Another rarity is the 20 pence ‘Mule’ with no date.

But what really excites me is when a collection of coins or stamps that was put together many decades ago gets brought in for me to evaluate, especially coin collections in old paper packets or cabinets, or stamp collections in vintage albums. Just after the WW2, rare high-grade numismatic and philatelic items were readily available at a fraction over face value. Those in the know with money to spend were spoilt for choice. If you browse through leading coin and stamp dealers fixed-price lists from the 50s and early 60s you can see offered for sale mint-state gold five-guinea pieces for £6 each, Oliver Cromwell Crowns for six shillings a piece and more recent crowns for 5s 6d each, including Gothics and the rare Wreaths. Baldwins, one of London’s leading dealers to this day, admit that they melted rare early hammered gold coins during the WW2 just to pay their staff wages – the original furloughing! Nowadays a quality five-guinea piece could command £100,000. Quite a change.

The big shift in coin collecting came in the late 60s when we were about go decimal. This led to a rush to hoard the last issue of half crowns, florins, shillings and pennies dated 1967 as well as commemorative issues such as Churchill Crowns. These have proved to be a really poor investment as they were issued in vast numbers and are readily available. It would have been better to invest in gold sovereigns, which at the time had just been re-issued by the Royal Mint and were available at less than a fiver a piece. Today they command over £300 each.

The second coin boom came at the end of the 90s when life started moving online. All of a sudden coins were readily available with high resolution images and with immediate payment facilities. The coin market hasn’t looked back since,and top-end items continue to grow in popularity and value year on year. As with anything some investments have done (and will do) better than others: as Warren Buffet rightly says, the view through the rear mirror is always clearer than through the windscreen.

Stamps are rather different. The bulk of the collections we get to see are ‘schoolboy’ collections which are hardly ever of value. This is because they were ususally pulled off envelopes, so are common stamps of low value issued for postal use However, we have seen our fair share of really good quality items over the past few months. Some outstanding items come to mind. But I always take the trouble to look at every collection carefully as you never know what may be in them. As a rule of thumb, high denomination early stamps are of high value because they were issued at a time when a letter cost a penny or so to send (the Penny Post: what a great name that is…). As a result, the high-value stamps such as the Victorian £5 Orange and the Pound Browns and Greens are elusive. I have ilustrated some of the coins and stamps you should look out for.

Modern stamps issued in bulk trade below face value: you might be interested to know that we regularly break down large collections and accumulations of modern stamps and sell them below face value for use as discount postage. The market is also awash with first-day covers which were issued in large numbers and which we sell them for 50p each.

A lot of people thought I was brave to open a coin and stamp shop when most were closing as the business was going on-line. It was, however, probably one of the best decisions I ever made. I always welcome collectors, investors, sellers, browsers, or members of the public with any questions or attic finds that they want appraising. I always take time to look at everything carefully and give respect to the collector who often is no longer with us who spent many hours putting his collection together.

I pride myself in paying high prices for material I need and anything brought in that I purchase is going to a really good home. I spend hours going through collections of coins and stamps, and still derive enormous pleasure from doing so.

We are just custodians of these beautiful items. We try and list everything we buy as it comes in on our website with good descriptions and illustrations.

Most of us, somewhere in our house, have a box that contains items from an earlier generation of our family which we’ve inherited and which has moved with us but which we’ve never really examined. This enforced period at home might provide the ideal opportunity to open the lid and have a rootle around inside. If there any stamps or coins among them, put them to one side and, when happier times return, I’ll be delighted to have a look at them for you. You never know what might be hiding there…

Keep collecting and right now, keep safe too.

Nigel Montgomery
The Coin and Stamp Centre
35a High Street Hungerford RG17 0NF

Image shows, left to right: 1951 penny worth £50; 1929 £1 PUC Stamp Mint worth £550; £5 Orange used Victorian stamp currently worth £1,500; Olympic 50p swimmer with water lines over face (finest known example) currently for sale on our website for £4,500; Victoria Penny Black 1840 available on our website from £100.

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