Top 50 Most Popular Modern Coins: A Conversation with John Maben
by Louis Golino for CoinWeek
John Maben, owner of John Maben Rare Coins and Modern Coin Mart , and Eric Jordan, author of the book, Modern Commemorative Coins, are the authors of the new book, Top 50 Most Popular Modern Coins (Krause, 2012), which zeroes in on the 50 modern U.S. coins that the authors believe are the most sought after issues minted since 1986.
John recently discussed the book and his views on modern U.S. coins with me.
1.) Can you tell us a little bit about the division of labor between you and Eric Jordan in writing this book? For example, did you each cover certain coins or series?
Eric and I make a great team. The idea was mine. The conceptual layout and content layout were mine. The initial list which consisted of 150 or so candidates was created by me after reviewing suggestions from five others. The ratings for affordabilty, scarcity, and popularity were submitted by me based on many years of market knowledge and experience. I also did the retail pricing which was current based on information available to me at the time. Along with Eric, others were consulted to trim the final Top 50 list and to agree on the ratings. The vast majority of text and virtually all of the statistics were written and compiled by Eric. A team of editors which included myself, Chuck Daughtrey, and Debbie Bradley did the editing. Chuck played the largest role outside of myself and Eric, and deserves credit for many hours of editing and graphic arts work as well as for the photography.
2.) As someone who collects and follows many of the coins discussed in the book, I was struck by the difference between some of the mintage figures in the book, and the previously available figures. I also think the mintage data is one of the most useful aspects to the book. Can you discuss the process you and Eric used to come up with the mintage data, which I understand involved consulting with the U.S. Mint’s Office of Public Affairs?
When it comes to modern coins, Eric is known for turning over every stone to produce the finest mintage and comparative analysis data known to man. He took on this task. The data used in the mintage tables came directly from the US Mint web site and their Office of Public Affairs. After a coin’s mintage was received from the Mint it was checked against the weekly sales report behavior at the close of the sales cycle to make certain that all options for the purchase of the coins were included in the final numbers. If the two pieces of data did not fit then a new inquiry was made at the Mint. Collectors of new active series need up to date mintage data, and based on my research ours are correct final audited numbers through Sept 29th 2011 unless otherwise noted.
3.) Limiting the group of top coins to 50 inevitably means some people’s personal favorites are excluded. But I am curious about a couple of coins not included. First, why not include the key date half-ounce $25 burnished American gold eagle, the 2007-W coin, and the 2011-W $50 American gold eagle, which is the new king of the entire burnished gold eagle series, as well as the key in its respective $50 series?
The 2007-W is a very important coin in the $25 mint state Gold Eagle Series, maybe even THE coin given that it does not have to face a $25 1999-W for supremacy in its denominational set. The 2007-W was mentioned by some of the reviewers for inclusion and likely would have made the list had it been longer but one of the concepts of the Top 50 was that of the “short set”. 2008-W gold as a group is much stronger than the 2007-W gold. As far as the 2011-W is concerned, we did not have the closing sales numbers on the coin when the text was being written late last year.
4.) In addition, on the First Spouse coins I agree with the inclusion of the Liberty sub-set, which seems like it will be of enduring interest because of the iconic designs. But I wonder why you did not include any other issues such as the two so-far lowest mintage coins, the Julia and Letitia Tyler coins, which also have attractive designs. Is that because you anticipate future issues with lower mintages, or is it more because you think the appeal of the Liberty designs will trump low mintages over time?
Great question. There were many heartbreaking moments in finalizing the list to a mere 50 coins. This was one of them. Having 4 spouse designs and 8 in total with both manufacturing methods included already represented more than 1/6 of the total number of coins in the basket. Many coins that would have been included if this were a Top 100 book had to be cut. We wanted to limit the basket to 50 coins to keep the total cost of building a set within reach of most people if assembled over several years.
5.) What do you think about the First Spouse series overall? Do you think people are mostly only collecting them because of the low mintages?
I think they are intriguing. I believe that they are very underappreciated now but will someday be a blatant missed opportunity. I also like the idea of a large set of half ounce gold coins that aren’t quite commemoratives and aren’t struck as bullion issues either.
