by Louis Golino for CoinWeek…..
Identifying which coins are the lowest mintage pieces in a particular series has always been at the very heart of coin collecting in general, especially modern coin collecting.
But collectors often lack the right tools to determine which coins are the low-mintage keys in their series.
There are two reasons for this.
- First, the U.S. Mint’s sale reports, which are released weekly, have to be reconciled and adjusted to reflect cancellations, returns, and other changes before a final audited mintage number can be made available. That can take some time.
- Second, printed reference sources on modern U.S. coins have not done a very good job of providing updated and accurate mintage data over the years, although that is starting to change.
The widely-read and used “Red Book,” or Guide Book of United States Coins (Whitman Publishing, 2012), now in its 66th edition, has included incorrect data on the mintages of modern U.S. coins in recent years.
I and other numismatic writers have brought this to the attention of the publishers of the Red Book, but for some reason, the wrong data continues to be used. I certainly do not mean to suggest that the Red Book lacks value for collectors and numismatists. It remains an important reference source, but it would be much better if more care went into the preparation of mintage information about recent coins. To do so, those who prepare the book would do well to consult reputable online reference sources and work with the U.S. Mint.
Perhaps the best example of this weakness of the Red Book is the information on the $10 First Spouse gold series, which includes some glaring mistakes.
Coin World writer Erik Martin, writing in the market analysis section of the July 16 issue of Coin World, said that the 2009-W Julia Tyler coins remains “the series’ low-mintage champ with 2,188 Uncirculated and 3,878 Proof strikes.”
When I saw this story, I immediately knew that it was not correct. The lowest mintage uncirculated coin is actually the 2011-W Eliza Johnson coin with 2,905 coins sold when sales were ended recently, and the 2011-W Julia Grant coin is the lowest proof coin with 3,969 coins sold at the conclusion of sales in April. Both of those figures are not final audited numbers, but they are the most current available data as reflected in the Mint’s weekly sales reports.
The numbers which Mr. Martin used for the Julia Tyler coins
“come from are the same as those” ** in the 2013 edition of the Red Book, and they are not correct. The correct data on these coins does, however, appear in a new book by John Maben and Eric Jordan, Top 50 Most Popular Modern Coins (Krause, 2012).
** Editors Note: CoinWeek was incorrect to state that the mintage numbers used by Mr. Martin “came from the 1913 Red Book”. We do not know the source of his information or how it was compiled. The mintage are however the “same” as those used in the Red Book. We apologize to all concerned for this mis-statement and have made the correction above.
As John Maben explained to me in an interview I did with him about the book that appeared on May 24 in Coin Week , “When it comes to modern coins, Eric is known for turning over every stone to produce the finest mintage and comparative analysis data known to man. He took on this task. The data used in the mintage tables came directly from the US Mint web site and their Office of Public Affairs.”
“After a coin’s mintage was received from the Mint it was checked against the weekly sales report behavior at the close of the sales cycle to make certain that all options for the purchase of the coins were included in the final numbers. If the two pieces of data did not fit then a new inquiry was made at the Mint. Collectors of new active series need up to date mintage data, and based on my research ours are correct final audited numbers through Sept 29th 2011 unless otherwise noted.”
According to the work done by Mr. Jordan, the Tyler coin mintages are actually 3,143 for the uncirculated, and 4,844 for the proof version. That represents a difference of roughly 1,000 coins in both cases from the figures in the Red Book, which is a very substantial difference. Coin collectors deserve to have more accurate information than that.
As interest in the spouse coins has waned in recent years, mintages have been coming in much lower than they did during the earlier years of the program. The Mint has also reduced the authorized maximum mintage levels several times, and slowing sales in 2011 may result in another cut in those levels. None of the spouse coins except those released in 2007 sold out of their maximum mintage levels, and those issues trade for close to bullion value, because they are perceived as common, even though many were melted.
Moreover, there is simply no way to know today what the lowest mintage coin of the series will be when the series concludes. But based on recent trends, there is a strong likelihood that some future coin will come in with a lower number.
In addition, numbers do not tell the whole story. The Julia Tyler coins, and those of Letitia Tyler, President Tyler’s second wife, both continue to carry premiums, and that is partly a result of the fact that they are broadly perceived as attractive pieces that depict beautiful women.
The Eliza Johnson coin, on the other hand, has been repeatedly criticized as being unattractive, and that probably goes a long way to explaining why so few coins were sold.
As I have written many times, today’s unloved coins that sell poorly often become tomorrow’s low-mintage darlings. But the catch is that the coins need to combine low mintages with long-term demand, and a lot of times one is there without the other.
A case in point is the five-ounce America the Beautiful coins, which also had a strong start during their first year of issue in 2010. The coins were not actually made available until early the following year. The 2010 bullion coins, which were hard to obtain in early 2011, due to distribution problems, and the first 2010 numismatic version, the 2010-P Hot Springs coin, were hot commodities for a while.
But then interest in these coins began to decline, and today sales numbers for both versions of the coins are very low. The Mint has also reduced the maximum mintage levels for the numismatic versions to 25,000, while the bullion versions are currently minted to demand.
It is possible that future collectors will pay a premium for coins in this series with low mintages, but if few people collect them over the years, and even fewer build complete sets, the demand for them will probably not be there.
And therein lies the conundrum of modern coin collecting. Which coins that few people want today will be in high demand tomorrow? That is the $64,000 question.
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 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.