The Coin Analyst: U.S. Mint News Update
by Louis Golino for CoinWeek ……
First Spouse coin news
Initial sales for the first 2012 First Spouse gold $10 coin have been strong. During the first week the coins were available from the Mint, buyers snapped up 1394 uncirculated coins, and 1808 proof coins for a total of 3202 units, or about 25% of the maximum mintage of 13,000. That is the highest debut sales level since the Mary Todd Lincoln coin was released in December 2010 with 5505 coins sold during the first week. The Lincoln coin had been expected to sell more coins that other issues because of the popularity of anything related to her husband, President Abraham Lincoln.
During the second week of sales the Paul coin sold 178 BU and 302 proof pieces.
On October 24 the Mint lowered gold and platinum coin prices because spot prices were down enough during the previous week to bring the price of the coins down to the next lowest pricing tier. Gold coins were lowered by $50 per ounce, and platinum coins by $100. I just received a response from the Mint on pricing of its silver coins, which appears below.
Because the spouse coins were delayed for most of the year due to production problems, there was probably some pent-up demand, especially from buyers worried that gold prices will increase. The latest price reduction, which probably will not last long, may spur more purchases for the last week of October.
But the key factor may be the recent news of the Lucy Hayes and Lucretia Garfield coin sell-outs that produced the two new series low mintage keys, and two of the three lowest mintage regular issue coins issued since 1915 (the third being the 2008-W $50 burnished platinum coin, which remains undervalued in my view).
PCGS’ e-mail newsletter, PCGS e-Collector, ran a very interesting piece in its latest issue (http://www.pcgs.com/News/Ladies-Night-Two-Hot-Numbers-at-Party), which makes similar arguments to those I have made in this column about the new spouse key coins, and how interest in them may be breathing new life into this much-maligned series.
The authors claim that the final mintage of the Garfield coin is likely to come in much lower than the last Mint sales number because of the large number of cancellations of those last-minute orders that came in after the coin went into backorder status but before sales were officially ended.
Readers will recall the surge of orders for 500 Garfield coins right before sales ended. The PCGS authors say they have heard that many collectors and dealers never received those coins, including someone who purchased 70 coins, and they estimate the final Garfield mintage number may come in “around 2,250 or so after the Mint takes into account the cancelled orders and any product returns,” which would be very similar to the current Hayes number based on Mint sales reports (2,263).
They therefore anticipate that the two coins will have similar final mintages but also indicate that they do not expect the final audited mintage from the Mint until Thanksgiving 2013.
My only qualm is how exactly they came up with a specific estimate if their main evidence source was anecdotes and conversations with buyers. I do agree that these two coins are the current series keys, and found it interesting to read that the authors have heard that some of the top dealers in the country are pursuing these two coins.
For years many collectors have questioned the need for a series honoring the first ladies of our nation, claiming they did little more than stand by their presidential husband’s sides. Such people must not have studied a lot of history since so many spouses played important roles in the history of our country such Eleanor Roosevelt and Hillary Clinton. The argument has often been made that as we get to the modern era with spouses more people are likely to be familiar with, such as Jackie Kennedy, interest may pick up.
Judging by recent e-Bay sales prices and Modern Coin Mart’s new inventory of Hayes and Garfield coins, with the BU pieces priced in NGC MS70 at $3,595 and $3,295 respectively, more people may want to take notice of this great series. As it happens, the Hayes MS70 was available last year not long after it was issued for around $1200 from MCM, or about $1,000 raw from the Mint. That’s quite an increase in a short period.
And it is possible the bottom in sales may have been reached with those two coins, though there are no guarantees. As with most other low mintage spouse coins, sales numbers came in so low in large part because the Mint stopped selling the coins sooner than buyers had expected.
Survey proposes Buffalo gold 2-coin set
Some customers of the Mint (www.usmint.com) recently received a survey about a proposed two-coin Buffalo $50 gold proof set that could be issued next year, which will be the 100th anniversary of the issuance of the beloved Buffalo nickel.
The set would include a regular proof and a reverse proof coin. Instead of minting to demand, the set would be issued in “quantities sufficient so that most people who currently purchase American Buffalo coins would have the opportunity to buy the set.” That number has actually varied quite a lot from a low in 2008 of 18,863 to a high for the first year of issue in 2006 (246,267), so it is not clear what the Mint has in mind in this regard.
The set is likely to cost $4,000 or more based on today’s gold prices. That is a rather prohibitive price for many collectors, and if the mintage is similar to the mintages for recent years, which are in the 30-60,000 range, and those coins are actually sold, I find it hard to believe these sets will have a lot of aftermarket potential.
The survey also asked about the possibility of changing the design of this coin and once again offering fractional versions in proof or uncirculated finishes, which would be popular with many collectors.
I have nothing against this attractive series, or the proof American gold eagle series, but buyers of those coins should be aware that apart from the series keys, which happen to all be from 2008 so far, these coins usually do not carry much in the way of premiums apart from PF-70’s and not even much for them. The same is true of the Buffalo proof coins apart from the 2008 coin. In fact, depending on how demand is in the wholesale market at any given time, someone selling a proof gold eagle to their local dealer can typically expect to get about the same price for the proof gold as the bullion gold that retails for a much lower premium.
While no decision has been made, it is worth remembering that the Mint asked survey respondents last year if they were interested in special American silver eagle sets similar to the San Francisco 75th anniversary set that was minted to demand and sold in July.
Mint responds on real-time silver coin pricing
LG: A lot of Mint customers often wonder why the Mint does not use “real-time” pricing for its precious metal coins, which coin dealers use, and not just for bullion coins. By “real-time” pricing mechanism I mean prices which update as spot metal prices change throughout the day. That is what bullion dealers and coin dealers use for coins that are either bullion or bullion-based such proof and uncirculated American eagles. If it would not be feasible to have a system that constantly updates throughout the day, an alternative would be a once a day price update, perhaps based on that day’s average spot price. I know it is unlikely the Mint would implement such a system, but a lot of collectors are curious why that is the case.
U.S. Mint: These are collectibles and not meant to be investment coins. Therefore, we determine a product price for the calendar year allowing for all overhead plus a margin and try to keep the product price stable throughout its offering. This is one of the factors that distinguishes bullion coins as an investment rather than numismatic product. In addition, we currently have a have a seven-day return policy for our products. Not only would it be quite labor-intensive to update all product prices daily, but we also be creating another type of marketplace with buy/sell happening everyday either through spikes in orders or cancellations and returns.
LG: Finally, with the Mint’s current weekly pricing update for gold and platinum coins, it is not clear why platinum coins increase by $100 per ounce, while gold coins increase by $50 per ounce, especially at a time when gold and platinum spot prices are so similar to each other.
U.S. Mint: When we established the pricing grid a few years ago, our primary objective was to minimize price changes and, in the event they were necessary, not to change them significantly. At that time, the market price of platinum was twice that of gold. Since then, the market price of gold has increased to the point that it is now close to that of platinum. By keeping gold in increments of $50, we are probably changing prices more than we had hoped.
We are currently reviewing the pricing grid, and part of the review will be increments of both gold and platinum.
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.