By Louis Golino for CoinWeek …..
As Pat Stovall, a longtime dealer in Mexican coins and the stepson of the late “Dean of American Experts on Mexican Numismatics” Don Bailey, noted recently: “The never-ending story of Mexican coins is that something new comes to light almost every day.”
In an interview for CoinWeek, Pat explained that while attending a coin show in Arizona during the previous week, a collector showed him a coin he had never seen and that he told the individual he would need to check into it before he could offer his opinion. The coin in question was a 2014-dated, 100-Peso reproduction of a famous classic Mexican coin that was part of the Numismatic Heritage Series the Casa de Moneda (the Mexican Mint) issued for several years starting in 2011. The unusual thing is that the coin was one that was part of the 2013 set (Series III), and the collector said he was told that 100 of them were made (whereas 8,000 are in the 2013 sets).
This is just one example of how fascinating collecting modern Mexican coins can be.
The Libertad series – issued in gold since 1981 and silver since 1982 – is at the heart of current interest in the coins of our southern neighbor. And every year there is some sort of unexpected development in the series that keeps collectors on their toes, such as a new type of coin or an unusually low-mintage coin in the universe of Libertads.
A universe, by the way, that has expanded considerably in the last five years.
Reverse Proof and Antique Finish
This September, after the release of the 2019 Reverse Proof coins, the mintage of all sizes of the silver coins (one, two, and five-ounce) with this finish and both sizes of the gold coins of this type (one and one-half-ounce) turned out to be the lowest ever for all of these coins. Each of the Reverse Proof silver issues was limited to 1,000 units (compared to 2,100 each for the larger coins in 2018 and 1,500 for the one-ounce that year), and both gold Reverse Proofs came in at 500 each (compared to 1,000 each last year – the first ones made).
As a result, premiums for these coins, especially for the one-ounce silver RP, have increased substantially. Keep in mind that of the 1,000 silver coins, 500 were sold by APMEX in a two-coin set paired with the 2019 regular silver Proof. In addition, hundreds of individual one-ounce coins have been graded, including some that were part of the APMEX set – which means there are not many ungraded one-ounce coins on the market.
As if that were not already exciting news, then came another bombshell. This year’s antique finish coins – issued like last year in one, two and five-ounce versions – were also each limited to 1,000 each. For the larger pieces that was a cut of 50% from 2,000, but for the one-ounce that was a reduction from 40,000 last year! Not surprisingly, this coin is the hottest 2019 Libertad at the moment, with premiums already more than double the initial retail price to current prices of $123 on October 25 on eBay at the one U.S. company that still has any in stock and $100-105 from a Canadian seller. Another dealer sold out of its supply at $100 each in days.
I asked Pat about this situation, and he noted that demand for this year’s Antique finish coins is much higher than for last year’s coins because of the lower mintages, which has attracted interest from speculators and pushed up prices. Last year when this coin was introduced, he felt the premium might be too high for many buyers and thought it was probably related to the manufacturing cost of the coins. Whatever the reason, he was hesitant to pass the cost on to his customers and did not purchase many of the coins for resale.
As for the 2019 antique issues, only time will tell how many of the coins remain in the hands of collectors as opposed to those of speculators, which will determine whether prices cool off or continue to go higher. As Pat noted, many series collectors were unable to obtain any one-ounce coins before they sold out, and many of them will be searching for examples in the current market.
Proof Gold Mintages
As for the Proof gold issues, which should be the final Libertad products of the year, 2019 will also be a good year for those with mintages as follows: 750 for the one-ounce; 650 for the half-ounce; 800 for the quarter-ounce and 1,000 each for the tenth and twentieth-ounce pieces. 500 of each size are issued in the five-coin Proof gold sets released each year, so the number of individual coins available is very small.
Pat also said that he considers the “Reverse Proof silver coins to be hidden gems and that many people don’t appreciate how scarce they are especially given the distribution patterns for the coins [i.e., that some coins remain in Mexico, and the rest are dispersed in North America, Europe and Asia -LG].” He added that he expects the 2019 issues of this type to be difficult to source in the future.
I followed up by asking why he thinks the mint releases coins every now and then with unusually low mintages, or where the actual sales are lower than the maximum authorized mintages and whether that is related to demand projections, production problems or what. Pat said he thinks it is a “calculated plan by the bank [Banco de Mexico] to stimulate more interest in the coins with low-mintage pieces and new issues.”
The central Mexican bank is looking to open a number of retail distribution centers, while other Mexican banks are looking to increase their distribution. As a result, in the future Pat expects to see a tightening of the market as more coins stay in Mexico. Over time, this may result in higher mintages for some products, but he sees that as a ways off since the current goal is to further establish the American market for these coins, which is increasing mostly because Hispanic Americans around the country are interested in collecting the coins of their heritage.
People who do not collect Libertads are probably not aware of how rare and valuable certain earlier key coins are.
For example, consider the 1999 five-ounce silver Proof with a mintage of just 100 coins – the lowest of any type of Libertad ever issued. That coin rarely comes up for sale, and one sold not long ago for $10,000. Also near the top of key coins is the 1999 one-ounce silver Proof, with a mintage of 600 coins and of which a Proof 70 example has traded for $6,000. 1999 is also the key year for the two-ounce piece with a mintage of 280 coins.
I asked Pat about something that has always intrigued me about Libertads, which is the difficulty of determining accurate market values for prior issues such as these rare Proofs. He began by pointing out that because there are so few such coins on the market and that they don’t come up for sale often, some people will try to artificially run up the price of coins they own by listing them for sale at an inflated price and waiting as long as it takes for them to sell at that level. They can do this when they have the only examples for sale.
Others will focus on coins they think have excellent potential, such as the 2017 tenth-ounce gold BU coin, which has a mintage of 300 coins, and hold on to them and see how their premiums evolve. He knows of one person who purchased some of these at the excellent price of $150 each in 2017 before prices rocketed to $1,000 for MS70 examples.
Pat also noted that scarce Libertads are probably sold half of the time in private sales and about half of the time at auction, typically on eBay or other platforms. In addition, he said that “the auction process is the best way to set the price” of a particular item “but only if there are a substantial number of auction participants.”
He ended by suggesting that anyone who owns the better-date, scarcer coins – including recent issues like gold coins with mintages of 500 or less – would do well to have them graded since there are counterfeit coins out there and to get unbiased, third-party assessments of the condition of their coins. Graded examples of better-date issues are much more liquid than raw coins.
Libertad collectors will be looking forward to what developments and surprises might be in store for the series next year.
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Louis Golino is an award-winning numismatic journalist and writer, specializing primarily in modern U.S. and world coins. His work has appeared in CoinWeek since 2011. He also currently writes regular features for Coin World, The Numismatist, and CoinUpdate.com, and has been published in Numismatic News, COINage, and FUNTopics, among other coin publications. He has also been widely published on international political, military, and economic issues.
In 2015, his CoinWeek.com column “The Coin Analyst” received an award from the Numismatic Literary Guild (NLG) for Best Website Column. In 2017, he received an NLG award for Best Article in a Non-Numismatic Publication with his piece, “Liberty Centennial Designs”.
In October 2018, he received a literary award from the Pennsylvania Association of Numismatists (PAN) for his 2017 article, “Lady Liberty: America’s Enduring Numismatic Motif” that appeared in The Clarion.