By Louis Golino for CoinWeek....
2015, like 2012 before it, was a year in which numerous U.S. Mint products sold out of their maximum mintages or had their sales ended prior to reaching those levels.
While this happens to one degree or another almost every year, the parallels with 2012 are considerable. In both years numerous Mint products sold out and set new low mintages.
Others were equally fast but not as widely foreseen. For example, some people believed the 2015-W American Platinum Eagle’s $400 retail premium over melt would deter buyers (assuming the $1,200 price tag itself did not).
Still other sell-outs happened sooner than expected, such as the 2015-P Saratoga National Park 5-ounce silver America the Beautiful coin that sold out within a week of going on sale--faster than any previous release in the collector series of America the Beautiful five-ounce silver coins, despite having a design many collectors said was too simple for a large-canvas coin.*
There were also the coins and sets that were pulled from sale at the end of the year (the 2014 silver and clad proof sets, mint sets, etc.). Those items could have been sold into 2016, but the Mint decided to stop selling them.
In addition, because of how the Mint’s lawyers interpreted recent legal provisions on changing the silver composition of coins currently struck in 90% silver (which also requires collector versions of 2016 American Silver Eagles to include incused edge lettering designating them as 30th-anniversary issues), at the end of December the Mint pulled any products that contained 2015-dated collector Silver Eagles.
As was the case in 2012, many of the 2015 sell-outs resulted in new low mintages--or became one of the lowest mintage coins--in their respective series.
In addition to the 2015-W American Platinum Eagle, which is the new series key with sales of 3,886**, some of the others include:
- The 2015-W American Buffalo Proof Gold coin, whose sales of 16,561 are more than 2,000 below the previous low, the 2013-W coin at 18,584;
- The U.S. Marshals Service clad half dollar, which is the new low for that series at 29,819 coins sold;
- The $5 gold Marshals uncirculated coin that will be either the third- or fourth-lowest in its series at 6,674 coins sold;
- Numerous proof and mint sets, which set new lows well below those reached in 2012. These products include the 2015 mint set, the clad proof set, the clad quarter proof set, the silver quarter set, the presidential proof set, and others. Only the 2012 silver proof set retains its lowest-mintage status against the 2015 issue.
So why were all these new lows set, and do they even matter for collectors and for the modern U.S. coin market?
The reasons for the lows vary from one series to another. In the case of something like the 2015-W Buffalo proof gold coin, the high expense of that piece and numerous other precious metal coins issued during the year (like the 2015-W American Liberty high relief gold coin), likely drove the lower sales.
The competition between such products for the collector’s dollar should also be noted.
But while the Buffalo proof has not done much in the way of secondary market appreciation so far, it may well appreciate over time--especially if its low-mintage status is not overtaken by another coin. But I would not be surprised if the 2008-W coin remains king of that series because collectors like putting together four-coin sets from that year with the only fractional Buffalo gold coins ever issued, thereby supporting strong demand for the issue.
In cases like the Saratoga P sellout, I suspect speculative demand played a role since the one-day sellout of the bullion version at 45,000 coins meant only 20,000 at most could be sold, but the Blue Ridge P coin saw its sales end when it reached 17,462, so buyers suspected the Saratoga coin was also struck in a batch of a similar quantity. This coin has so far seen about a 25% increase in value.
As far as significance, that is also variable across different coins and series with some mattering more than others.
In recent years collectors have gotten used to playing the low mintage game, and one of the reasons coins like the 2015 Buffalo proof do not see the quick premiums develop as they would have in the past is that buyers suspect that today’s new low will be overtaken by another coin later, so why pay a high premium?
On the other hand, the 2015 platinum proof is likely to hold its key status because 1), the United States Mint has never before set an authorized maximum mintage for a platinum or gold coin as low as 4,000 and 2), the specific circumstance leading to that unusually-low number was the difficulty sourcing platinum planchets for the coins, something that will probably not be repeated next year or anytime soon.
Plus the coin is stunning in hand and some who bought to flip probably decided to keep their coin when they saw it.
On the commemorative coin front, I highly doubt the Marshals clad half dollar will see much in the way of premium increase, especially given the initial reaction of collectors to the 2016 National Park Service clad half dollar, which may set another low due to the apparent unpopularity of the design as well as the decision to raise the price of these coins to a level many buyers feel is excessive.
As far as the $5 gold commemorative series, we will probably see only a slight premium for the Marshals coin and probably not right away given the performance of the Five Star Generals coin. Over time it will depend on whether lower mintage coins emerge.
With respect to proof and mint sets, even though the 2015 sets that set new lows in many cases did so by thousands of sets, it is unlikely they will see much in the way of price appreciation. Collectors have become used to the fact that these sets are very rarely money makers, especially since so many of them today sell for much less than they did years ago (well under issue price in many cases).
Astute collectors realize these sets are for the joy of collecting and make nice gifts.
Modern coin collectors love low mintages and enjoy following sales numbers in the hopes of finding coins with opportunity. Understanding the context for sales and mintage numbers, especially the history of the respective series and how those coins performed over time, is at least as important as following the raw numbers.
And be careful not to chase new low mintages unless you have good reason to believe the low will last and matter, which is usually for a coin that sold out very quickly and was in high demand. Many people unable to purchase such a coin when sold by the Mint will want it in the future. But the same will not be true in all series.
*After the Saratoga P coin initially became unavailable at the Mint, some additional coins were offered for sale in the subsequent days, and they sold very quickly.
**Data is from the latest U.S. Mint sales report, which is current through December 27, 2015. Final mintage numbers that reflect returns and other adjustments will not be available for possibly several years based on past practice at the Mint but are unlikely to vary greatly from the latest sales.