by Al Doyle for CoinWeek.com ..........
Even those who claim to be purist collectors want to buy coins that will grow in value. Predicting tomorrow's winners is a popular topic in numismatic circles, and the choices are usually based on the logical reason of underappreciated rarity and the educated guess of projecting current trends.
How about a coin that may soar in value with little or no demand from experienced collectors? If anything, this recent issue's future fate and potential rests largely in the hands of those who are anything but coin junkies. How can the much-maligned modern commemorative series be the source of what could be a strong performer in the long run?
So what is this sleeper? Despite its erratic performance over the past seven years, the 2005 Marine Corps silver $1 exceeded expectations even before the first piece was struck. The original mintage limit of 500,000 was raised to 600,000 when it became apparent that the coin was going to be a fast seller.
The cartwheel sold out quickly, and many buyers profited when the Marine Corps $1 went as high as $80 in the secondary market. It currently retails in the $45 to $50 range, not much above the original issue price of $39.95.
Why would a coin honoring the 230th anniversary of the smallest of the four branches of the Armed Forces be so popular upon its release? Anyone who has served in the Marine Corps or personally knows "jarheads" can figure out the answer.
No one beats the Marines when it comes to fierce loyalty. If you doubt that, just refer to a Marine who is no longer on active duty as an ex-Marine. Expect to hear an immediate, loud and passionate "There is no such thing as an ex-Marine!" in response. You can call an Army veteran a solider with no repercussions, but that word doesn't apply to a member of the Corps. Only the term "Marine" will do.
When two or more Marines meet, you'll often hear the phrase "Semper fi" when they part. That's a shortened version of semper fidelis, the Marine Corps motto and Latin for "always faithful". Those words are more than a catchy slogan. Marines don't leave fellow Marines behind in combat and will often deal with great risk of life and danger to retrieve a wounded member of the Corps from the battlefield.
That kind of camaraderie and devotion to the USMC remains for decades after a Marine's active duty has ended. It's not that Army, Navy and Air Force veterans don't share their own close kinship, but the Marine experience lends itself to such a mentality.
At 13 weeks, Marine Corps basic training is much longer and more grueling that what is typical in the rest of the U.S. military. Want a tough as nails drill instructor? The first person that comes to mind is a lean, mean Marine in his "Smokey Bear" hat. Famous actor and former Marine drill instructor and staff sergeant R. Lee Ermey is the prototype. After enduring three months of extreme physical training and mental stress, it's no wonder that Marines have their own unique brotherhood.
That mentality shows up in other ways. Marines are expected to be skilled marksmen even if they have a non-combat role. The motto "Every Marine a rifleman" is more than a casual phrase. The acronym POG (pronounced "pogue") refers to "people other than grunts", as in non-combat personnel. It's something of a putdown to those who aren't assigned to infantry or Recon, the elite combat unit of the Corps.
Hoards of the 2005 Marine Corps $1 still exist, and that tends to keep prices down. As those batches of coins gradually diminish - and they most surely will - prices will rise over time.
Since most Marines aren't coin collectors, a surprisingly low percentage of them are even aware of this commemorative. Here's what happens when a Marine finds out about the USMC silver dollar.
I have had the opportunity to give four of the coins to Marine veterans. When the gift is presented, I tell them a bit about the coin. None of them knew of its existence until that moment. The looks on their faces when they saw the large silver disk with the Marine "anchor and globe" emblem were priceless.
The depth of heartfelt thanks and gratitude a Marine displays when they are given a USMC commem is almost beyond words. They wouldn't trade that coin for a quarter-ounce gold Eagle, and you know the cartwheel is off the market until after the Marine goes to his reward.
I'm hardly alone in presenting the Marine Corps silver dollar to these warriors. Counting the two coins given to my oldest children (both Marine corporals), that adds up to six pieces off the secondary market for decades. One generous coin dealer whose father served in the Marines has given more than a dozen pieces to veterans. Multiply that kind of activity across America, and the long-term trend becomes obvious.
Unless a promoter accumulates some stock and publicizes the Marine Corps $1, this is going to remain a subtle, steady and unpretentious run on a modern commemorative. It might take a decade for the trend to be recognized, but buying USMC silver dollars is going to get much tougher as the supply is dispersed. There are no stronger hands for any coin than a 2005 Marine Corps $1 in the paws of an old jarhead. This precious keepsake won't be sold under any circumstances short of total financial ruin.
If you really want to have some fun with coins, give one of these pieces to a Marine and thank him or her for their service in the Corps. It will be an memorable moment.