By Louis Golino for CoinWeek ………

Probably no modern U.S. coin series divides collectors as much as the gold First Spouse coins issued by the U.S. Mint since 2007.

The debate over these coins focuses on two main issues: whether the coins should have been issued in the first place and their long-term outlook.

Some people love them and believe their low mintages bode very well for future price appreciation with an additional boost coming from higher gold prices. They also feel that the first ladies of our nation deserve to be honored with their own coin series with many having played important behind-the-scenes roles in our nation’s history such as Abigail Adams and Mary Todd Lincoln.

first spouse 2 The Coin Analyst: 2013 First Spouse Coins Coming Soon but Long Term Series Demand UnclearAnd then there is the more commonly-expressed view, which is they never should have been made because the wives of U.S. presidents are not significant historical figures. Many such people believe the spouse coins will trade close to their melt value in the future. The 2007 coins, which had mintages about seven times those of more recent issues, have traded at bullion values unless graded MS or PF-70.

But so far almost every spouse coin other than the 2007 issues that is no longer available from the U.S. Mint sells for a premium over issue price on the secondary market, a substantial one in many cases. The 2012 releases currently sell for less than their initial prices from the Mint last year, and that is because spot gold has declined substantially since then. But those coins except for the Alice Paul proof coin are still available from the Mint.

Those who collect this series have been waiting all year for the 2013 coins to be released. These coins have been delayed by differences of opinion between the two bodies that review U.S. coin designs, the Commission on Fine Arts and the Citizens Advisory Coinage Commission.

On August 6 the Mint announced that the designs for this year’s coins had all been approved by the Treasury Secretary, and that the first coin for Ida Saxton McKinley will be released in the early fall and release date for all the new spouse coins will be listed on the Mint’s online schedule once the dates have been determined.

This year five, rather than the usual four coins, will be issued because President Woodrow Wilson had two different wives while in office. In addition to the Ida Saxton McKinley coin, the other four will honor Edith Roosevelt, Helen Taft, Ellen Wilson and Edith Wilson.

So like last year the 2013 coins will all be released during the last couple months of the year. Some buyers feel the need to buy them as soon as they come out either because they want first strike coins, or because they worry they will get someone else’s return. But with gold prices so volatile this year it may pay to wait and buy them later, which has been the case with the 2012 coins.

A big part of the appeal of this series for those who collect them is the ultra low mintages of many coins in the series, especially a number of the uncirculated coins. So far the Lucy Hayes and Lucretia Garfield coins are the key date coins. Those coins are the lowest mintage modern U.S. coins minted in the past century.

But skeptics of the series point out that if low mintages are the only thing driving demand, the long-term outlook for the series is probably not good. To be a success on the secondary market over time coins need to be both scarce and in demand. A good example of low mintages not mattering so much are some world coins that have incredibly low mintages but that are not widely collected because they only appeal to a small number of people, or they are prohibitively expensive.

Contacted for this article, Eric Jordan, an expert on modern U.S. coins and co-author with John Maben of Top 50 Most Popular Modern Coins, said: “If there was contest for the title of ‘The most problematic series in US history,’ the First Spouse Series would certainly be one of the front runners for the title, and the reasons are many.”

“First, those contemplating taking up the series are faced with the prospect of having to buy about 40 half once gold coins whose metal content alone is well over $25,000, thus discouraging much of the broad middle class from taking an interest.

Second, the series has poor cohesion because of the complete lack of consistent design elements present in traditional series or the more recent changing reverse/stable obverse issues.

Third, beautiful and inspiring designs with natural magnetism are a blessing to any series, and while this set has some bright spots like Julia Tyler and the Liberty short sets, many of the issues are so ugly people just simply don’t want them.

Fourth, dealers both small and large have largely abandoned buying first spouses as carry forward inventory due to the abundance of faster moving and more popular series like gold buffalos, silver & gold eagles etc.”

Finally, to be successful “series need strong key dates that have much lower populations than their common date siblings. Pronounced staggering of the mintage chart is what causes most established series top 3 keys to acquire about 50 percent of the entire sets value by the time it reaches maturity. Unfortunately first spouse gold issues appear to have fallen into a very tight sales range of 2200 to 2900 uncirculated coins and about 3500 proofs this year and last year. There is no reason to believe the Mint is going to adjust its anticipated demand assumptions on these coins any time soon. If a single country has 8 equal kings, then they are all weak monarchs.

All these problems are very real, lasting and structural, but they may also be the reason that they become serious coinage in the out years. Troubled infants can rise up to become tomorrow’s kings. Buying these coins at or close to Mint issue price is a very low risk proposition in their current mintage range.”

There are certainly plenty of modern Mint coins that have followed that trajectory, from coins that were in low demand when issued to coins that years later sold for a major premium because of their scarcity. Examples includes the Jackie Robinson mint state $5 gold and the mint state Library of Congress $10 bi-metal gold and platinum coin.

But for this to apply to the spouse coins, something more than low mintages will need to support long-term demand. Basically, the series will need more people collecting it.

