The Coin Analyst: Minting to Demand of JFK Gold Coins Raises Problems

Once again the U.S. Mint, for reasons I fail to understand, made a major announcement via Facebook.  And this was not even a major Facebook post, but rather it was a comment made on July 9 in response to a question from a collector, who asked how many of the gold JFK half dollars will be issued.

On Facebook the Mint responded:  “To ensure fair and equitable distribution of the 2014 50th Anniversary Kennedy Half-Dollar Gold Proof Coin, the product will be sold based on consumer demand.”  

kennedy gold half The Coin Analyst: Minting to Demand of JFK Gold Coins Raises ProblemsCollectors, and the coin media, have literally been chomping at the bit trying to find out the answer to that very question for months.  But rather than issue a press release on its web site and to the numismatic media, this is how the Mint decided to make the announcement, one that has major implications for sales of this coin and its aftermarket value.

Money will certainly be made by those who get coins at the Chicago ANA August 5-8, as I suggested recently .  NGC has already announced that it will be on-site and providing the usual special show labels for those who attend the show and have the stamina to stand in line for hours at the U.S. Mint booth, and then again at the NGC booth.  I am sure PCGS will soon do the same.

On July 3 NGC announced on its web site that a special label bearing a portrait of President Kennedy will be available for each of the seven upcoming JFK half dollar tribute coins that will be issued.  According to the announcement: “NGC has created a special large-sized label to enhance the presentation of these exciting new releases. The NGC label features an iconic portrait of John F. Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States, along with his famous quote: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.

As far as the ANA show, NGC adds: “ANA Sales Note: The US Mint is expected to release the 1964-2014-W High Relief Proof Gold Half Dollar and the 2014-P and D High Relief Uncirculated Clad Half Dollars at the ANA show.* NGC will designate these coins with the “ANA INAUGURAL RELEASES” pedigree. Coins must be submitted to NGC at the ANA show to receive this special pedigree.”  For all the relevant details on submitting coins to NGC for the special JFL labels click this link.

Without question those buyers and especially dealers who go to the ANA and get their coins graded will be able to make a very substantial and quick profit by selling the same coins on e-Bay by the time they get home.  Those who can’t attend the ANA, or who are disabled, and unable to stand in line for hours, will be unable to share in that bounty.

And others who order online, or who manage to get some of the limited number of coins that will be available at U.S. Mint headquarters and other branch mint sales facilities, get them graded in time for first strike and early release labels, and get their coins graded PF70 will also make nice profits.

But most other buyers will probably not see much, if any, appreciation from this coin over the long term.  That is not to suggest they should not buy it if they want it for their collection, and I am still leaning towards getting one because I am an admirer of the slain president, and think the coin with the original higher relief and accent hair should look very nice.

The aftermarket for this coin is likely to mirror that of the 2013 Buffalo reverse proof coin that was launched at last year’s ANA show.  I also suspect the mintage will end up being similar at around 50,000 units sold.

I fully understand the Mint’s desire to, as it says on Facebook, “ensure fair and equitable distribution” of the Kennedy gold coin.  However, trying to achieve that goal by minting the coin to demand raises two major issues that are likely to end up suppressing interest in this coin other than at the ANA show, where buyers with dollar signs in their eyes will be clamoring for the coins.

First, the Mint’s order fulfillment process is essentially broken.  I am still waiting on 2014 Baseball Hall of Fame silver dollars ordered during the first couple days the coins were available in late March.  And previous “mint to demand” products sold by the Mint have seen even more extensive delays than the baseball coins, especially the 2012 and 2013 American silver eagle two-coin anniversary sets.

Those dealers and individual buyers who got their orders in first were able to reap the profits that came from getting the coins delivered first and then having them graded in time for first strike and early release labels and selling them while the market for those coins was still hot.  Everyone else waited months for their coins to arrive, and by the time they did, they were barely worth what they had paid for them.

The “mint to demand” approach was a response to customer complaints in 2011 about the quick sellout of the 2011 25th anniversary American silver eagle sets, which were extremely hard to order because the Mint’s web site failed constantly, and the coins sold out in less than five hours.  To address those concerns the Mint decided to release the 2012 and 2013 sets and the 2013 Buffalo reverse proof gold coins as minted to demand products so everyone who wanted one could get one.

I fully realize the Mint’s goals do not include driving up the secondary market value of its coins, but at the same time, it needs to realize that “mint to demand” destroys the value of those coins, especially when coupled with extensive shipping delays.  In the end this approach really only enriches large buyers and dealers, who play the grading game, and hurts the average collector, who does not want to buy a product and see its value stagnate or decline.

I have always strived not to be like many other coin writers and collectors who jump at every possible opportunity to criticize the Mint, sometimes with little justification, because I respect and admire the Mint and its hardworking staff.  But it is clear to me that Mint officials have not absorbed the lessons of the last three years.

