The Coin Analyst: Latest Developments at the U.S. Mint

by Louis Golino for CoinWeek ………

Update on U.S. Mint Price Increases

On March 5 the U.S. Mint’s Michael White, who serves in the Mint’s Office of Public Affairs, provided some clarification regarding the issues discussed in my last column , which concerned the recent increase in premiums on gold and platinum numismatic coins at a time of declining precious metal prices.

He noted that non-metal costs at the Mint, such as labor and other costs, have indeed been rising recently, and that they played a role in the price increases. Additional details on which specific costs have risen will be provided later.

In addition, “weaker consumer demand,” as a result of “discretionary budgets being squeezed,” mean the Mint is selling fewer units of its precious metal products.

Perhaps most importantly, Mr. White explained that the Mint “generally reprices coins so that the entire portfolio recovers its cost,” and added that they need “some margin to cushion against volatility” in precious metal prices.

Looking forward, he said that Mint officials hope they can keep price increases to a minimum.

For those readers and collectors who have speculated that the Mint is seeking to model itself or its pricing structure on certain foreign mints that charge very high premiums over melt value, as I discussed last time, Mr. White confirmed that the Mint has no plans to do anything like that.

Besides, its silver numismatic coins are still priced competitively compared to those of most foreign mints. For example, even at $245, which is the expected price of the 2013 uncirculated versions of the five-ounce silver America the Beautiful coins, the U.S. Mint’s prices will be roughly half those of the Perth and Canadian mint’s five ounce silver coins, which generally sell for around $500, although that is sometimes for proof or reverse proof coins that have slightly higher production costs and in the case of Canadian coins, often includes attractive wood display cases.

As far as the impact of the U.S. Mint’s new prices, particularly on gold and platinum coins, on sales levels, it is really too soon to say. In addition, at the moment the only gold coins available are the First Spouse coins, and the only platinum coin is the 2012 American platinum eagle.

The most recent sales report from the Mint, which was released on March 5, mainly reflects increased sales for the spouse coins, as buyers sought to purchase their coins before the implementation of the new, higher prices last Wednesday, February 27. We will have to see what happens in the coming weeks and months before it is clear whether the higher prices are dampening overall sales.

Girl Scouts of the USA silver dollars

Last week the Mint also began taking orders for the Girl Scouts of the USA centennial commemorative silver dollars. Sales for the first week came in at about 11% of the total maximum authorized mintage of 350,000 coins, including 29,331 proof and 12,293 uncirculated coins sold during that period. Those figures are comparable to opening sales for last year’s Infantry silver dollars.

Unless a lot of non-collectors, such as girl scouts and former girl scouts, purchase the coin, sales for the GSUSA coin may run on the low side, though it is too soon to say for sure. That is because coin collecting is still a male-dominated field, even if that is changing, and as I have discussed before, some male modern coin collectors have less than enlightened views on women. They say, for example, that Girl Scouts got their coin already because they were included on the 2010 Boy Scouts centennial silver dollar, a reference to the inclusion of a female Venturer on the coin,
which many collectors continue to view as a politically correct move.  I have also read many online comments from collectors who describe the coins as ugly or even repulsive, which is really a beyond-the-pale kind of view that is unfortunately too common. I respect peoples' right to their own views, but seriously, is "repulsive" a word one would use to describe the coin?

Plus, as I explained last year, the history of the two organizations is deeply intertwined, and besides, if it is appropriate to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Boy Scouts, why not the 100th anniversary of the Girl Scouts? Is that really political correctness, as many male collectors claim, or rather, is it not an appropriate way to honor the tens of millions of American women and girls who are current or former Girl Scouts?

In addition, as the CEO of the GSUSA, Anna Chavez, explained in my interview with her last year , Girl Scouts are natural collectors, and many of them are interested in numismatics, so they may end up purchasing lots of the coins.

American palladium eagle study

In other news regarding the U.S. Mint, the long-awaited report from Mint on the feasibility of minting American palladium eagles is due to be delivered this week to the Senate Banking Committee and the House Committee on Financial Services.

