By Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker for CoinWeek
The 2011 U.S. Army half dollar has been selling for a significant premium in 2012, despite the fact that it is a coin virtually nobody wanted to buy last year. The budget-priced item features an army surveyor and two soldiers carrying sandbags on the obverse, and a minuteman on the reverse. The coin is cluttered with inscriptions, and the date (especially on the business strike version) is buried in the churning clouds of exhaust created by a launching missile. At first glance it resembles the Washington Monument- but it is in fact a missile, soaring off into the sky, set to level some remote target…. hardly an image that corresponds with the words “Service in Peace”.
The Army hasn’t enjoyed a peacetime posture in over ten years. This is just one of the many curious aspects of this ill-conceived design.
Cluttered and incongruous motifs aside, the coin was released into a crowded marketplace of military-themed commemorative coins stretching back to 2003’s West Point commemorative dollar. Militarism has been on Congress’ mind as of late, and much legislation has required the mint to keep churning out commemoratives for a consumer base whose demand for the coins has been in steady decline. Considering that both of this year’s silver commemorative releases continue the military theme (the U.S. Infantry dollar’s connection is obvious, the Star Spangled Banner dollar celebrates the penning of a song written during the War of 1812 and depicts Fort McHenry), and next year’s scheduled Five Star Generals set will make it four years running, there seems to be no end in sight for “war” coins.
It seems that the trend is down, down, down for military-themed commemoratives. Perhaps the market has become oversaturated in recent years.
While the law authorizing the Army half dollar set a mintage limit of 750,000 coins (a number the mint haven’t hit since the 1994 World Cup half), only 39,464 uncirculated Army half dollars and 68,349 proofs were sold. These low totals led Coin World’s Associate Editor Steve Roach to proclaim that the coin had an extremely low mintage. Those following the mint’s production reports through the latter part of last year were well aware of this fact, yet the coin still trickled out at just $19.95 a pop until December 31st.
But now industry types want you to be aware of just how “scarce” these coins are, which is driving demand and consequently an increase in price. If you’re thinking about buying now, be careful not to spring the trap set for you. One large dealer I spoke with off the record admitted that his dealership was a “market maker” for the coin, having literally hundreds of pieces. He offers the coin in NGC holders for $95 and raw for $80. For dealers, turning a profit of $60 per piece on a coin they’ve held in inventory for such a short amount of time is good business. For collectors, it’s time for reflection. If you weren’t in a hurry to buy this coin when it was cheap, why do you want it now that it costs 400% more?
Furthermore, as “scarce” as the Army half is, and specifically as “scarce” as uncirculated specimens are, you find mintage totals for the Medal of Honor and Army dollars nearly as low. Yet you don’t hear industry experts proclaiming how scarce those two coins are. The difference may just be a few thousand pieces- but that’s all relative when it comes to feeding coin dealers’ hype. As collectors, we must be savvy and pick our spots so that we have the most leverage possible. While dealers do deserve to make a living providing collectors with valuable coins and expert advice, we should always look out for our own interests. The current selling spree of the Army half is one of those instances where collectors and dealers interests do not exactly meet. Time will tell if I’m right or wrong about this modern commemorative, but there is one thing I am certainly right about. If you are buying the Army half now, you are five months too late.
Flip of a Coin:
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I am sitting on about 182 of these UNC Army half dollar coins and have to agree with the critisisms of the design and over-militarisation of the recent commemorative coins.
Still, it is the new key to the modern commemorative halves, at least, for now. The previous holder of that status, the Swimming Unc halves had a mintage of 10k more than the Army halves. These have been out long enough for the price to have settled into the $60-$65 range. We’ve yet to see a PCGS MS70, and even an NGC MS70 went for $1800 last month. The real winner will be finding one that’s not scuffy like most and hoping to get a 70 out of it.