By Louis Golino for CoinWeek ………
As we approach the end of 2013 and the start of 2014, what changes and developments can collectors of U.S. modern coins look forward to in the coming year?
For starters, the U.S. Mint has provided a preliminary online product schedule that focuses on core products by month and does not include specific issue dates. It also does not indicate when the five-ounce silver America the Beautiful coins are releasing, but since it lists the ATB quarters that carry the carry the same design, and since in recent years the launch of the quarters has for the most part paralleled the launch of the larger coins, buyers have a rough idea of when to expect them. For the spouse coins as always there is more mystery, though I do not think they will be released as late in the year as in 2012 and 2013 because the design approval process is further along than it was then.
In addition, the Mint will for the first time offer buyers a 10% discount on many core products, including items like annual sets and most silver issues other than commemoratives, if they sign up for a subscription for the product. Each subscription comes with a separate shipping fee of $4.95, but in most cases it would be worth getting the subscription, especially for the five-ounce silver coins, and provided silver prices stay about where they are.
A lot of collectors are noting in online forums that they plan to subscribe to the five-ounce coins in particular, and the question on everyone’s mind is whether the Mint will have to increase mintage levels because of the additional demand. But it remains unclear what kind of numbers we are talking about, and whether it is basically the same collectors buying what they would normally buy just doing it by subscription, or if demand will really rise. It will also be helpful to have one less thing to remember when one subscribes.
This is new territory for the Mint, which is different from other world mints in the way it prices coins. It prices most issues more competitively than its foreign competitors do. While it offers a 5% discount to anyone who spends over $5,000 in an order and has a business tax id, other world mints sell their coins on a wholesale basis to dealers, offering far greater discounts.
In terms of new and special issues, the Mint has not said much yet apart from plans to issue a special set or sets of half dollars to mark the 50th anniversary of the John F. Kennedy half dollar, which will probably be launched in August at the ANA World’s Fair of Money. There will be no special American silver eagle set in 2014, as the Mint realizes collectors are at the saturation point for those sets, but whether they issue enhanced uncirculated silver eagles as a single coin series instead is still a possibility. I am sure there will be some exciting surprises during the year too.
Designs for the ATB issues have been finalized and are receiving positive reactions from many collectors, but designs for the spouse coins and the American platinum eagle coins are still being reviewed. The Commission on Fine Arts has made a recommendation for the platinum coin, and I personally find it disappointing. Modern designs have to be compelling and display great artistry, or they simply will not appeal to most buyers and sales will remain sluggish, as they have recently. I also think the spouse designs are decreasing in artistic quality based on the 2013 spouse medals I received recently. The earlier coins had good obverses and somewhat weaker reverses, but now the reverses frequently show generic flowers that do not seem to have anything to do with the spouse being honored. I honestly cannot even imagine any other major world mint issuing such poor designs that have so little detail, such one dimensionality, and such a lack of originality. It is these very mediocre and uninspired designs that draw collectors away from modern designs and towards classic designs. Our artists and the committees that make recommendations simply must do better.
The 2014 baseball coins with an obverse shaped like a baseball glove and reverse that looks like a baseball plus a first-ever domed shape should be popular with collectors and baseball fans. I would not plan on more low mintage commemorative issues in 2014, though I am unsure how well the Civil Rights Act 50th anniversary coins will do.
Who knows what will happen to metal prices in the coming year, but after the lackluster performance of 2013, I think many coin buyers are going to be cautious in 2014 about adding to their bullion and collectible holdings. I personally plan to be more selective than ever, and I suspect many other people feel the same way. But it is also possible that if metals go even lower, that will stimulate greater demand for coins, as buyers pick up what they consider to be bargains.
Finally, I think in 2014 the Mint needs to reexamine its approach to mintages and order fulfillment. It has gone too far in the direction of producing coins to demand, and after taking orders for coins that are made to demand, it then takes far too long to ship orders. The mint to demand approach is producing coins that have little aftermarket value, which like poor designs, will drive away buyers, as they have little perceived scarcity.
The Mint seems to still be reacting to the situation in 2011 when many buyers were unable to purchase a 25th anniversary silver eagle set because of the combination of a 100,000 mintage and no household limit. The prevalence of coins and sets with no mintage limits is leading to a growing chorus of criticism that too many of the coins the Mint issues will not be widely sought in the future. There is no reason why mintages cannot be set at realistic levels and combined with some order and household limits, even if they are not full-proof, allowing for a fair distribution plus a coin that is not so common. The Mint is in danger of losing more sales and customers if it does not start doing this again. It is true that the Mint, as officials have pointed out, is not in the business of creating modern rarities, but collectible coins should be made in limited quantities. Otherwise, they are closer to bullion.
Happy New Year 2014 to readers of the Coin Analyst!
Louis Golino is a coin collector and numismatic writer, whose articles on coins have appeared in Coin World, Numismatic News, a number of different coin web sites in addition to being a contributor to “American Hard Assets magazine”. 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.