6.) A number of the coins highlighted in the book seem to be generating less interest now than they did a couple years ago, and their prices have been somewhat stagnant such the 2008-W gold eagles and Buffalo coins. Do you think the book will help spur renewed interest in and demand for these issues? What other factors do you think are involved in pushing prices for these kind of coins up such as perhaps dealer promotions?
Despite a price correction, the Buffalo coins are still very popular from my standpoint. It is definitely true that some coins in the book including the Gold Eagles you mentioned and the 2006-W and 2008-W Platinum Eagles are not very popular at the moment. They were VERY popular for a sustained period after being issued. We only listed coins that are out of favor at the moment if we believe in earnest that they will have their day again, and in a big way. I think with or without the book these coins will see renewed demand when the market cycle again begins to focus on overlooked value. The book might help, it surely won’t hurt. I am pleased to see that with this book being on distributors shelves for just two weeks, there are already seventeen sets registered in the NGC Registry .
I honestly don’t pay much attention to dealer promotions. I have nothing against them, in fact I think they can contribute to keeping markets healthy, but they have a tendency to drive prices up only to fall right back down when the “promotion” is over. We picked these coins for among other reasons because we believe they will stand the test of time.
7.) Hot modern issues like many of the ones in the book seem to follow cycles of interest and price movement. This can make it difficult for collectors who fail to get the coins at issue price to know when to buy other than when precious metals prices dip. Do you have any suggestions to collectors on this?
I always tell collectors to be patient. Hot issues almost always decline within a few months or less. Unless you really believe they are going in the other direction hold off. I sell at the current market prices to people that have made the decision to buy. I can’t sell above or below market based on what I think might happen. I can’t predict the markets, no one can. I never expect to share in any profits nor can I share in any losses. Don’t buy coins if your ONLY goal is to make money unless you are willing to assume a high level of risk. If don’t enjoy them and appreciate them, you’re missing out. The fun of building a set, the thrill of the hunt, the appreciation of holding history in your hands is what it’s all about. If you make wise choices and make money, it’s icing on the cake. Timing the market when making purchases is difficult, but if you are happy with the price when you buy it, then short term fluctuations should be of no concern.
8.) What is your recommendation to collectors of modern U.S. coins like the ones covered in the book as far as whether they should purchase them in their original government packaging and keep them that way, or have the better quality ones graded? Do you think it matters whether a graded coin set consists of coins from the same grading service, or does it not matter that much?
Collect what you like. Some only buy coins in OGP, others only third party graded, and some collect both. I personally would not “mix and match” grading services with modern coins as long as they were all available in my grading service holder of choice. All coins are not always liquid. If you buy certified coins it helps to buy only those certified by the most highly regarded services, and that have the largest number of market participants.
9.) Is there any one coin, or series, covered in the book that you think is particularly undervalued? My own choice would probably be the 2008-W burnished platinum eagles, which I know Mr. Jordan is also big on. What would you choose?
Well, this is no fun because that would also be a top choice for me! I kid you not when I say I like all of them as great values at current price levels. The 1999-W unfinished proof die coins are also a stand out but very difficult to find in MS70 and even somewhat tough in MS69, especially the $10 coin.
10.) Finally, I am sure readers would be interested in what you think about the U.S. Mint’s plans for a special two-coin proof set to mark the 75th anniversary of the San Francisco mint, and the approach the Mint is following this time, i.e., essentially minting to demand.
“They made too many”. “They made too few”. “The dealers bought them all up, it isn’t fair”. Well now, with the U.S. Mint announcing they will strike to demand, how can any reasonable person complain? They can’t. The “flippers” won’t be happy though because these coins have zero flip potential. I like it. I never liked having to jump through hoops to get the large quantities of new issues we need to satisfy our customer base, but I did it and will do it again if they go back to imposing household limits. In an ideal world, the U.S. Mint would set aside part of each new issue’s total mintage for direct dealer sales and give them a break on the price when they purchase quantity as virtually every other mint around the world has been doing for years. The mint has no such program for collectible coins outside of their “bulk purchase program,” which is extremely limited to only a few items and results in a very minimal savings. I like the creativity I’ve seen coming from the U.S. Mint expressed in products such as this two coin set.
CoinWeek would like to thank John for his participation in this conversation about his new book and modern U.S. coins.
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.