by Louis Golino for CoinWeek ………
Sales of the West Point Silver Eagle sets began at noon on May 9.
According to David Harper of Numismatic News , during the first two hours 88,000 sets were sold, which is more than during the entire first day of sales of last year’s San Francisco sets. The 2012 sets sold 85,341 sets on launch day, according to the U.S. Mint.
According to the Mint, 65,000 orders were placed during the first hour and a half on May 9 at which point the Mint's web site crashed. The Mint then rebooted the system, which took less than an hour, and by 4:45pm 110,000 orders had been placed. The Mint posted messages asked for customers to be patient and noting that the coins are available for sale until June 6.
Sales for the entire day, May 9, were either 138,514 sets, which was the first figure posted on the Mint’s sales odometer early in the afternoon of May 10, or 149,622, which is the figure that was reported in a press release the Mint sent to the numismatic media about the same time. Either way I believe that is a record for first day sales of Silver Eagle sets.
By Monday, May 13, sales were up to over 182,000 sets, and then began to slow as the following day’s total was only about 5,000 higher.
There are two main reasons why customers wanted to place their orders early. First, the sooner an order is placed, the sooner it is likely to ship, particularly since these sets are being made to demand.
A certain number of sets were minted in advance of the start of sales, and those are expected to be shipped to customers who placed their orders during the first hour. Those buyers received estimated ship dates of June 17 in most cases. That date may change. The sets are minted in batches and will likely be shipped out in batches.
The second reason is that a lot of buyers, both individuals and dealers, plan to submit their sets for grading to PCGS and NGC and want to receive first strike and early release labels on their coins. Those coins sell for a premium in many cases, especially when it was difficult to place an order that would be shipped in time to be eligible for those labels.
A reprise of the age-old debate on the merits of such labels, and the fact that the first coins shipped are not necessarily the first ones made, quickly ensued on the coin blogs.
Many people also questioned why so many felt the need to order during the first couple of hours since they had an entire month to order.
Rumors that some companies such as television telemarketers placed orders for thousands of sets also began to swirl.
As the orders poured in during the first couple of days of sales, estimated shipping dates were pushed back further and further. By May 14 the shipping date estimate was September 30.
People who ordered their 2012 San Francisco sets early were rewarded with much higher premiums for first strike and early release-eligible sets, and those who received their orders later in the year saw premiums on those sets drop substantially.
An additional factor is that web site crashes, a slow system, and so forth seem to help create a kind of frenzy that encourages many buyers to order early.
Plus many collectors believe that coins struck at the West Point Mint tend to be of higher quality than those made at the San Francisco Mint. Last year many buyers reported receiving coins that were of subpar quality, which helped drive premiums higher on 70-graded sets.
But whatever problems people encountered, they were not as serious as the delays that took place in 2011 when thousands of people were trying to order 100,000 25th anniversary eagle sets that sold out in about five hours with an average order of around 4 sets.
The West Point sets are of great interest to Silver Eagle enthusiasts in large part because both the proof and enhanced uncirculated coins will be unique to the sets, and because this will be the first Silver Eagle ever minted with multiple finishes using the Mint’s new laser frosting techniques.
Final sales are hard to predict now, and many people may cancel some of their orders if the numbers on the sales odometer are over 300,000 during the final days the sets are available. It is quite possible the sets will sell 350,000 units or more, which would be a new high for special Silver Eagle sets.
Some people believe that will drive down premiums for these sets on the secondary market, which is quite possible.
But a key factor many people tend to overlook is future demand because they focus so intensely on mintage levels.
As I have argued in the past, today’s buyers really do not have any way to gauge what future demand will be for these coins, but it is likely to be strong. Silver Eagles are increasingly popular as a collectible series, as Eric Jordan explained in my recent article , and the subset of special-finish coins are likely to remain in high demand provided the Mint does not issue too many of them.
While I do think the Mint will issue more coins in this series with special features such as perhaps a high relief version for the 30th anniversary, I also think the Mint is aware of the view common in the collecting community that it would not be wise to issue a special anniversary set or coin every year. Because then they would not be so special.
In addition, keep in mind that as I noted recently, the CCAC has recommended that the design of the Silver Eagle be modernized. If at some point the U.S. Congress acts on that recommendation, collectors will have something new to enjoy about this series besides changes in the finish of the coins.
Update on White Mountain bullion coins: On May 14 the Mint reported on its web site that sales of this coin for the year so far are just 12,700. That is probably not the final number.
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.