by Louis Golino for CoinWeek
Determining which coins will be low mintage keys in their respective series is a significant part of the fun of collecting modern U.S. coins. As one year nears its end, astute collectors study sales figures and compare them with the final mintages for coins in the same series.
It is a risky game to only choose a coin because you expect it to be low mintage and therefore to probably appreciate in value. A future coin could turn out to have a lower mintage. That is especially the case with precious metal coins that are getting so expensive that more and more collectors of series like the First Spouse gold coins or proof American platinum eagles are forced to drop out for budgetary reasons.
But if you like a particular coin or series, or have been collecting that series and want to keep your set updated, and have reason to believe it could become a new key or a low mintage coin, there are solid reasons to purchase it.
The U.S. and world mints have figured out that they can create instant rarities and hype demand by issuing coins in small numbers. World mints do this much more than the U.S. Mint does. Collectors sometimes forget that it is not just supply but also demand that matter. And demand changes over time and varies greatly depending on the coin and the particular market.
That is especially true of world coins. For example, many American collectors have a hard time understanding what all the fuss is about when it comes to the 2012 Year of the Dragon Lunar coin program that is so popular in other countries. But that is because they are not always aware of the high demand for such coins in Asian countries, or the high prices that earlier Lunar coins bring like the 2000 dragons from the Perth Mint.
2011 was one of those rare years in modern U.S. collectible coins when several factors converged to create more new key coins than any other year in recent memory except 2008. I have previously discussed the 2008 keys:
Two key factors that contributed to the low mintages of several 2011 coins are the high price of precious metals, and the large range of different Mint products to choose from. As a result, some coins just fell under the radar, and collectors decided they could not afford others.
2011-W gold eagle
Readers of this column who read an earlier article on low mintage 2011 coins and took my advice to purchase the 2011-W uncirculated American gold eagle now own the key to the entire gold eagle series. With a tentative final mintage of just 8,822 coins, this coin has a lower mintage than any other one ounce gold eagle of any finish, or of any burnished uncirculated gold eagle coin of any denomination. The previous burnished key, the 2008-W $10 one-quarter ounce coin, sells for approximately $1600, or about five times its issue price. It has a mintage of 8,883.
It is impossible to predict what the 2011-W one ounce burnished coin will be worth in the future, and it remains possible that a future coin will have a lower mintage. But the coin has solid potential, at least in the medium term.
So far the coin, whose price varied during the year according to the gold price, has been selling for a relatively modest premium. Many collectors purchased it for around $1778 and today it sells for anywhere from a little over $2,000 to $2500 depending on whether it is raw or a graded 70 coin.
The market for this coin is still in the process of being shaped, and relatively few such coins have come to market yet. Coin markets tend to work in cycles, and it could be three to five years or more before this coin’s value peaks. Buyers should never expect a quick profit, and those that do quickly go up, usually just as quickly go down in value.
Army half dollar
Another 2011 key is the Army half dollar. Both the uncirculated at 39,461 and the proof, with a mintage of 68,349, are the new key modern commemorative half dollars with the lowest mintages since this series began in 1982. The previous keys were issued in 1995 for the Atlanta Olympics.
These coins saw an immediate spike in price within a short period of the end of sales on December 18. By January 1 NGC MS69's had already sold for $138 and $178 on e-Bay. Prices then settled a little, as more sellers decided to cash in on high market prices.
This abundant supply led to some moderation in the price. At the moment, raw coins are selling for about $60, or about four times the initial price of $15.95. Coins graded MS69 by NGC are bringing $70-75, while PCGS first strike MS69 coins are in a class of their own. Only 100 such coins exist, and they are now seldom available on e-Bay. The most recent auction for one in late January brought $180, although last month I obtained one for $75. I would not be surprised to see the PCGS coin reach $300 or more eventually, and raw pieces may settle at around $150 given that the 1995 coins bring $100 or more and have a much higher mintage.
The Army uncirculated coin often has scuff marks and abrasions, and no MS70 PCGS coins exist. NGC has graded 16 coins as MS70, but I have never seen one for sale.
Army and Medal of Honor $5 gold coins
Last year’s commemorative coin program included the first $5 gold coins issued since 2008. Half eagles were minted for the Army and Medal of Honor programs.
The proof versions are the new keys to their series, and the uncirculated pieces are the third and fourth lowest mintage coins in their series. The army proof coin has a final mintage of 17,173, while the MOH proof coin had a mintage of 18,012. For the uncirculated coins, the Army piece only sold 8,062 pieces, while the MOH sold 8,251.
So far, the uncirculated Army coins are selling for $600, while the Army proofs are bringing $700. Proof-70's are selling for $800-900. The coins were originally available for as little as about $435 for the uncirculated and $445 for the proof.
The Medal of Honor coins tend to bring a little more because they are widely seen as having one of the best designs on a U.S. coin in many years. I expect that will underpin values for years to come.
In recent weeks the BU MOH coin has been selling for about $650, MS70 examples have sold for as much as $1,000, and the proofs are bringing similar prices.
It is interesting that relatively few of either the Army or MOH coin have been sold on e-Bay since the coins became unavailable from the Mint, which suggests owners are waiting to sell because they believe future prices will be higher.
2011-W silver eagle
One coin from last year that is still available which could become either the new key, or the second lowest mintage in its series, is the 2011-W American silver eagle burnished uncirculated coin.
The 2006-W is the current key with a mintage of 466,573. So far if one adds individual sales through last week of the 2011-W coin to those in the 25th anniversary sets, the total is about 360,000.
It is unclear how long this coin, which went on sale last September, will remain for sale.
The U.S. Mint lowered the price for this coin late last year, after silver prices declined, to the attractive level of $45.95. With silver near $35 an ounce, the bullion version of this coin retails for $40. The burnished uncirculated coins are made to a much high quality standard and have the potential to be low mintage coins depending on how long the Mint sells them, and how many more units sell. At its current price, it is a very good buy.
Sales have spiked a lot in recent weeks, probably because of the lower price, and at this point it is hard to say whether they will exceed those of the 2006-W coin. This is one worth keeping an eye on since even if it comes in as second lowest, it should eventually command a decent premium. The 2006-W, which issued at $20, sells for about $75, and at one point sold for about twice that amount.
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.