The Coin Analyst: The U.S. Mint’s Spring 2012 Coin Program
by Louis Golino for CoinWeek
In the past couple of weeks the U.S. Mint has finally started to put some bones on its upcoming product release schedule after a couple of months of leaving collectors largely in the dark about its plans for this year’s coins, as discussed recently in this column .
The Mint has also provided information on release dates and pricing for many forthcoming releases for this spring.
Earlier this month the Mint launched the Star Spangled Banner commemorative coins, which are selling well, and the 2012 $50 Buffalo proof gold coin. The Mint is still selling the 2011 Buffaloes as well. That coin has sold about 26,000 pieces so far, making it the second lowest mintage coin after the 2008 issue.
At last week’s Whitman Expo in Baltimore, Maryland, there was a display of Star-Spangled Banner coins. The coins celebrate the writing of our national anthem at the end of the War of 1812, which is also known as the Battle of Baltimore.
So far, 74,792 Star Spangled Banner proof silver dollars have been sold plus 26,739 uncirculated dollars. These coins have a maximum authorized mintage of 500,000 coins.
And the $5 commemorative has sold 11,400 units of the proof version but only 2,957 of the uncirculated. The uncirculated gold coin could end up being a low mintage coin, but it is far too soon to say since sales will continue until mid-December unless the coins sell out before then of their maximum authorized mintage of 100,000.
In addition, on April 12 the Mint will begin accepting orders for the American silver eagle proof dollar, which is one of the most popular Mint products of the past 25 years. Last year this coin sold 850,000 units.
Dollar coins coming
On April 5 the first Presidential dollar of the year, the Chester A. Arthur coin, which has been delayed since February, will be released. And on April 26 the 2012 Native American dollar, which for the first time features a male Indian in Native headdress. The design of this coin has received widespread acclaim, so much so in fact that many collectors would like to see it on a larger coin made of a precious metal.
Classic American coins, especially Buffalo nickels and the quarter and half eagle gold coins designed by Bela Lyon Pratt, feature some very popular and iconic images of Native Americans. I believe that those coins have made Americans more aware of Native Americans and their culture. The Buffalo design was also used on the 2001 Buffalo commemorative dollar.
Last year in what was billed as an effort to save $50 million, the White House and Treasury announced that dollar coins would no longer be minted for circulation, and that only a small quantity would be made for collectors and sold at a premium. Dollar coins have been the subject of extensive debate and controversy since last year, when the media began drawing attention to this issue.
The Mint estimates that it will sell about five million units of each presidential dollar in circulation-quality rolls and bags plus 1 million in mint sets and another 1.4 million in proof quality, according to what Mint spokesman Michael White recently told Coin World.
We now have some information about prices for these products, and some new products that include these coins.
Both new dollar coins will be sold in rolls of 25 coins for $32.95, which is $7 less than the previous cost. They will also be sold in bags of 100, 250, and 500 coins for a slightly smaller premium, and a new four-coin set of presidential dollars will be issued. The new bag options replace the previous Direct Ship program, in which buyers could purchase the coins at face value plus a fee for shipping.
The combination of lower prices and much lower mintages is likely to increase interest in these coins among collectors.
Several other long-standing products are slated for release this spring. Highlights include the April 19 launch of the American gold eagle proof coins, the uncirculated mint set on May 1, the regular proof set on May 7, and the silver proof set on June 4.
First Spouse and AtB programs
There is still no information on the 2012 First Spouse $10 gold coin program. Most years the first release of this program comes out in March, but last year it was pushed back to May. And unless final design selection by the Treasury Secretary is made soon, this year’s first coin may be released even later in the year. The first 2012 spouse coin will depict Alice Paul, the suffragist.
The same pattern holds for the 2012 numismatic America the Beautiful five-ounce silver coins with a special matte finish, except that the designs of the coins have already been released and also used on quarters. Many people feel the 2012 designs are very appealing, but the AtB silver coins have not been selling well since the frenzy for the 2010 bullion coins died down.
Some collectors have been concerned about the future of the First Spouse and America the Beautiful silver coin series in recent months. Those who collect these two series worry that the Mint could be getting ready to end them because of relatively weak interest among collectors and low sales numbers. Last week, for example, only a handful of each spouse coin was sold by the Mint.
Ending the First Spouse coins would require the approval of Congress, and new legislation, but the AtB numismatic silver program is not required under law, and it could be ended under the Mint’s own authority. Only the AtB silver bullion series is legally required.
A lot of people think the Congress simply enacts laws that tell the Mint what coins to make, but in reality there is a consultative process that involves the Mint, the Treasury department, and the Congress. There are also some other things the Mint can do on its own authority, such as change the design of the Buffalo proof gold coin.
Higher gold and silver prices have already made it difficult for most collectors to keep up their sets of AtB silver coins, and to keep collecting First Spouse coins. The compression of the release schedule for those coins in the past year has made that even more difficult because buyers who wanted to purchase before metal prices rose further had to purchase thousands of dollars of coins in a short period.
With all the problems collectors are having keeping up with these two series, it would really help if the Mint could provide buyers with more advance notice of forthcoming coins, and if the Mint could space them out more evenly during the year.
In the case of the AtB coins, issuing so many different ones in 2011 saturated the market and depressed secondary market values. But collectors who waited were rewarded with lower prices last year and earlier this year after the major decline in silver prices following last year’s run-up to almost $50 per ounce in April. In addition, they were able to buy all 2011 coins in one order, saving shipping fees and the hassle of multiple orders.
Louis Golino is a coin collector and numismatic writer, whose articles on coins have appeared in Coin World, Numismatic News, and a number of different coin web sites. His column for CoinWeek, “The Coin Analyst,” covers U.S. and world coins and precious metals. He collects U.S. and European coins and is a member of the ANA, PCGS, NGC, and CAC. He has also worked for the U.S. Library of Congress and has been a syndicated columnist and news analyst on international affairs for a wide variety of newspapers and web sites.