The Mint has said for more years than I can remember that upgrades to its web site were on the way.  The waiting room was used for the baseball coins, and while that did make things better than they were in 2011, there were still significant problems.

Why has it taken the largest Mint in the world so many years to make changes to its web site ordering system, which still remains very inadequate?  It is easy to simply say it is because it is part of the government, as so many do, but that does not really explain the problem.

The bottom line is “minted to demand” is not popular with the vast majority of buyers, and a better way to handle releases of major new coins with a high level of interest would be to implement an effective online ordering system that can handle a large number of people at the same time, which is supposedly coming this fall.

The second piece to the puzzle is to revamp the Mint’s order fulfillment process, which has deteriorated significantly in recent years.  This may also improve with the contract for the work going to a different company soon, but quite frankly, I will believe it when I see it.

The third, and most important, change that is needed is to couple mintage limits with household limits that are meaningful.  Minting 50,000 of the first curved American gold coins ever and then saying buyers can get 100 each, and knowing full well that dealers use family members and staff to place orders for them, makes no sense.  Those household limits were far too high to ensure “a fair and equitable distribution.”  How many households can afford to spend $42,000 on gold coins?

Instead of “minting to demand,” have a low household limit such as one or two coins for such products, limit mintages to a level that reflects likely demand based on surveys, and ship the coins out expeditiously.  Otherwise, the Mint is going to eventually destroy the market for its products, which will continue to drive collectors to buy the coins of other world mints, or to stop collecting altogether.

*NGC is labeling the coins as high relief.  However, while it is true the original higher relief used on a Kennedy inaugural medal and including the famous accent hair will be used on the coins, they are not high relief coins in the normal usage of that term, such as with respect to Perth Mint’s high relief coins, which have much smaller diameters and greater thickness.
Watch this column soon for an interview with the designer of the 2014 Tuvalu high relief American buffalo silver proof coin I discussed recently.

About the Author:

Louis Golino is a numismatic journalist and writer specializing in modern coin issues. He has been writing a weekly column for Coin Week since May 2011 called "The Coin Analyst," which focuses primarily on modern U.S. and world coins and developments at major world mints, and is also a contributor to two magazines, American Hard Assets and the Numismatist, the American Numismatic Association's monthly publication. His work has also appeared in Coin World, Numismatic News, and various coin web sites. He collects classic and modern U.S. coins and modern world coins from a number of different countries. He first joined the ANA in the 1970's. He has also worked for the Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress and has been a syndicated columnist and news analyst on international affairs for a wide variety of publications. He has been writing professionally since the early 1980's.

21 Comments on "The Coin Analyst: Minting to Demand of JFK Gold Coins Raises Problems"

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  1. Louis says:

    Today on Facebook the Mint stated that sales of the JFK gold coins “may be limited to two units” per person at retail sales locations and this presumably also includes at the ANA show. Online orders will be limited to 5 per household and there will be no mail orders due to the fluctuating price that is based on gold spot prices.

  2. V. Kurt Bellman says:

    I note with only a trace amount of “I told you so” coming out of my keyboard that actual auction sale prices realized for Baseball HOF silver dollars and gold $5 are plummeting. I just saw a PR70 dollar go for $160 and a MS69 gold $5 go for $600. Not so fancy any more, eh?

    These are all “hit ‘em hard, hit ‘em quick” opportunities.

  3. Chris says:

    Very well stated, Louis. Like you and many others following these Kennedy products, I have been extremely frustrated with the cloak & dagger, bits & pieces information distribution approach the Mint has employed. I do not think it adds any mystery to the products, more so than it speaks to the borderline disfunctionality that has beset the organization.

    Personally, I do not indulge the social medias. I just have no interest; let alone time. I’m pretty sure others out there have similar opinions about the social medias. When it comes to communications delivered directly by the US Mint, though, my email address is loaded into two different US Mint distribution lists, and I will receive EVERY product announcement 3 days before the release and regardless of my intentions to buy. Yet, the Mint cannot find a way to use that same email distribution list to provide their long-standing, established customer base those same product development updates for these, or any other, highly anticipated offerings.

    All things considered, we don’t need social media or emails when we have great folks like you making sure we get the most accurate information available in the most timely manner.

    Finally, and if I recall correctly, the Mint’s new Sales & Distribution Contractor is supposed to transition in October 2014. Regardless of who that contractor is, and even if their e-commerce system is state-of-the-art, they only can distribute the items the US Mint delivers to their warehouse. I wish them the best of luck!!

  4. Dennis says:

    Louis,

    Great article as always. You have highlighted an issue that many collectors have had strong feelings about for some time now. Keep up the good work and thanks for providing the latest updates on new coin releases.

