by Louis Golino for CoinWeek ……
2012 First Spouse series launch
On October 2 the U.S. Mint finally announced the long-awaited and eagerly anticipated launch of the first 2012 First Spouse gold coin which honors suffragist Alice Paul.
The coin is somewhat controversial because Ms. Paul was not a first spouse, and in previous years coins issued for presidents who were not married while in office used classic Liberty theme designs from coins that were minted during their presidencies. I covered why this is an issue in an earlier piece (http://www.coinweek.com/commentary/the-coin-analyst-alice-paul-coin-ill-suited-for-first-spouse-series/). Coin collectors love continuity, and the Paul coin constitutes a break with precedent.
Plus, a lot of collectors love coins that re-use classic U.S. coin designs, and in this case, that means a missed opportunity to use some especially beloved designs like those of the Indian Head cent and Morgan silver dollar, by far the most widely collected classic American coin. And the four-coin First Spouse Liberty sub-set, as it is called, is popular with a lot of collectors, and even coins that are not the lowest mintage pieces continue to command strong market prices such as the Van Buren Liberty coin and Jackson's Liberty piece.
While I am almost certain there will be no quick sell-out of the Paul coins, there does appear to be pent-up demand for the spouse issues as a result of the extensive delay in releasing them that was caused by problems striking the coins to the Mint’s generally very high quality standards.
It is not clear at this point if the striking issues have been fully resolved, which would probably mean the other three 2012 coins will be issued in short order, or if it is only the issues with the Paul coin that were resolved. Once the coins are struck, the Mint can sell them next year, if it wishes to.
The Mint indicated the trial strikes were produced at the Philadelphia mint, which is historically the mint used for trial strikes, although the coins themselves are struck at the West Point facility. The Mint has issued several statements on the production issues and sent a letter to customers, but it has never really clarified whether the problems had to do with machinery issues, or what the exact cause of the striking problems has been, and why the issue arose specifically with the 2012 coins.
If the Mint had not encountered production problems, the Paul coin would have been released in March. It is likely to remain on sale for one year, or until supplies are exhausted. The total mintage, including both uncirculated and proof versions will be 13,000. The Mint does not announce what the split will be between those two versions, but collectors almost always buy more proof coins because of their superior appearance.
A lot of first spouse collectors are likely to want to pick up the coin as soon as they can since most people believe gold spot prices are headed higher, especially in the aftermath of Federal Reserve Chairman Bernanke’s recent announcement of a third major round of quantitative easing. That may front-load a lot of sales of these coins, and most coins tend to sell better soon after their initial release.
America the Beautiful 5-ounce silver coins
Another noteworthy development is that sales of another numismatic series that has also been running on the low side for several years have begun to pick up.
Sales of the most recently released 5-ounce silver America the Beautiful coin for the Volcanoes national park in Hawaii are running much higher than past issues. Based on the weekly sales figures the Mint provided on October 2, these coins are selling at a 40% higher rate than previous issue, the Acadia national park coin. During the first week of sales, the Volcanoes coin sold 9,186 pieces, which is a strong start.
That development probably reflects a combination of higher demand due to a widely-acclaimed design, and rising silver prices, which make the Mint’s $204.95 price for these coins a bargain based on spot silver at approximately $35 per ounce, giving the coins a melt value of $175. Prices are likely to be raised once silver gets close to $36. And the bullion versions of the same coins sell for the same amount at bullion dealers as the numismatic versions sold by the Mint.
On October 3 the U.S. Mint suspended sales of some silver numismatic products, including the five-ounce coins and one-ounce American silver eagles. The Mint issued a statement to the press on this matter, and I will have more information on this next neek.
Mint web site upgrade
Finally, the U.S. Mint has launched an upgrade to its web site (www.usmint.gov). Although the upgrade is separate from the long-awaited upgrade of the Mint’s ordering system to better accommodate high-volume traffic, the web site improvements should be welcome news for many Mint customers.
This page provides additional information on the web site improvements, including a tour (http://www.usmint.gov/websiteinfo/2012/improvements/).
The system upgrade, as opposed to the web site upgrade, was put on hold in July so that the Mint would evaluate progress with the work so far.
Unfortunately, when the web site upgrade was launched, the Mint failed to update its web site security certificate, which caused some temporary problems, but as of 1:00pm EST on October 1, those issues were resolved.
In addition, the redesigned web site includes the following statement at the bottom of the front page of the redesigned web site, “The United States Mint’s numismatic programs are self-sustaining and operate at no cost to the taxpayer.” I would add that they also help reduce the national debt since some of the Mint’s numismatic sale profits are returned to the Treasury where they are used to reduce the amount of the Federal debt. The Federal, or national, debt is the accumulated amount of all past Federal budget deficits.
End of 2012 commemorative coin sales
Sales of U.S. Mint commemorative coins, which include the Infantry soldier and Star-spangled Banner programs, will end on December 17. The U.S. Mint confirmed that date for me, which I obtained from a contact at one of the organizations that helped create the 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.