By Louis Golino for CoinWeek....
West Point set sales revised lower
On October 25, late in the day on a Friday, the U.S. Mint confirmed what many astute collectors have suspected for the past several weeks: that substantially fewer 2013-W West Point Sets were sold than the number the Mint provided at the end of the sales window on June 7.
The original number was 281,310, but after taking into account cancellations by customers and other orders that were not fulfilled such as because of expired credit cards, sales for these sets declined by more than 16% with the revised number being 235,689.
This rather substantial revision, which is larger than the 10% reduction for last year’s San Francisco sets, was driven mainly by buyers who became frustrated with ongoing shipping delays, and those who saw that in the secondary market, ungraded West Point sets were barely selling for a premium in the months following the end of sales. Even sets graded 70 have seen their prices decline in recent months.
The Mint has explained that the shipping delays were mainly caused by delays in receiving the packaging for the sets from overseas.
On the one hand, the lower sales number might seem to provide the basis for higher values at least down the road, and they may do just that at some point. But at the same time, the 2012 revised sales number was about 10,000 less, and both sales numbers are more than twice that for the 2011 25th anniversary sets.
For the moment, the 2011 sets remain the kings of silver eagle sets and that position is unlikely to be challenged in the future. The runner up is the 2006 20th anniversary set, which had the first reverse proof silver eagle. Firsts in a coin series often develop premiums even when, as in this case, the mintage is higher than it is for the 2012 and 2013 sets.
On the other hand, the 2013 sets include the first and perhaps only enhanced uncirculated silver eagle, which should support higher values going forward. But that may take time, and a lot will depend on whether more coins of that type are issued in this series.
It is also time for the Mint to review what methods work best for selling and distributing these sets. A one-month sales window coupled with an order fulfillment process that takes several months, during which time buyers can cancel their orders, is a recipe for lower sales for the Mint and lower future coin values for collectors.
There are many other possible ways to do this, such as using a shorter sales window and not allowing orders to be cancelled once placed as well as shipping them out more expeditiously. And even if larger buyers always find ways around such restrictions, some kind of order limits at least during the beginning of sales should also be used.
The Mint recently announced a 10-year contract award to PFSweb for order management, fulfillment, and support, with the new system slated to begin in a year on October 1, 2014. The new contract also includes a new call and contact center.
Hopefully once the improved system is in place sales and order fulfillment will go more smoothly, especially for higher-demand coins and sets.
CCAC rejects Mint proposal
On October 18 the Citizens Coinage Advisory Commission (www.ccac.gov) held a meeting whose agenda included possible designs for the American platinum eagle coin series since the Preamble to the Constitution series that began in 2009 ends next year.
The Mint proposed a new series of platinum proof coins who obverse would remain the modernized Lady Liberty that has been used throughout the platinum coin program and reverse designs that would be based on classic U.S. coins such as the 1797 Draped Bust silver dollar, Standing Liberty quarter, Gobrecht silver dollar, and other collector favorites. The Mint, which has more latitude to propose designs for platinum coins than other coins because of provisions in the law creating the platinum coin programs, made the proposal in response to declining sales of platinum coins in recent years. In addition, it came armed with marketing studies that show classic designs remain very popular with collectors.
The CCAC rejected with almost complete unanimity, according to coverage in the November 11 issue of Coin World, the Mint’s proposal, saying that it would be a move in the wrong direction. The commission favors the use of more contemporary or modern designs on U.S. coins.
The commission even rejected the notion that overall themes are needed, arguing that the Mint’s artists should be free to develop designs.
Given the largely negative reaction by collectors to many of the recent modern designs the commission has recommended, which many collectors see as mediocre, and which explains lagging sales of such coins, the tension between classic and modern coin designs is likely to be an ongoing challenge for the coin issuance process in coming years. Surely there is scope for both kinds of designs, but the commission appears dead-set against more classic designs.
In survey after survey collectors of modern U.S. Mint products have said they want to see more classic coin designs, and coins with such designs have consistently outperformed coins with modern designs like the 2011 Army half dollar, which did poorly, compared to say the 2009 Ultra High Relief double eagle, which was very popular.
If the Mint’s artists and other artists who participate in the coin design process, such as through the Artistic Infusion program, are able to come up with modern designs that collectors find compelling, sales may trend higher again.
The designs that appear on the Native American one dollar series, such as the one for the 2014 coin whose theme is the hospitality of Native Americans to Lewis and Clarke during their expedition, and which depicts a Native American man offering a pipe, and a Native American wife offering food, was recently approved by the Treasury, and are an example of modern designs with solid art work that many collectors like.
But such designs have tended to be the exception rather than the rule in recent years for coins with modern designs, in the view of many, if not most collectors.
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.