By Louis Golino for CoinWeek…
U.S. Mint News in October: A busy month…
Silver Eagle rationing?
Last week the U.S. Mint sold 2.742 million American silver eagles to its network of Authorized Purchasers, a level that appears to be unprecedented. On October 1 alone it sold 1.150 million coins, which Mint officials said could be a record for one day’s sales. These numbers appear to be driven by two factors: the recent major drop in silver prices to the $17 level, the lowest in several years, and concerns that supplies could tighten and premiums may rise if this trend continues, especially if silver prices drop further.
Major silver coin dealers are reporting big spikes in sales of these and similar silver bullion coin sales, and this is what drove a handful of the largest companies to each place orders for several hundred thousand silver eagles last week.
Several times in the past few years the Mint has had to allocate these coins to deal with major spikes in sales. Last week’s sales numbers have raised concerns that this might happen again. When I spoke to Mint officials this week, they said that if this level of demand continues, rationing may be needed at some point but supplies are currently sufficient. In addition, at the moment the need for allocation seems unlikely because sales dropped to only 125,000 coins this past Monday.
The numismatic version of the five-ounce silver America the Beautiful coin sales numbers are revealed by the Mint every week usually at 5:00pm on Tuesday, and sell-outs are announced on the Mint’s retail web site when products are listed as no longer available. And often in the weeks prior to a sell-out the item will go on extended backorder.
But for the bullion coins it is harder to gauge when a coin has sold out. The Mint does provide data on monthly sales of the bullion coins that is updated in theory every week day by 5:00pm, though in reality usually once a week. That data reflects orders placed by its Authorized Purchasers for the coins. But it does not call a sell-out right away.
What this means in practice is that if the monthly total for a particular coin does not change for several weeks, that usually means the coin has or is about to sell-out, but that is not always the case.
Two of this year’s bullion versions are in this position now, the Arches coin at 22,000 and the Shenandoah at 21,500. Mint officials said that if no more orders are received, the coins will have sold out even though they have a maximum authorized mintage of up to 35,000. The Mint monitors sales for each coin, and if orders stop coming in, they end sales of that issue.
This is of considerable interest because both coins are at levels that are only slightly above the previous lows for the bullion series, which are the 2012 Volcanoes and Denali coins that each have mintages of 20,000.
Some dealers have sold out of the Arches coin, but others still have it, and most have the Shenandoah. There is simply no way to know for sure if these coins will acquire the kind of numismatic premiums that the 2012 coins have acquired, but since silver spot prices are low now, and the coins are sold at a relatively small premium over melt, I think it is worth picking up an extra example or more. But keep in mind that demand for these coins has ebbed and flowed a great deal from a low of 20,000 in 2012 to a high of 126,700 in 2011, and the low numbers now could simply be a sign of faltering demand among buyers that could continue.
New Mint web site
The Mint’s new web site has been up and running since October 1. While I have not personally encountered problems using the site, many collectors have reported numerous issues. When you first log on to the new site, it is necessary to reset your password using a security question from the old site, and your payment information also needs to be added to your account profile. Both steps were taken for security reasons, but many users reported problems with the security questions.
Others have encountered numerous script errors, especially when using the Firefox web browser, said they find it difficult to find products because of the way they are organized, noted that order confirmations are sent out with a delay, and have reported other problems.
The Mint added a section to the front page with information for new users that addresses some of these issues.
With the launch of the much-anticipated 2014 silver Kennedy half dollar 50th anniversary coins coming on October 28, many buyers have expressed concern that things will be a mess when those coins are launched. Hopefully it will not work out that way.
The waiting room that was in use for most of this year has been discontinued with the new site, which is designed to better handle large traffic, and the subscription program has been renamed an enrollment program. The 10% discount that subscribers had in 2014 is gone. However, Mint officials told me that new, targeted discounts using promotion codes will be used. There are also changes to shipping rates.
CCAC endorses new medal program
On September 24 during a meeting that was primarily focused on reviewing design candidates for numerous forthcoming coin and medal programs, the CCAC endorsed a new arts medal program. This program was first discussed and proposed by the committee on April 22.
The new medal program, which is the brainchild of Chairman Gary Marks, will if approved by the Secretary of the Treasury consist of two medals issued each year: an American Liberties silver medal, and a broad-based American-themed medal that would leave it to artists to choose the specific theme depicted. Any non-living U.S. person, place, event, etc. could be depicted.
Given the rather narrow range of most recent U.S. commemoratives this could open up some interesting possibilities to depict many of the themes that have been neglected such as the space program.
The American Liberties medals would be the same weight and size as American silver eagles, or they might be made as bronze or silver 3-inch diameter medals, and might be packaged together with American silver eagles. The reverse of these medals would depict an American eagle.
This part of the program reflects the vision of Chairman Marks and of the committee to develop modern images of Liberty that are as well-executed and inspiring as the classic Liberty-themed coinage that is so beloved by collectors.
Both parts of the program are intended to stimulate innovation and excellence in American medallic art and would give the artists who design them a great deal of freedom to express their own artistic visions. That will be possible because the medals will not be created at the initiative of congressional legislation that typically comes with very specific requirements.
Collectors have expressed mixed views about these proposed medals. Some people say they could be worth buying and collecting if the prices are reasonable and the designs are well done. Others feel the Mint continues to expand its range of products so much that it risks becoming like other world mints that issue a bewildering array of coins that no one can keep up with.