The coins were authorized with the American Palladium Eagle Bullion Coin Act of 2010 (Public Law 111-303), but in order for the coins to be issued, the Mint has to first demonstrate that there is sufficient demand for the coins. From my own communications with fellow collectors, I have little doubt that the coins will be very popular and will sell well.

The Mint contracted the CPM Group to prepare the feasibility study, which the Mint received last year. After reviewing and analyzing those results, the Mint prepared the final report, which is the one being delivered to the Congress this week. I will try to obtain a copy of the study and will report on its findings.

If the study provides support for issuance of the bullion coin, it has to be minted within twelve months of the issuance of the report. Only a bullion version is required by law. At its discretion the Mint may issue a proof version for collectors. The legislation also has an unusual provision that states that if collector versions are issued, each year’s coin is supposed to have “a materially different finish” from the previous year’s coin. But there are only so many finishes available, so it will be interesting to see how that works out, if the coins are issued for a number of years.

America the Beautiful Five-Ounce Silver Coins delayed

Collectors of these coins have been eagerly awaiting information on the release of the 2013 coins.

Their release had been expected to begin earlier in the year, but they were delayed, and product release dates were removed from the Mint’s web site.

I contacted the Mint and was told that the reason is that the Mint is still in the process of determining mintage levels for both the uncirculated collector versions and the bullion coins.

Last year’s collector versions have been selling out one after another in recent weeks, and at the moment only the Chaco Culture and El Yunque coins remain available for sale, and the latter coin has been backordered, which is generally a sign that the coin is close to selling out.

The Hawaiian Volcanoes coin sold out unexpectedly, and quickly tripled in price to $600 on the secondary market. The other sold-out coins quickly reached the $400 level. Approximately 15,000 of each of the 2012 coins appear to have been minted, which is lower than any previous year’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.

About the Author:

Louis Golino is an award-winning numismatic journalist and writer specializing on modern U.S. and world coins. He has been writing a weekly column for CoinWeek since May 2011 called “The Coin Analyst,” which focuses primarily on modern numismatic issues and developments at major world mints. In August 2015 he received the Numismatic Literary Guild’s award for Best Website Column for “The Coin Analyst.” He is also a contributor to Coin World, where he writes a bimonthly feature and weekly blog, and The Numismatist, the American Numismatic Association’s monthly publication, where he writes a monthly column on modern world coins. His numismatic writing career began in 2009, and his work has been published and discussed in many other coin publications and coin dealer web sites. He is also a founding member of the Modern Coin Forum sponsored by Modern Coin Mart. A coin collector since he was 10, he first joined the ANA in the 1970’s and is also a member of the Pennsylvania Association of Numismatists. He previously served as a congressional relations specialist and policy analyst at the Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress and as a syndicated columnist and news analyst on international politics and national security for a wide variety of publications. He has been writing professionally since the early 1980s, when he began writing op-ed articles and news analyses.

6 Comments on "The Coin Analyst: Latest Developments at the U.S. Mint"

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  1. You’ve given us quite a lot to chew on in this article, Louis.

    As far as the impact of the U.S. Mint’s new prices, particularly on gold and platinum coins, on sales levels, it is really too soon to say. In addition, at the moment the only gold coins available are the First Spouse coins, and the only platinum coin is the 2012 American platinum eagle.

    I think it is reasonable to infer that they may hurt sales, as price increases due to gold price increases last year did. The only thing I can see really offsetting sales declines is if flippers and/or dealers become convinced a lot of the gold coins will have strong secondary market value. Then you might see a sales surge. I think the hope for flippers to save the day for sales numbers is something of a longshot, myself. I will continue to argue that the mint has erred and I think they need to look at more aggressive advertising and lower sales prices to try to attract more buyers. Perhaps if sales fall this year, they will reverse position next year.

