South-East Asian numismatics market

Scott Semans
        We are still filling orders from our Price List 60, but it is clear that China is by far the most popular section. Usually it is a balance between the three "axes" of my business: China, India, and Southeast Asia. The demand for modern (struck) China is down from my last list three years ago, and I think this reflects a weaker market in Taiwan. But I had one very active customer who is a collector and investor and he took the entire listing. The demand for ancient China is just as strong as 3 years ago and sales have been strong across the whole range of my offerings; actually, strongest at either end with both the knife monies and the Hsien-feng multiples nearly sold out now. Sales have been widely dispersed, with plenty of customers taking just one or two "cash" in with an order for unrelated Asian and modern coins, as well as many others whose purchases are focused on one or two dynasties or series.

        The sales of the amulets were a little weaker than I expected, but these are the very commonest ones, and not illustrated in the list, so it is understandable. Coins often come up in hoards, and dealers who do not specialize in China will often have just the same few types over and over. Amulets, on the other hand, typically come in broad mixtures. After a collector has the 30-40 common themes of the late Ch'ing series, there are hundreds more that come along singly and just about every collector except the most advanced will need them. Since most dealers don't know what is common and what is unusual, the amulet collector will not experience the phenomenon, typical for coins, of paying more for each new unit as he advances from common to rare items. Since there is no really comprehensive or widely available catalog on the series, and especially none with pricing for non-specialists to rely on, many dealers do not bother to offer amulets by mailorder, or only the commoner ones found in old books like Remmelts. This gives the advantage to collectors in certain urban centers where there are regular coin shows, or clubs, or shops. Now the advantage will shift to those who are computer- savvy, as cheaper memory and falling prices on digital cameras and scanners should bring more material forward, encouraging collector-to-collector exchanges as well as the usual collector-to-dealer route.

        I am often asked to estimate how many collectors there are for China coins, or amulets, etc. I code my customers' interests into a database, both from what I observe of their orders, their own statements, and information from other dealers when I purchase or rent their mailing lists. It is not well known, and I have not been active at it, but I do rent collector names to other dealers (but not my "unique" customers, ones not found in public sources such as clubs & rented lists). My database has about 12,000 names, but excluding dealers, people with no known address, and likely inactive names, it is about 4,000 names. In fact I mail my general Asia list to about 2,000, and will work this down to about 1,000 as the inactive names become apparent. Many full-time dealers of several years experience have mailing lists in the 800-1000 range, and 200-500 is common for part-time and more specialized dealers. The following figures are based on those 4000, but keeping in mind 1) some are inactive, 2) some are not coded by what they collect, and 3) dealers are excluded, yet many of them are collectors too. The database is already skewed toward Asia collectors, but of course includes very few "homeland" names, that is, people in Hong Kong, China, Taiwan who collect China coins but don't bother with overseas dealers. And, of course, there are surely many China collectors in the U.S., Europe unknown to me, so this is just a basis to begin an estimate. Here are the figures I get: Modern China collectors: 492; Ancient China collectors 394; Sycee 30; China Exonumia 47; Amulets - including Vietnam, Korea, etc. 63; All China, eliminating overlaps 635; Modern Japan 95; modern Vietnam & FIC 118; Vietnam cash 55; modern Korea 41; Korea cash 54; All cash collectors 438; Knife, spade & cowrie collectors 74; China book buyers 98, but many book buyers not coded by topic; All book buyers 625. By comparison India ~410, though I have more dealer competition for India than for Far East.

        The number of cash collectors is only 44 higher than China cash collectors, so most who collect Korea or Vietnam cash also collect China cash. Also, I've rarely offered amulets, and seldom better ones (to learn who really collects them), so I think the true number is higher.

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