    Dennis

  5. Dustyroads says:

    Louis, In one sentence,”the US Mint is a part of the Government.”
    I know the Mint is tying to accommodate the desires of the collecting community, but this cognitive disparity between the Mint and the average collector is more than waring a few thin!
    And I have to agree with you about thy FACEBOOK announcement! Since when did the casual chat of facebook become….so uptown OMG :) that it supersedes even the Mint’s own website!

  6. John Mackay says:

    The mint should have a purchase limit of one per household for the first week after a new product is released to give all collectors an opportunity to get one. After that the mint should remove limits and let anyone buy as many as they want. This isn’t perfect because dealers would still be able to have family and staff members buy for them, but it would level the playing field a lot.

    The mint could allow buyers to submit orders for additional quantities during this period with the understanding that anything over 1 gets added to the order queue only after the one week period is up.

    This is a very simple and common sense way to make new issues available to a wider base of collectors. Perhaps the mint is concerned that this approach will reduce total sales, but as a part of the U.S. government the argument could be made that they have an obligation to improve their methods to be fair to the largest possible number of collectors.

  7. Louis Golino says:

    Thanks to everyone for all the positive feedback and for your thoughtful suggestions and comments.

    If the Mint were making regular announcements such as with press releases and using social media, I could understand. But it strikes many of us as odd to do that instead of a more formal announcement, which could still be coming. On another forum someone said today they still don’t really believe it, as it does not even seem official to them if it was just a FB comment.

    We also still don’t know if there will be a 30-day window when orders could be placed or how that will work.

    I very much agree with John M. that one per household for the first week would make a lot of sense for this and other high-interest offerings.

    Finally, to Kurt I would say that when a coin is worth 50% or more than you paid for it from the Mint (the baseball gold) and you have only had it a couple months or less, or a silver dollar, which in raw form sells for twice issue price today, and 3-4 times issues price for a 70, you are doing just fine. And that is not even considering the ER/FS coins, which continue to sell for very strong premiums because it was hard to make the cut-off date, as I suggested would happen in my articles. Those gold coins in 70 with the ER/FS labels still bring 4 times issue price. That is a better performance than any modern U.S. commemorative in many years.

    • V. Kurt Bellman says:

      Louis,

      These pieces I saw sold at auction WERE in NGC so-called “First Strike” slabs. They were auctioned (and are on a regular ongoing basis) by one of the truly BIG dealers who obviously had MANY of them slabbed at the show when the release happened. The price trend for them is down, DOWN, D-O-W-N. Just a few weeks ago they were bringing MUCH higher prices than they now are.

      The typical collector WILL find that by the time they get their US Mint order, the premiums will be tiny indeed, as the temporary “rarity” will be long over. Will the Baseball HOF carry a premium for a while longer? Sure. Demand will be “choppy”. But over the longer run, these will be financial LOSERS.

      • V. Kurt Bellman says:

        Just hammered down moments ago (same dealer’s auction):
        Baseball HoF S1$ NGC PR70 UC Early Release – $200
        Baseball HoF Gold $5 MS70 (no special slab) – $600

        The erosion continues. BB-HoF MS70’s are now selling for modest premiums.

    • V. Kurt Bellman says:

      Besides Louis, I am utterly convinced that Early Release and First Strike will mean ABSOLUTELY ZERO in the long term. Only the grade number will mean anything, and even then not that much.

  8. Tony says:

    I don’t indulge the social media either and this “minted to demand” joke has knocked me out of a few coins. Knocked out as in, I ordered within the first hour and couldn’t even get them within the first 30 days. I’m just getting sick of the entire grading scheme all together. First Strike this, Special label that. Now you have to go to a show to get ahead of the line. One coin dozens of different labels. What a joke this has become and if you did your history work, you would find the idea was ripped off to begin with. I for one am going back to the basics, good old coin collecting. You can keep these stupid labels.

    • V. Kurt Bellman says:

      Bravo, Tony!!! You win the 2014 Kurt Bellman “Common Sense Collector” badge. Maybe this will get so bad that some consumer protection government agency gives NGC the metaphorical “digital exam” they seem to be begging for.

  9. Ken Wuttke says:

    Louis,

    Thank you for your article. I heard about the gold Kennedy dollar, but the US Mint website has absolutely nothing of substance on it. To have “announcements” on Facebook, rather than a bona fide news release, shows how juvenile and amateurish the US Mint has become.

    As many of your readers can attest to, I have seen a significant deterioration in the overall performance of the US Mint. For me, it started when they had a woman on the Boy Scout commemorative coin. I actually met the Mint director at the time at a coin show and asked him about it. He gave me a very coy reply. It implied an inner wisdom that was not be wasted on the likes of Philistines like myself.

