by Louis Golino for CoinWeek
Last week a polling company hired by the U.S. Mint e-mailed some of its customers a fascinating survey that sought to gauge the level of interest in some new collectible coins.
Few things get coin collectors, especially those who collect modern U.S. coins, more excited than the possibility of new coins, especially limited edition coin series.
So it is hardly surprising that collectors are thrilled by the prospect that the Mint may issue several new coins and series this year and in the coming years, including new lines of collectible American silver eagles.
In addition, a palladium American eagle may be coming soon, and the possible return of platinum bullion coins was discussed in the 2011 annual report of the Mint.
American palladium eagle
The palladium eagle has already been authorized by a 2010 U.S. law and was slated to be released this year, but that schedule seems unlikely now. The Mint hired an outside firm to do a feasibility study of a palladium coin, but the study has not yet begun.
The Mint is currently seeking a new vendor to conduct the study because the company it originally hired was found to have financial connections to the palladium industry, according to a report in Coin World.
The coins may be released in both bullion and collector versions, but unless the feasibility analysis concludes the coins can be made at no net cost to taxpayers, they will not be produced.
The U.S. Mint receives no taxpayer funding, and is what is known as public enterprise fund. It is funded through profits on the sale of numismatic and bullion coins. Some of the profits and seigniorage it earns are sent to the Treasury to reduce the public debt. The rest are used to fund its operations, including the production of circulating coins.
The palladium eagle will feature a high relief version of the Mercury or Liberty Head dime on the obverse, and a reverse based on a medal for the American Institute of Sculptors. Both designs are the work of renowned sculptor Adolph Weinman, who also designed the Walking Liberty half dollar.
The palladium coin has the potential to elicit interest that may compare to that for the 2009 Ultra High Relief double eagle, especially since gold has gotten too expensive for many people and palladium costs about one-third as much as gold.
Platinum Bullion Coins
The possible return of platinum bullion coins, which were last issued in 2008, is discussed in the recently released 2011 annual report of the U.S. Mint. It says the Mint is working with its network of authorized purchasers to determine the best way to do this.
I think it is a good idea for the U.S. Mint not to lose so much market share to foreign governments that currently issue platinum bullions coins like Canada and Australia, but as a collector I would be more interested in the return of the fractional burnished and proof platinum coins the Mint produced until 2008. They include the lowest mintage modern U.S. coins ever struck such as the 2008-W half ounce burnished uncirculated coin.
The products that are most likely to get collectors’ blood flowing are the possible new collectible American silver eagle products that were discussed in the new Mint survey.
The survey included the following highlights. It asked mainly if collectors were interested in some new silver eagle products that build on the success of the 25th and 20th anniversary eagle sets as well as the line of burnished uncirculated coins made since 2006 (except for 2009).
It also asked about interest in an American silver eagle San Francisco proof bearing an “S” mint mark, and an American silver eagle San Francisco reverse proof coin bearing an “S” mint mark.
“This set will be the first in a series of annual special silver coin sets that the U.S. Mint will begin producing once per year, beginning in 2012. The second installment, featuring additional unique coins, would be produced in 2013.”
It also said that these special coin sets would be limited to 200,000 units, sell for $125 each, and would have a household limit of two units. The Mint received widespread criticism for limiting the 25th anniversary set to five units, especially since the mintage was 100,000 sets.
Possible new silver eagles
The survey also asked if collectors were interested in the following possible coins:
– Standard American Eagle silver proof coin
– Standard American Eagle silver uncirculated coin
– American Eagle silver bullion
– coin with a unique design feature such an ultra high relief coin
– uncirculated American Eagle silver coin with special mint mark (e.g., “S”, “D”, etc.)
– coin with a unique finish such as a reverse proof
– proof American Eagle silver coin with special mint mark (e.g., “S”, “D”, etc.)
It is worth noting that on the same day the survey went out, David Harper, editor of Numismatic News, made his annual predictions for the year in coins, and it included the prediction that the Mint will make the “S’ mint and reverse proof coins ongoing series.
I am intrigued that the Mint would suggest the possibility of coins made at its facility in Denver since collectible coins have never been made there, and producing them there would involve a major expense of new equipment and other costs.
I also wonder how would these coins would impact values for the 25th anniversary sets if the Mint began releasing annual collector sets of reverse proof and special mint marked silver eagles. Since the proposed mintage of the new sets is 200,000, or twice that of the 25th anniversary sets, values for the anniversary sets should remain strong and increase over time.
There does appear to be a high level of interest in making the S and reverse proof coins ongoing series and in an ultra high relief silver eagle.
But there are at least two potential pitfalls here. First, the Mint seems to be saturating collectors with different coins now, especially after starting a new line of five-ounce silver coins in two different finishes. Second, I question whether the Mint can handle the production and distribution of all these products.
In addition, if or when silver tops $50 or even $100 or more at some point, will collectors still buy these coins?
Finally, if these products are made, then the Mint will need to make something different and special for future anniversaries such as perhaps silver eagles with selective gold plating similar to what some other countries issue. I know some collectors dislike the idea of gilded coins, and I am not suggesting they be made, or that the Mint start issuing colored coins.
What do readers of this column want? Would selective gilding appeal to collectors? Have you received a survey from the Mint on this? What do you think mintages should be?
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.