By Louis Golino for CoinWeek ………
A string of recent sell-outs of 2013 five-ounce silver America the Beautiful coins, especially the unexpected end of sales for several of the numismatic versions, is helping to drive increased interest in this series.
All but three coins -- two bullion and one numismatic – of this year’s ATB coins have now sold out, which is a major improvement over sales levels from the past couple years, when one year’s coins were typically available into the next year.
The remaining bullion versions are the Perry’s Victory and Great Basin coins, with last reported sales of 27,100 and 28,600 respectively. These two issues seem to have less demand in bullion form than the White Mountain, whose design is widely considered one of the best, and the Mount Rushmore and Fort McHenry bullion coins, which have the benefit of strong designs and higher visibility than coins for less well-known national parks. The numbers for the two bullion coins still on sale have not changed for a couple weeks, so it is possible the Mint's authorized purchasers are no longer ordering these issues.
The McHenry coins sold 30,000 units, and the Rushmore coins 35,000, which is also the final level for the White Mountain coin. Both of these bullion coins sold out very quickly, faster than any other coins in the series, especially the Rushmore, which sold out in a month.
The Fort McHenry bullion coins may have strong future potential because their mintage is closer to that of the less well known park coins from this year, and the design ties in with widespread interest in the War of 1812 and the Star-Spangled Banner.
In addition, examples of this coin graded MS69 DMPL by PCGS, which are not very plentiful at the moment, have sold on the secondary market for prices as high as $1800. Yet ungraded examples are selling for $130 or less. The reason appears to be the current lack of high-grade DMPL versions of this issue, but I was able to purchase one that looks excellent, and these values may drop as more coins are graded. In general, the bullion coins, which tended to have a lot of contact marks in recent years, are now being made with fewer flaws, which has tended to drive prices for graded examples down. It remains unclear at this point why the McHenry high-grade pieces are viewed as so much more valuable than other high-grade coins in the series apart from the certified population data.
The Rushmore bullion coin may also have a bright future given the fast pace at which it sold all 35,000 units and the popularity of the design and the monument it depicts. I expect both versions of this coin to be stand-outs in the overall series.
In terms of the numismatic versions, which have lower mintages than the bullion coins, the Great Basin and Perry’s Victory coins were both pulled from sale recently well-before reaching their authorized maximum mintage levels. Last reported sales for these two coins are 17,810 and 17,721. The Fort McHenry numismatic coin sold out on December 3 with last reported sales of 19,634.
The final numismatic 2013 coins for Mount Rushmore has now sold 21,135 as of December 1. It is possible they will also be pulled from sale soon, as the Mint gears up for the 2014 coins, rather than selling them to their full 25,000 maximum authorized mintage. Or the Mint may be calculating that it is worth selling the coins for a longer period due to the coin's design and name recognition.
It is precisely the tension between those two views that is creating a guessing game among buyers, who are debating whether they should grab another coin or more before sales end, especially while prices remain reasonable.
It is also unclear if the Mint underestimated demand for several of this year's coins, as it seems they would have sold the full authorized mintage of 25,000 coins for an issue like Fort McHenry.
Some buyers have expressed frustration with the early sell-out of these two coins because they had not yet purchased their coins, but they had plenty of time to do so. The more common reaction is much more positive since unexpected sell-outs of modern U.S. Mint coins have a strong driver of secondary market values. Although these coins do not have mintages as low as the 2012 numismatic coins, they are already selling for premiums at coin dealers and on e-Bay, though the market seems to still be establishing their values.
Lower silver prices and unexpected sell-outs as well as designs that most collectors perceive as superior to those of the most of the coins issued in previous years is creating a lot more interest in this series, which bodes well for higher prices and higher demand for past issues. If more and more people collect these coins, as appears to be happening, the series should have a brighter future than appeared to be the case not long ago. This may also start to shift the view many collectors have that modern coin designs are generally inferior to the designs on classic coins.
However, the coins will be issued until 2020, with one final issue in 2021. And silver prices are likely to be much higher in coming years. So it remains to be seen how many people will be able to stick with this series. Rather than trying to complete it, many buyers seem to be purchasing just those issues that have the greatest appeal for them.
No matter what happens we are a long way from the days when these coins were widely derided as hockey pucks with no numismatic value or appeal. Plenty of collectors are paying major premiums especially for last year’s coins, which may remain the series keys for both versions, and that has been the case since the coins sold out about a year ago.
Demand levels for these coins seem to be a function of not just low mintage but also of compelling designs, and collectors seem to largely agree on which coins have the best designs. For example, the 2012 Hawaii Volcanoes and Denali bullion coins are both the lowest mintage of the series at 20,000, but the Volcanoes coin always sells for more in any grade and ungraded, which means the appeal of the design is an important factor.
Finally, the designs of the 2014 ATB issues were recently approved. Initial reactions to these designs are very positive, probably even more so than the early reaction to the 2013 coins, which should mean more collectors of the series next year and perhaps higher sales levels too.
Louis Golino is a coin collector and numismatic writer, whose articles on coins have appeared in Coin World, Numismatic News, a number of different coin web sites in addition to being a contributor to “American Hard Assets magazine”. 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.