By Jim Bisognani for Numismatic Guaranty Corporation….

A great roster of new issues in store for 2016, tracking down “Northern Lights” in the moonlight

It’s getting to be a habit; last year it was Juno, this year it was Jonas… what is it with massive “J”-named snowstorms the end of January? For those in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic, my prayers for a quick recovery from this historic gift from mother nature. At least this time we in the Granite State escaped the winter wrath, instead dealing with scores of political campaign staff canvassing and polling as their candidates jockey for position in the Presidential primary.

Since the first month of the New Year is under our belts, it is safe to assume that dealers have already updated their inventories to reflect FUN purchases. Always, yet especially after a major show, I make a quick scan of various dealers’ online inventories as I’m always interested to see who has what and at what price points. Of course first and foremost being a collector, I enjoy pulling up the US Mint website and taking a look at new issues for 2016 and their scheduled release dates.

Several glorious editions will be making their appearances this year. The 100th Anniversary installments of the Mercury Dime, Standing Liberty Quarter and Walking Liberty Half in gold are sure to cause quite the commotion. The Presidential Coin & Chronicle Sets look to be a popular collectible again and the just-released Mark Twain five-dollar gold and companion silver dollar should have quite the enthusiastic following.

I also made a quick tour of our neighbor to the north–the Royal Canadian Mint–to take a look at their diverse offerings as well. I’ve always had a fondness for Canadian coins because they were the first foreign coins I collected when I was a youth in Canada’s Centennial year of 1967. Wow! So many issues! In addition to the historic and wildlife themed, there are Looney Tunes characters and heroes from DC Comics, there are colorized, holograms and 3D coins. To be truthful it was a bit disconcerting at first. I realize there is a substantial market for the NCLT (noncirculating legal tender) coins. I just hadn’t taken the time to view the scope of the offerings. For many issues the packaging is a colorful and artistic delight in itself. I realize that this hobby has changed greatly in my lifetime and will continue to evolve. In due course, through this type of marketing it will continue to attract new collectors to our hobby. I guess, as with all things, if a coin or coins are selling at a fair issue price then the collector of this type of material has nothing to lose and will ultimately benefit by its enjoyment.

northern_lightsTo me coins were always meant to circulate, the exception being proof issues. Yet, like any other business, if there is a market there will be a product. With that said, after a few minutes on the Royal Canadian Mint’s online catalog, my eyes fell on a spectacular coin–a new release for 2016–a “Northern Lights in the Moonlight” $30 coin. Limited to 4,000 pieces, it is a mammoth, stately 54 mm silver proof coin. On the obverse the bust of Queen Elizabeth II, the reverse two wolves baying in the moonlight as the Northern Lights surround them and the frozen mantle beneath them. An amazing work, yet even more spectacular, this rendering glows in the dark! It’s obviously quite the process to produce and according to instructions on the Mint website, it’s recommended to hold the coin under a lamp for about a minute before viewing it in a darkened room.

Just reading that made me think of my first wristwatch, a military style one which had glow-in-the-dark phosphorus numerals whose luminosity obviously reacted much more vividly after being placed under a lamp source for a few seconds. I know it may sound a bit ridiculous coming from an old timer such as me, but this coin screamed take me home to you and the Mrs.

While I enjoyed the design, I know that my wife, although not a collector, would be enthralled as Beth loves wolves. Being in northern New England, we both enjoy the Northern lights immensely when they make their grand appearance. A glow-in-the-dark coin, who saw this coming? The theme and the novelty, commanded my attention and since there were only 4,000 produced for worldwide distribution, I had to act very quickly.

So I dialed up and spoke to a RCM representative at the Ottawa facility and asked to please check on the status of the issue. I was informed that it was a one-day sellout, however there were a small quantity allocated to the boutiques, Canadian Mint outlets in Ottawa, Winnipeg and Vancouver. I thought Great, I will have one shipped! Unfortunately, I was told that coins or sets at the boutiques have to be purchased at the boutique only and they do not ship. My quest would continue though…

As always I enjoy conversation and I asked the agent if he was a coin collector. I was informed that he wasn’t until he came to work as a representative at the Mint. The gent was 28 years old and had been working in customer relations at the Mint for three years and prior to that he didn’t really give coins much of a thought other than dealing with them in daily circulation. He is a collector now though and loves coins. The RCM rep most recently acquired the 2015 Bald Eagle Fractional collection and has picked up a couple of the Superman and other DC Comic issues last year. The congenial representative informed me that he’ll be anxious to acquire a new release slated for February 2 debut. At the time of our conversation, he could only tell me that it was a silver coin–a unique shape as well as an “interesting theme.” Just hearing about it piqued my curiosity.

