By Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez for CoinWeek….
Excitement is ramping up for the Liberty centennial 2016 gold coins honoring the vintage-1916 designs of the Mercury dime, Standing Liberty quarter, and Walking Liberty half dollar. While the United States Mint has not yet announced a release date for this trio of gold coins, many in the coin industry are looking forward to the day that these long-awaited commemoratives finally go on sale.
Still, some are cautious about how well these commemoratives may perform over the long haul. As many recent Mint releases go, the 2016 Liberty gold coins may enjoy an incredible (read: frantic) public reception, followed by a surge in secondary market prices for encapsulated “First Strike” and MS-70 graded specimens before the fever breaks and prices and possibly interest in general plunges.
Perhaps one saving grace for the 2016 Liberty centennial coins is that they feature faithful reproductions of three beloved coin designs, including the Mercury dime and Walking Liberty half dollar, both designed by Adolph A. Weinman, and Hermon A. MacNeil’s Standing Liberty quarter.
The Mercury dime, Standing Liberty quarter, and Walking Liberty half dollar were originally minted in 1916, and the designs have endured for decades. While the Standing Liberty quarter survived until only 1930, production of the Mercury dime continued through 1945, and the Walking Liberty half dollar marched on until 1947. The designs of the three silver coins will be almost perfectly emulated on the 2016 gold commemorative coins, issued in three different sizes and weights:
- The gold Mercury dime measures 17.9 millimeters wide and contains 1/10 ounce of 0.999 fine gold
- The gold Standing Liberty quarter contains 1/4 ounce of gold and has a 24.3-millimeter diameter
- The gold Walking Liberty half dollar features a 1/2 ounce of gold and features a diameter of 30.6 millimeters
Note that the physical diameter of each gold coin mimics the size of the dime, quarter, and half dollar, respectively. Furthermore, the weights of the three gold coins symbolically represent the denominations of the original silver pieces (e.g., the 2016 Walking Liberty half dollar contains a half ounce of gold).
As for other details about the new Liberty centennial 2016 gold coins, officials at the United States Mint are relatively tight lipped. Not only is the numismatic community still waiting for release dates, but there’s also no insight at this time regarding mintages, household ordering limits, or other information that may help us gauge, at a distance, how much buzz the release of these gold coins will generate.
No matter what, many in the coin industry aren’t hoping for a repeat of the melee that surrounded the release of the 2014 Kennedy 50th Anniversary gold half dollar.
Learning Lessons from the 2014 Gold Kennedy Fervor
As many will recall, the 3/4-ounce, 0.999 gold Kennedy half dollar was released on August 5, 2014 during the American Numismatic Association’s World’s Fair of Money coin show in Chicago where the U.S. Mint had a sales booth. The Mint, which had struck 40,000 pieces ahead of the coin’s release, sold the gold Kennedy halves at the ANA show as well as at sales centers at the Philadelphia Mint, Denver Mint, and U.S. Mint headquarters in Washington, D.C. The Mint announced that it would sell 500 gold Kennedy coins per day for five consecutive days, providing immediate delivery with a strict limit of one coin per person (customers could order five coins per household online, though there was no guarantee when the coins would be shipped to buyers).
A number of major coin dealers hired people to stand in line and purchase coins at the World’s Fair of Money and the branch mint sales centers. These dealer proxies were paid as much as $500 each to wait in line and purchase the coins, providing opportunities for hundreds (many of them non-numismatists) to earn fast cash.
Some independent buyers who also waited in long lines at the show sold their gold Kennedy halves to dealers on the bourse floor for net profits amounting to more than one thousand dollars over the $1,240 issue price. Even the Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS) and the Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC) joined in on the hysteria, offering submission opportunities right at the ANA show with the promise of “First Strike,” “First Day of Strike,” or “Early Release” labels.
Many coin dealers capitalized on this early encapsulation promotion, turning their newly certified gold Kennedy halves around on eBay for as much as $5,000 per coin. One PCGS-graded Proof-70 Kennedy gold half managed to fetch $100,000; it was, rather notably, the first gold Kennedy coin sold in person by the U.S. Mint at the ANA show on August 5 – a fact so stated on the slab’s colorful “First Strike” label.
The Mint kept churning out gold Kennedy half dollars through the remainder of 2014. In December, some four months after the gold halves hit the streets (and collectors in their pocketbooks), the U.S. Mint announced a maximum mintage of 75,000 pieces – arguably a substantial production figure for a one-year type gold commemorative coin.
Today, 2014 gold Kennedy half dollars are selling for between $1,100 and $1,500, with prices varying based on grade and slab designations. On eBay, some coin dealers are selling PCGS Proof-70 “First Strike” coins with ANA Chicago show designation for $1,600 to $1,800, representing a profit over the original $1,240 issue price, but far less than the $3,000 to $5,000 prices these coins commanded in the early days after their August 2014 release.
