By Louis Golino for CoinWeek …..
March 27, when sales of the 2014 Baseball Hall of Fame commemorative coin series began, will be remembered as an exciting but for many collectors frustrating day when the U.S. Mint had its most successful commemorative coin launch in decades.
In somewhere between six and eight hours, depending on which source is correct, the Mint sold out of the maximum authorized mintage of $5 gold coins (both proof and uncirculated) of 50,000 units – a faster pace of sales for gold commemoratives coins than for any previous issue since the modern $5 gold program began in 1982 as far as I am aware. That means almost $22 million in gold coin orders for the Mint. Other coins, especially during the 1980s, sold more total units but over a much longer period. This also broke the recent trend of declining $5 gold coin sales, with total sales over the course of 2013 only reaching half the number sold on March 27.
At some time between 6:00 and 6:30pm EST the Mint posted a notice on the product pages for both gold coins indicating that orders received by the point in time had reached the maximum limit and that only if orders are cancelled would new ones placed after that time be filled on a first come-first served basis. Yet even a day later no official sell-out notice was posted, something many people found odd. In 2011 there was a short time between the wait list and sell-out notice. Unless a lot of people cancel their orders, which seems unlikely given the expected high secondary market demand for these coins, there will be a lot of people receiving cancellation notices in the coming weeks. On e-Bay, these coins are selling for prices of at least $200 over issue price, which I expect to rise in the coming days.
There has been a lot of confusion about the wait list and whether the coins are still available since they can still be placed in your cart. In part this may have been because the wait list notice was not placed in a very prominent place on the site, so many buyers kept ordering gold coins and assumed that if they received an order confirmation, there were all set. But the wait list notice specifically states that an order receipt does not mean a buyer will actually receive the coins.
In my first piece on this issue, I suggested that the launch of these coins would be the most important one since the 2011 25th anniversary set sold out in 4.5 hours, and that the gold coin might sell out on the first day, both of which turned out to be the case.
In various online coin forums buyers compared the experience to that in 2011, and discussed whether they were able to place orders online and with what degree of ease or frustration. To help reduce the level of frustration most people experienced in 2011 when it took me until just before the sell-out to get my order in, the Mint used a waiting room system.
Like many others this was my first experience with the waiting room. To increase my chances of getting through I logged on to the Mint’s site a little before noon on two different laptop computers as well as a tablet. At first each device said my wait time was about 15 minutes until it would be my turn to enter the catalog site and order, but on two devices the time quickly grew to about 45 minutes and longer, whereas on one machine I got in during the expected time. It then took me around 25 minutes to place one order because the site was slow and each action attempted took several minutes. It was a little annoying, but nowhere near as bad as in 2011.
But after reviewing hundreds of comments from other buyers (one blog site alone had a thread that reached almost 750 comments over about two days), I quickly realized I was one of the lucky ones.
There were definitely others who managed to get through the process relatively easily, but I would say a much higher number said the waiting room simply added another layer of frustration, and numerous buyers said they waited hours to get in, then got kicked off the site while trying to order, etc. A big part of the problem seemed to stem from the fact that even after someone who got into the site was finished, and even if they logged off the site and closed their browser, they could easily go back in again as many times as they wanted without having to get in line again. This seems to have vastly reduced whatever beneficial impact might come from the waiting room system as it made it much harder for others to get out of the waiting room and into the site. It was great if you happened to get in quickly, but not so good for the rest. It may have depended on when you logged in, your browser, or other factors.
Sales of the clad half dollar and silver dollar were not as brisk as those for the gold coins, but they were still the strongest opening day of sales in decades. On the morning of March 28 the Mint provided the following sales data, which appears to have been compiled sometime during the afternoon the previous day before the wait list notice was posted for the gold coins:
- gold proof 26,798 gold unc. 14,999
- silver proof 108,164 silver unc. 48,511
- clad proof 43,376 clad unc. 29,978
The gold coin total is about 8200 below the 50,000 max, which appears to be due to the time of reporting. In addition to online sales, the coins were also sold over the Mint’s telephone ordering system, where people also said they spent the whole day on the phone without ever getting through in many instances, and in-person—both at the Mint’s headquarters building sales counter, and at the Whitman Expo in Baltimore, Maryland. The stats above include all sales on the first day.
The coins sold briskly in Washington, DC and Baltimore with long lines of buyers waiting on average two hours at the coin show, and probably closer to an hour in DC. At the show buyers were limited to two gold coins per person and in DC the limit was one. For the other products the limit appears to have been three per person at both locations. Online buyers could get 50 of each type of gold coin. In DC they quickly sold out of their limited gold coin allocation, and more coins were made available the morning of the 28th that also went fast. In Baltimore a total of 400 gold coins, 200 of each type, also sold very quickly. There were unconfirmed reports that more coins would be made available on Saturday when young collectors were not in school and could attend the show.
During the opening day sales event in DC, Deputy Director Richard Peterson, who has been running the agency since Edmund Moy’s term as Mint Director ended in 2011, came downstairs to see how things were going. One collector said he had a nice chat with Mr. Peterson who took the time to answer questions and mentioned that excitement surrounding the release of the forthcoming John F. Kennedy gold coins would likely be even higher, and that the coins would be launched during the August ANA World’s Fair of Money.
In Baltimore there were reports that dealers managed to secure large quantities of the gold coins, which they presumably did by paying others to stand in line and purchase on their behalf. They also were reported to be paying $200 over issue price for coins in their original packaging, and a whopping $500 over for coins graded 70. It appears dealers also expect high secondary market prices for the gold issues.
Given the small number of coins available for in-person sales, which would appear to be in the hundreds in total, the number that will receive the special first day of release labels that NGC and PCGS offered for coins submitted at the show will be even smaller as only some portion of those coins will be submitted for grading. This seems likely to result in very high premiums for the coins with the special labels, whether submitted for on-site grading or dropped off to be graded and sent to the submitter later.
In Part II I will discuss some lessons from this major coin launch and make some suggestions for future launches.
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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 insightful retrospective on the American Silver Eagle is the cover feature of the February 2014 issue of The Numismatist. 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.