'I was a stockbroker, and my hobby was coin collecting'
Ian Goldbart, Managing Director of the respected numismatists Baldwin's, speaks to us exclusively
Ian Goldbart was a stockbroker for over 20 years until his life-long passion for coin collecting became a full-time job.
Today, Ian is Managing Director of AH Baldwin & Sons Ltd. Baldwin's is one of the oldest and most respected numismatists in the world, having been founded in 1872.
Ian played an instrumental role in bringing Noble Investments (UK) PLC, the stock market quoted company, and Baldwin's together in 2005 and integrating the two businesses.
Since that acquisition, he has presided over the expansion and diversification of the group into other areas of the Collectibles industry, such as stamps through the acquisition of Apex Philatelics Ltd in 2008.
Ian kindly took time out to talk to Paul Fraser Collectibles about his passion for numismatics, and why he has yet to go searching for rare coins with a bucket and spade...
What first attracted you to collectible coins?
As a youngster, I was always interested in history and, at the age of 12, was introduced to someone who collected coins. My father bought me a George III, 1797 Cartwheel Two pence for £5 in 1976 and that started my collection.
The thought of being able to hold a coin in your hand that was circulating during the times of Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Alfred the Great or Oliver Cromwell really appealed to me. It still does, some 34 years later! There aren't many hobbies that can boast that ability.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
For nearly 25 years my profession was as a stockbroker and my hobby was coin collecting. For the last seven years I have had the rare privilege of turning my hobby into my profession.
We are a quoted company so don't tell our 600 shareholders, but there are very few people in the world who are lucky enough to find themselves in a job for which they have a true passion!
What are the greatest challenges of your job?
Great Britain is a small island and the greatest challenge is to continue to expand globally whilst controlling costs, remaining efficient, and without losing that personal relationship with both customers and staff.
Everyone works extremely hard at Baldwin's and Apex. Running a retail business from London, whilst attending fairs all over the world and holding our own auctions in London, Lingfield, New York and Hong Kong requires great dedication for our team of specialists. Sometimes, you find yourself wearing many hats and having to be a 'Jack of all trades' in a small business.
How do you see the growth of Baldwin's business moving forward?
Historically, the growth has been organic and through acquisitions. I see that process continuing, assisted by a careful diversification in to other areas of collectibles.
How does Baldwin's stand apart from its competitors?
I think it is now generally accepted to be the largest numismatic house in Britain, with by far the strongest and safest balance amongst its peers.
The ability not only to offer to auction significant collections in London, New York or Hong Kong, but also buy these collections outright, sets us apart from all our peers. Our specialists are well respected globally not only for their knowledge but also for their integrity and honesty.
In addition, we travel all over the world viewing and bidding at auctions on behalf of our clients and sourcing individual coins or complete collections. To offer our clients this complete advisory package sets us apart.
What is the key to the overriding success of Baldwin's?
I believe that every member of our team has a passion for what they do [and] believe that they work for the best numismatic house in Britain.
We offer our clients unrivalled access to auctions all over the globe and probably the most diversified and largest choice of stock in the world, such as the unique Edward VIII 1937 Matt Proof Florin (pictured below).
I truly believe everyone here is proud of what we do at Baldwin's.
Given the huge rise in interest of Chinese-related art collectibles, you must be very excited about your forthcoming Hong Kong Coin Auction on February 25, 2010. What are your predictions for this sale?
This will be our 48th Far East auction catalogue and Baldwin's has been holding auctions in the Far East for over 15 years.
As the business had been growing steadily, a decision was made in 2007 to expand the Hong Kong auction to twice a year and co-host the Hong Kong Coin Fair too. The August auction still remains our major Hong Kong event but this February's auction and fair has once again created lots of interest.
Have you seen, or do you see, an influx of collectors from any other particular countries or nations?
What we have noticed - and it could certainly be partly attributed to the recent economic turmoil - is a steady but growing stream of new collectors from all over the world.
The number and sizes of coin auctions and fairs throughout the world has grown, and [coin collecting] now has a substantial global turnover.
The Chinese and Indian collectors are vast in number, as are the Americans. Russian and Middle Eastern collectors are buying up important coins to repatriate their heritage.
Two examples of this would be the excessively rare Abbasid, Al-Radi gold 5 Dinar and silver 5 Dirham, both Year 325th from Madinat al-Salam (each pictured below).
Do you have any hot tips for the year ahead? Are there any new trends emerging or any particular items to look out for?
Whilst you can still obtain virtually mint state gold coins that are 1,000 years old for the low hundreds of pounds, I believe there remain plenty of opportunities for those who are prepared to take a medium or preferably, long term view. In addition, the beauty of coins is that you don't have to have a deep pocket to start collecting.
What is the most memorable item you have seen sold at auction?
There are many items but the unique Charles I (1625-1649) gold Triple Unite (pictured below) is certainly amongst them. The Triple Unite, at 60 shillings, was the largest denomination hammered gold coin ever struck in England.
This unique example was struck by Abraham Van Der Dort, who came to England in 1609 from Holland. In 1625, he was appointed by King Charles I to make pattern or trial coinage for England.
This coin fetched over £240,000 at our auction in 2006.
And the oldest or rarest item you have come across?
There is a myth that the older the coin, the rarer or more valuable it is. This is not the case, as we sell 2,000 year old coins for £20 and 20th century coins for tens of thousands.
The record for a coin is still over US$7.5m for a 1933 gold $20 or Double Eagle.
In late 2008, Baldwin's produced the catalogue for auction containing the Elizabeth of Russia, gold Twenty Roubles of 1755 that fetched a world record price, for a non-US coin, of over £1.7m.
And that, it could be argued, was at the height of the global financial meltdown!
My favourite coin acquired by Baldwin's still remains the Edward III, Double Florin or Double Leopard (pictured below) only struck between January and July 1344. It was minted as the first real attempt for England to produce a gold coinage acceptable throughout Europe... perhaps a forerunner of today's Euro!
Only three are known to have survived. The other two have been in the British Museum for nearly 150 years.
Do you personally participate in the search of coins? Have you discovered any valuable items?
I've never taken a bucket and spade to the countryside to search for a coin, although I would probably enjoy it. I do like to search and find coins that have errors, such as incorrect spellings or overdates.
Are you a collector? If so, what do you collect?
I did collect English coins minted between the 14th and 19th century but nowadays I don't really have the time so I tend just to buy a few coins periodically for my young children and stick them away in a vault, on their behalf, for the long term.
What is your advice for someone starting out in coin collecting?
Quality is far more important than quantity especially if you are also hoping that your collection could turn out to be a sound investment.
Obviously, try to buy and sell through reputable dealers who are members of an organisation that guarantee the item is genuine.
Collect for the long term and collect a period or a country that excites you. That could be ancient Roman or Greek, Anglo Saxon, Renaissance Italian, English Civil War (see above) or Napoleonic.
Perhaps, try to have a theme to your collection, as a theme can be more interesting than a collection that has no thread throughout it.
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