    Getting back to subject, I have had a spate of order errors in the past three years. It took them a full eight weeks to refund my money when an order was stolen by someone at UPS. The facts were never in dispute, yet they refused to do anything other than move at the “regular pace.” Meanwhile they had charged my credit card over $2000. I had to put a dispute in with my CC company.

    In addition, I had it put in my customer notes NEVER to send any order UPS due to rampant theft. Three times I called in an order, had the person taking my order refer to my customer notes, placed my order, only to later see it being sent UPS. I refused two of the orders and them resend it USPS. Wrote a letter, spoke to a supervisor. Made no difference. They literally cannot execute.

    I placed my order for the baseball coins the first day. I was told recently to expect them in August. Waiting four months for an order is the last straw. Once I receive all my coins I have ordered, I will be closing my account. Unless there are some big changes at the US Mint, I am not going to waste my time with idiots.

    Our government is breaking down right in front of us and this is one of the symptoms.

  10. Louis Golino says:

    I’d be very interested in knowing if any of you have decided against the coin because it will be minted to demand, or if that makes little difference to your decision.
    Or do you plan to wait a while and see if it is cheaper later, since made to demand coins have a tendency to decrease in value. The main exception is the 2009 UHR double eagle, which interestingly had a 1 coin per household limit initially, and that made ordering a lot easier, and seemed to level the playing field.

    • V. Kurt Bellman says:

      Louis,

      Not only does “mint to demand” make little difference to me, it makes NO DIFFERENCE AT ALL. I won’t buy one under ANY circumstances whatsoever at these gold bullion price levels. As Adlai Stevenson once said in a totally different context, “I am prepared to wait for hell to freeze over”. He was waiting for an answer from the Soviet delegate. I’m waiting for sane gold prices.

  11. Steve says:

    Hello Louis:

    I’m a small coin collector. Since 2009 my mint purchases have consisted of the UHR coin, the 5oz ATB Hot Springs and 2 silver BHOF unc and proof coins. I have purchased several 1964 JFKs for what I considered to be a reasonable price. I would never think of buying a slab coin and the FS/ER designation is meaningless to me.

    I have no problem with a mint for demand coin. When I buy a coin I want the coin to be available. I’m looking forward to the 24k gold JFK.

  12. Mr Griffin says:

    I am in the same league as Steve (who posted July 11th), in that my coin budget is small and I have been a coin collector since 1976. I love this hobby, but speculation is what often drives coins out of reach for the small time collector. So for me, minting to the demand is actually a good thing. I am not a dealer and so I do not expect to ever make a real profit from my coins. Heck, I have all the coins I have ever purchased, and will probably still have them when I die. I just hope I can get one of these special tribute Kennedy’s. :)

  13. Louis Golino says:

    Thanks for Steve and Mr. Griffin for sharing their views. There is no doubt opinion is divided on this issue.

    The Mint is holding a special teleconference on Wed. for the coin media on the JFK gold coins, which I will be part of. Watch this column to find out what happens during the meeting.

  14. stinky says:

    Great article, really surprised me that a coin writer would actually state what really happens in the coin world.

    The coin dealers and coin graders control this whole hobby. It is not about the customer the coin collector it is about fat profits for the dealers and graders. The coin graders such as NGC cater to the dealers thus special labels etc. and those are just what you can see. I’m sure the grading times and grades protect dealer interest as well. The collector’s wallet is the prize for them. I’ve been a serious collector for almost ten years now and I’ve seen this play out over and over. Not many coin books speak to this fact. One that does is Eric Jordan’s “Modern Commemorative Coins” great book and honest and open in an industry that is anything but those two things. I will be moving away from collecting graded coins and trusting NGC to be objective, they are all about the dealers. Bullion from a reputable seller such as APMEX has much less risk, and buying more non US coins at that. The industry has probably always been corrupt and the grading companies have done very little if anything to change that. I’ve lost all respect for NGC’s Credibility as to neutrality between collector and dealer. It’s the later they cater too at the expense of the former. Their view of the collector is that of an endless supply of suckers to be plucked.

    Great article stating the obvious, that no one wants to see especially the dealers and one coin grader in particular. Thanks for the truth, not seen often in the coin world.

  15. BCS says:

    Louis,
    What a way for US Gov to discourage people from buying Gold, so when dollar goes flat collectors will have gotten upset and sold coins off. Not buying Kenndy coins worked.

  16. steven r angle says:

    LOUIS,
    TELL ME HOW LEE MINSULL GETS OVER 400 GOLD KENNEDY COINS AND NO ONE TELLS HIM WHAT A HYPOCRITE AND A REAL JERK HE IS. Then the mint cancels the sale. People walk away empty handed because of HIM. BIGGEST HYPOCRITE IN THE COIN BUSINESS. BOYCOTT HIS COINS EVERYONE. LET HIM EAT THEM.

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