Potential bright spots include the 2013 designs that have generally received more positive reviews than many other recent issues, although it remains to be seen how they will look when executed on actual coins.

Finally, as the series gets closer to the coins that will be issued for modern first ladies, interest in the series should pick up. The Jackie Kennedy coin is one that is often cited as a likely high demand issue.

Those who are collecting this series either like the coins and their themes enough to stick with it through so many years, or they are hedging their bets that buying them today will pay off down the road when this series establishes itself as the likely lowest mintage modern U.S. gold coin series.

 

golino portrait thumb The Coin Analyst: 2013 First Spouse Coins Coming Soon but Long Term Series Demand UnclearLouis Golino is a coin collector and numismatic writer, whose articles on coins have appeared in Coin WorldNumismatic 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 ANAPCGSNGC, 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.

 
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7 Comments

  1. dan says:

    Hi Louis

    As usual I enjoyed your article. I think you pretty much summed up the pro’s and con’s for the FS coins. I have 2 uncirculated sets running and actually enjoy the set. It would have been nice if the mint had come up with some type of display cases, whether by year or by the dozen. I keep them all ogp and I think it just would have made for a nice presentation. I had started them for the grandkids and if nothing else, at melt they will have a good education fund started. I was really surprised to see the demand fall off the cliff like it did; maybe it was the economy, the price of gold, or just the fugly factor, who knows.

    I do not know what the future might bring, but with the present low mintages, I know that in the worst case scenario, I will have 2 of only 2,259* complete collector sets of 1/2 ounce gold coins. I remember Hans Christian Anderson story of the ugly duckling and how it grew to be the swan, I can hope cant I!!

    Anyway, despite the ugliness and them not belonging on the coin to begin with, the mint seems to go out of its way to hurt this series also. They don’t seem to get the media attention or publication like some of the other coin releases. In addition their inability to schedule the coins for release on a regular basis throughout the year is appalling. Blame whatever committee you want, but it all falls back to the OIC. Once again we go into the fall holiday period with 5 gold coins to be released this year. Add that to the Buffalo just released and you can see why this hobby is referred to as the hobby of Kings.

    I agree that the series may get a boost with the more current popular ladies coming up, but I am not going to hold my breath. I just hope they will continue the series to its end and even make a provision to add the remaining future ladies as they become eligible. Now the big question, does the law allow one to be eligible for the FS coin and a presidential dollar????

    • Louis says:

      Dan,
      Thanks so much for your very well-informed commentary on the series.
      One of the reasons I cover the FS coins in this column is to give the series more publicity.
      I have little doubt the series will continue as required by law.
      I assume you are thinking of Hillary Clinton, who could be the next president, but even if that happens, I doubt the law that prevents living presidents from being honored on a coin will be changed.
      As for the cases, that is also a great point. I remember during the first year the Mint did sell beautiful 4 and 8-coin wood cases, but I rarely see them for sale. If you could find enough of them, you could get one for each year’s coins. But I would like to see the Mint make a special case for the whole set, one for the BU set and one for proof set. That would also increase interest in the coins.

  2. Louis says:

    This article from the Palm Beach Daily News shows you that the spouse coins do get some publicity even outside coin publications:
    http://www.palmbeachdailynews.com/news/business/first-spouse-coinsnow-minted-in-gold/nZZqt/

  3. Moose says:

    I was uninterested in this set when it first came out, and thought it was just a kind of gimmick to go along with the presidential dollar coins. But I’ve since come to actually think some of the coins are quite attractive, and so I’m collecting the ones that I like. Bright spots for me are the Caroline Harrison, Julia Grant, Sarah Polk, and Jackson liberty.

    • Louis says:

      Thanks, Moose. I agree and think most of the coins are very nice. There are a couple with weak designs, but overall the designs have gotten a bad rap that is not deserved.

  4. Brian says:

    Louis, thanks for the excellent article discussing the first spouse series. All of your articles do a superb job of analyzing supply-demand factors, and in that regard, I think you do a tremendous service for any coin collector that reads your articles.

    My guess is that there may be another factor on the demand side of the equation for the first spouse coin series. Unfortunately, isn’t it really the case that most coin collectors are men? And perhaps male collectors have a tendency of buying coins featuring male themes? Specifically, I suspect male buyers tend to buy coins featuring historical men, sports, military, or other similar themes. I do not know the gender statistics for coin collectors…am I wrong?

    I think the U.S. mint may be commended for providing a series of coins featuring women figures. To the extent any coin series creates interesting coins featuring women leaders or interesting historical women figures, it may attract more women to the hobby, and that would be a good thing.

    • Louis says:

      Brian,
      Thanks so much for your extremely kind words, which are greatly appreciated.
      I also think you raise an excellent point about gender. More women are coming into the hobby, but it is still a field in which men are definitely in the majority, and this factor absolutely plays a role in the lackluster interest in the spouse series.
      I also totally agree that there should be more real women on our coins and not just allegorical depictions of Liberty, and that is one of the reasons I too like the idea of this series.

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