By Louis Golino for CoinWeek …………
Summer used to be a slower time for coin collecting, but it is increasingly becoming just as busy as the rest of the year is.
There are many interesting recent developments at the U.S. Mint. These include lower prices on its silver coins, the release of some exciting new precious metal coins, and a free shipping offer.
Lower silver prices
On July 9 the U.S. Mint published a notice in the Federal Register indicating that prices for most of its silver coins were being reduced by about $5 per ounce.
The only coins not impacted by the reduction are commemorative issues whose prices include surcharges for the organizations and institutions honored on the coins.
Buyers of silver coins from the Mint have been frustrated in recent months because spot silver has been down all year yet prices for the Mint’s numismatic releases had not been adjusted until recently.
At the moment many of the Mint’s core products like the American silver eagle in proof and burnished uncirculated as well as the annual silver proof set are priced very attractively.
And the five-ounce silver America the Beautiful coins, which are now $154.95, are at their lowest price since this series was launched in 2010. With spot silver in the $20-21 range, the bullion versions are selling for about $125. That makes the numismatic versions an excellent buy for only $25 over the bullion coins.
Sales of the first two ATB numismatic releases, especially the White Mountain coin, which sports a very attractive and well-executed design, are going much better than sales for last year’s coins were.
The coin honoring the Great Basin National Park in Nevada was released on July 25.
There are a number of interesting and significant new coins coming soon from the Mint.
The one that is garnering the most interest is the Buffalo gold reverse proof $50 coin, which will go on sale August 8th. The coin is being issued in addition to the regular Buffalo proof gold coin for 2013 in order to honor the 100th anniversary of the issuance of the Buffalo nickel. The Buffalo gold’s design is based on the type 1 Buffalo nickel design by James Earle Fraser, a perennial favorite among coin collectors.
The reverse proof Buffalo will be minted to demand and will be available for four weeks from August 8 until September 5. This is the same type of sales approach used for the 2012 and 2013 two-coin American silver eagle sets.
There is no indication of a household order limit, and I expect a flurry of orders will be placed on the first day of sales because so many buyers will want coins that will be received in time to be first strike/early release-eligible.
The coins will most likely not start shipping until sometime in September after the sales window has closed.
After the problems encountered with order fulfillment and shipping during both of the past two 30-day sales window offerings, I hope the Mint gets it right this time. The shipping delays many buyers encountered with the two special eagle sets have hurt the Mint’s customer relations and public image. I believe it would have been helpful if some kind of statement had been issued explaining the reason for the delays.
In addition, I think this coin will be the hottest U.S. Mint gold coin of the year. It is unclear at this point if sales numbers for the regular Buffalo proof gold and the burnished uncirculated American gold eagle will be low enough to make those low mintage key coins. That is possible as these coins may fall under the radar as buyers flock to the reverse proof.
But the combination of high demand and a limited sales window plus the fact that this will be the first and perhaps only reverse proof Buffalo should make the coins a real winner. I see the reverse proof as similar in many ways to the 2009 Ultra High Relief Double Eagle, except that it will be on sale for a much shorter period.
In addition, the Mint recently released the latest in its American platinum eagle proof coins, which honor the preamble of the U.S. Constitution. The new coin’s theme is “To promote the general welfare” and it depicts an image of Lady Liberty with gears in the background that is supposed to represent Young America and the interconnection of power between the federal government and the 50 states.
The coin features a very attractive and inspiring design on a modern U.S. Coin, but many people think it would have looked better without the gears, which are a bit distracting.
In addition, the coin is priced at $1800, which is roughly 25% over current spot prices for platinum. Many buyers and collectors feel that is too high even factoring in the production costs for a proof coin, and initial sales of the coin have been slower than previous releases in the series. Plus the coins have a maximum mintage of 15,000, which seems too high to most people. Last year’s coin has been on sale for about a year and has yet to reach the 10,000 mark. Last reported sales for the 2012 coin are 9,661.
Free shipping offer
For the first time in many years the U.S. Mint is offering free shipping on all orders placed through its web site between July 26 at 9:00 am and September 30 at 5:00pm, including subscription orders. Orders with expedited shipping will still be subject to the normal charge of $12.95.
In its July 25 press release the Mint also noted that: “In August the Mint will launch redesigned and simplified shopping cart Web pages to make it easier for shoppers to complete the checkout process. The free standard shipping promotional window will be the ideal opportunity for customers to try out this updated feature.”
“The Web Site and Shopping Cart Improvement Project began last September. Improvements have included an integrated global navigation, easy-to-read product pages with more images, site and product search improvements and much more. See our Web site for more details: http://www.usmint.gov/websiteinfo/improvements/”
Other mints around the world have offered free shipping such as the Royal Canadian Mint, which does that for Master’s Club members, and the Royal Mint in the UK, which has a coupon code for free shipping. Other mints like the Perth Mint in Australia offer free shipping on orders over a certain amount, which changes over time, and has been as low as $75.
The Mint is clearly trying to boost website sales through this promotion, and I expect it will have that effect.
However, after a flurry of new releases in recent months that excited collectors, the schedule for the rest of this year is full of gaps, specifically coins whose release dates have not been determined.
The most glaring example is the 2013 First Spouse coins, whose release has been delayed by delays in the approval of the design of the coins by the Citizens Coinage Advisory Commission and Commission on Fine Arts. Now that those designs have been approved it is unclear why there are still no release dates.
With spot gold prices at their lowest levels in years, collectors would appreciate the opportunity to obtain the spouse coins sooner rather than later, especially if they agree with those who think gold has bottomed and is heading upwards in the coming months.
Last year the release of all four 2012 spouse issues in rapid succession in the last quarter of the year frustrated many buyers. The coins are normally on sale for a year, and it is not necessary to buy them when they are released. But buyers of U.S. Mint products, as we have seen repeatedly such as when sales opened for the West Point eagle sets, frequently want to buy their coins as soon as possible after their release. Sometimes that is because they want coins that will be first strike/early release eligible, or because they worry they will receive someone else’s returned coins that will be of inferior quality, or for other reasons.
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.