    On your comment about the AtBs, I agree it will be easier for collectors to absorb those price increases. I don’t see the new price point slowing down my AtB purchases, though obviously I don’t like to see this as we head into silver price declines.

    I have also read many online comments from collectors who describe the coins as ugly or even repulsive, which is really a beyond-the-pale kind of view that is unfortunately too common. I respect peoples’ right to their own views, but seriously, is “repulsive” a word one would use to describe the coin?

    Ugly or repulsive does seem to be over the top. I think the design is adequate, but not outstanding like we saw with the Star Spangled Banner coins or the gold Medal of Honor coins. It is nowhere near as bad as the infantry coin design of last year was, definitely, and I think that is why sales are doing better. The biggest surprise for me in the Girl Scouts coin is that we aren’t seeing higher sales. I expected a lot of “built in” sales from various Girl Scouts related organizations buying them up.

    I contacted the Mint and was told that the reason is that the Mint is still in the process of determining mintage levels for both the uncirculated collector versions and the bullion coins.

    I am very disappointed to hear this. I’m not sure why it would take so long to set mintage levels given that most of the uncirculated AtBs sold out fairly quickly with 15K pieces minted in 2012. I would like to see the AtBs come out sooner rather than later so my purchases aren’t all crammed into Q3 and Q4 2013 like last year.

  2. Dave in CT. says:

    Louis, on the ATB’s part of your article, and the $245 price, I may plan to purchase the Mount Rushmore version/park, and one in the bullion as well. I do not follow these, and for me, I get my bullion much cheaper than what most of the readers pay. I am not sure if that makes me lucky, or what. Paying $5 over spot for each ounce of these ATB’s angel halo’s, is not my idea of a good price, and I do not understand why most of the posts that I have read from other articles out there, suggest that it is a good price. I usually pay (for from the US mint coins, and not generic types) about $2 or $3 over spot, and it’s not a secret of where I am buying them from. Just thought I would add that Provident/Gainesville/Silvertowne, are the not the only places to buy from. Although, they do have excellent and competitive prices, but the S@H kills you as well, depending on what you acquire. Louis, do you have any idea when the Mount Rushmore are coming, or have I missed this ? As I think this will be them most sought after national park, both, in bullion, and from the mint (‘P’). Any thoughts from you ? Take care…Dave in CT.

  3. Louis Golino says:

    Thanks, CO and Dave for your comments. On the Girl Scouts coin, I would add that one week does not provide enough data for a solid trend. Many Girl Scouts may not yet be aware of the coin, and they will be on sale all year, so let’s see what happens.

    As for the Mt. Rushmore ATB 5 oz, that is supposed to be the last 2013 release in the series, so I would not expect it to be available until towards the end of the year.

    • Dave in CT. says:

      Louis, That is great news, as I do not follow these. This being the last coin in the series, I would think that folks that generally do not collect these “angel halo’s” will come on board and acquire one, and maybe the set. Plus some might get an extra credit card out, and buy a couple of sets. Those buying multiple sets, whether it being the last one in the series, or maybe getting these to family members, and those family members having at least one type in their collection. Just something to think about. I will not wait until I see them on Ebay to purchase the set, but will order the first week, and not the first day. You never know if our US mint will play some games, and cancel this last quarter very early, just to be rid of these, once an for all. Again, just something to chew on. Also Louis, wouldn’t be something really special, to have the last ATB 5-ouncer, from the Us mint that is, to be in High Relief format/type. End it in a grand style. Now this would shake up the hobbyist, and create some great buzz, and they actually might shake their boring and bland coin reputation, that they have seemed to have now. Wouldn’t that be something ! US MINT—-are you listening ?
      from “DAVE in CT.”…..

      • Louis Golino says:

        The Mt. Rushmore won’t be the last coin the series, as the series still has I believe 7 years to go. I will be the last release for this year. Hope that helps.

  4. John says:

    I sure hope we get the Palladium Eagles.

    The only nice thing about the new price grid is that the APE now moves in $50 increments instead of $100 increments.

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