During our conversation I thought of my friend dealer Ira Goldberg recent words to me about such modern issues: “The US Mint along with the Canadian, British, Australian, etc. are minting coins faster than they can be absorbed. It reminds me of what killed the stamp business which has been dying for decades now because of all the new crazy issues each government was printing. Way too much is being produced with no support for the secondary market and this does not help either. All that these mints want to do is garner as much money out of the collectors as they can. The packaging in many cases is beautiful and probably cost the mint more to produce than the coins they are trying to sell.”

I then brought up the subject of over production with my new friend, considering that with such a multitude of offerings the world’s major mints may not be doing the hobby justice by diluting the market with so many sets and single issues. He wholeheartedly agreed and advised that the RCM had reduced the number of coins and sets in 2016 by about 20% compared to last year’s output. I admit it was quite the positive experience I had with this Royal Canadian Mint representative. He was not only well-versed and professional, he was also a collector who cared about the hobby of numismatics.

I didn’t give up on the “Northern Lights” though, and my tenacity paid off. I located one through a US distributor in Oklahoma (APMEX) at a mere $20 over the issue price. I consider that to be quite the bargain! A mere two days after my purchase, most major distributors were either sold out or offering them at a 70% mark up over the issue price of about $135 USD!

While I agree that there are a plethora of world issues which may easily be forgotten a few decades down the road, the innovators, designers are producing these products to cater to the current and next generations. Coins, as we veterans know them, have evolved and may someday not that long down the road be extinct as a circulating medium. While the world mints may indeed be producing a lot of product, collectors need to be selective. If those individuals are looking at a purchase as an investment, then they must be careful, as Mr. Goldberg stated.

A secondary market must be established for any new issue to survive.

Presently, many world issues of this type are housed in third-party holders. NGC has graded and encapsulated tens of millions of coins and included in that roster is a substantial population of bullion coins and non-circulating legal tender from the US and major British Commonwealth countries.

By the way, if you haven’t viewed the NGC US or World Census recently, take a look. It is a highly efficient and user friendly experience!

A review of current statistics via the NGC Census reveals the following data. I actually found the exercise quite informative and surprising. As of this date NGC has graded a total of 23,589,399 US Coins – 46% of those slabbed were for modern commemoratives and bullion coins!

NGC census, U.S. coins
Courtesy Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC)

As for our neighbor to the north, there are 294,811 Canadian coins on the NGC Census; of the total, 105,871 or 36%, are for modern or noncirculating legal tender issues.

Actually I found quite amazing that Australia registers in with 366,366 coins graded by NGC and of that total 345,620 are modern and bullion related issues, which equals a staggering 94% of all Australian coins reflect modern and bullion related!

NGC census, Australian coins
Courtesy Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC)

What does all this mean actually? Obviously there is a strong presence of the non-circulating legal tender issues in the market place today. I actually bought my first NCLT set when I was 12. It was from the Government of Ajman: a 3-piece silver proof set issued in 1969! I still have that set, so I have been enjoying this stuff for nearly five decades! Some modern issues like the US Silver Eagles have proven to be to be a collector favorite. A lot of the coins are certainly hybrids, some may be considered art, produce eye-catching holograms or glow-in-the-dark elements to capture the viewers and hobbyists fancy as their selling point. As for the “Northern Lights,” I bought it because I liked it and it would be something to share with Beth. After all, that is what is important!

Until next time, happy collecting!

Jim Bisognani has written extensively on US coin market trends and values and was the market analyst and writer for a major pricing guide for many years. He currently frequently attends major coin shows and auctions.

1 COMMENT

  1. Colored coins are gimmicks, not real coins. I don’t believe there are anywhere near 4,000 actual collectors for the example you profiled or others like it and years from now, most of them are likely to be mostly forgotten. The earlier ones are novelties which are likely to lose most of their appeal if current mint practices continue or are expanded elsewhere.

    In Australia, the reason you see this lopsided distribution is because most local collectors apparently don’t like TPG, just as they don’t almost everywhere outside the United States, South Africa and maybe Canada and China. This is evident from the frequency with which TPG coins appear in non-US auctions and on dealer websites.

    In Canada, I suspect that a noticeable or disproportionate percentage of the non-NCLT graded by both NGC and PCGS are submitted and bought by Americans, not locals. I equally suspect the same for Australia NCLT.

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