Perhaps there are a few things to be learned from the market results. Chief among these lessons, investors need to be wary about buying modern commemorative coins, especially when mintages are unlimited.
Meanwhile, penny-pinching collectors may serve themselves well by waiting for the fervor surrounding new Mint products to subside. There are a few modern coin products that have sustained well in the marketplace (take, for example, the 1995-W American Eagle 5-coin set, which now retails for approximately eight times its $999 issue price). But still, these collectibles represent exceptions to the rule when it comes to profiting from modern U.S. Mint coin products.
All of this begs two questions: will we see a repeat of the gold Kennedy half dollar mayhem when the Mint releases the 2016 Liberty gold coins? Also, how well might prices for the 2016 coins sustain in the months following the release of these long-awaited gold commemoratives?
Experts Weigh In
Numismatic expert Scott Travers thinks the long lines at the ANA’s World’s Fair of Money was a wonderful “photo opportunity” for the 125-year old numismatic organization, but he doesn’t see a similar situation happening this time around with the Liberty centennial gold commemorative coins.
“It’s really up to the ANA how this is handled, but I expect they will approach things differently this time under President Jeff Garrett, and we won’t be seeing the long lines this go around.”
He continues, “The photo opp won’t be people standing in line. The photo opp will be in the price guides, because prices will be pushed up. There will be a bubble, then the prices will decline.” Once prices decline, Travers says, “that will be an advantageous time for coin collectors and investors to buy these coins with an eye toward the future.”
The renowned coin expert understands why there’s mounting anticipation for the 2016 Liberty gold coins.
“They have time-honored designs, and when you’re blending the beauty of vintage coins with the marketability of modern coins, you’re going to see values escalate significantly. The Mint is using a business model of creating a price bubble and over enthusiasm for coins.”
Still, Travers is not so sure that the aesthetic appeal of these coins alone will keep prices buoyant for the long haul, especially if mintages are high and the market becomes saturated.
What’s his advice to collectors who are considering spending hundreds of dollars on buying these coins soon after their release?
“From the consumer side of the issue, my best advice is not to get overly enthusiastic, and not [to] throw exorbitant sums up at these coins. Wait for prices to come down.”
John Brush, president of David Lawrence Rare Coins in Virginia Beach, Virginia, is cautious about forecasting the long-term future for the new 2016 gold coins until the announcement of mintage expectations and household ordering limits (if any). “Those two things often determine how much excitement will surround a new Mint release,” he says. “If there is a limited mintage of, say, 40,000 pieces each, and there are household ordering limits of five coins or sets per household, that will definitely increase market speculation.”
Brush thinks there will be plenty of fervor around the new commemoratives, especially if mintages are limited. He’s not so sure we will witness lines of buyers snaking through the bourse at this year’s ANA show or see hordes congregating at the Mint’s sales locations in Philadelphia, Denver, and Washington. “Unless,” Brush adds, “the Mint wants to create that buzz again. However, I expect the Mint to have more common sense with [the 2016 gold coins].”
Maurice Rosen, editor of the Rosen Numismatic Advisory, has no doubt there will be a rush to buy the 2016 gold Liberty centennial commemoratives once they’re released.
“These coins feature classic, beloved designs.”
The question he asks rhetorically is how will the market behave once the coins are released? “People have to be careful buying early on in the hoopla. They need to be especially careful about buying any ‘70’-graded specimens.”
Rosen derides the market frenzy that surrounded the release of the 2014 Kennedy gold half dollar. “The JFK coin was an embarrassment to the ANA and to the Mint,” he says, recalling the long lines, media circus, and pricing run-ups in the secondary market. “There’s no problem with buying one or two specimens of each [2016 gold Liberty] coin for your collection if you can afford it, but you’re stepping out on a plank if you decide to buy several pieces with hopes of selling them for a profit. You don’t want to walk off the plank.”
Rosen says it’s all a guess at this point as to how the market will bear out for the 2016 gold coins in the long run. Regardless of the coins’ long-term price performance, he does see a ripe opportunity for the new gold commemorative coins to stimulate collecting activity for the three original silver coin series they honor.
“Hopefully, these [2016 gold] coins kick up interest in Mercury dimes, Standing Liberty quarters, and Walking Liberty half dollars.”
Rosen hypothesizes that if Proof versions of the 2016 gold coins are issued, it could promote new trading activity among Proof Mercury dimes and Walking Liberty half dollars issued during the late 1930s and early ‘40s; no Proof Standing Liberty quarters were officially released.
On that note, however, Rosen hopes the new 2016 Liberty centennial commemoratives, presently slated for release only as gold coins with a matte uncirculated finish, won’t be issued in multiple formats, as was widely speculated in 2015.
“Adding Proofs, silver versions, platinum pieces, or whatever could cause further confusion in the marketplace and make it harder for collectors to afford buying the various coins.”