By Louis Golino for CoinWeek
It’s been an interesting year for collectors of the five-ounce silver America the Beautiful (ATB) coin series.
The bullion versions, which were hard to obtain when the 2010 coins were released, are now readily available, and relatively few people seem interested in them, although bullion sales did pick up a little in October.
Premiums have dropped to the point that they not only cost less per ounce of silver than American Silver Eagles (ASE). They actually cost about the same as silver bars of the same size. Low spot prices have squeezed silver supplies and increased premiums on silver bars, which are harder to obtain now than when silver was much higher earlier this year.
As for the numismatic versions, the coins have gone from being one of the most anticipated Mint releases of the year to a series whose future may be in doubt, as sales continue to slow. Only the bullion coins are required by law to be minted.
Even the recent $50 drop in price has so far not helped sales of the first 2011 numismatic version, the Gettysburg coin, which is somewhat surprising since these coins are not likely to be cheaper in the future. They are a good deal at the current Mint price of $230 since at current silver levels, the bullion ones run about $205 or more on average.
Graded examples have sold below the Mint’s price, but my understanding is that was for coins graded SP-68, which is a relatively low grade for the numismatic versions, the vast majority of which grade SP-69 or 70. Lesser quality coins always sell at a discount.
Silver analysts are almost unanimous in their view that spot prices will be higher later this year, and especially next year and beyond. Many factors are likely to help drive silver higher from tight supplies to improving economic data, which increases the industrial demand for silver, and higher gold prices, which make silver an attractive alternative to those who have trouble affording gold at current levels.
Sales of the Glacier Park coin, which was released on October 25, may have been negatively affected by the release of the 25th anniversary silver eagle set two days later, but those sets were gone in the blink of an eye, so that should not have a sustained impact on sales of the Glacier coin.
If silver makes a run towards $40 and higher soon, which is quite possible, that should help spur sales of the numismatic ATB’s, as collectors rush to buy before spot prices go even higher.
Another factor that may help support interest in the ATB series as a whole is future designs that are substantially different from the coins released in the past two years. If the 2012 coins are a good indicator, collectors may be pleasantly surprised in this regard, as three of the four forthcoming ATB releases have eye-catching designs that are not like anything we have seen yet. This could spur sales of both the bullion and numismatic releases for 2012, especially if the Mint expands its advertising to outside the coin world.
Comparisons are sometimes made between the numismatic ATB series and the first spouse gold program, such as in this recent Doomberg blog post (http://doomberg1.blogspot.com/2011/10/atb-squeeze.html). The main point is that sales of coins in both series have declined as collectors’ interest in them has declined, but the two series are really quite different.
First, the numismatic ATB coins are only in their second year, whereas the first spouse program is half over. Second, there is a big difference in cost between a five-ounce silver coin and a half-ounce gold coin. Finally, decreasing interest in a series does not necessarily mean it is destined to be ended early.
I can not think of any Mint coin programs that have been ended early other than the fractional burnished American gold eagle series, and the Mint never stated it would be an ongoing series anyway. First spouse sales have been slow since 2008, but the coins are still being issued. Besides, the 2011 ATB numismatic coins can be sold in 2012, and who knows what will happen next year, especially if silver resumes its bull run.
When it comes to predicting how the market for these coins will develop over time, I think that many people may be looking at the future of this series the wrong way.
The conventional wisdom is that declining sales numbers and decreasing interest in the series mean that there is little demand for the coins, and therefore collectors are better off putting their funds into other series and coins.
But within the realm of silver products offered by the Mint, the ATB coins may actually be among the ones with the best long-term potential if lower sales translate into low final mintages, as has happened with the gold spouses.
Most commemorative issues decline to close to their bullion values before long, and proof and burnished silver eagles may do well, but that will largely be a function of where silver goes.
On the other hand, the numismatic ATB coins, precisely because they are less popular today, could be winners down the road apart from their silver value.
This is what has happened in the past with many Mint offerings. Coins which are popular when released and which sell out fast but which lack a broad, established collector base, like the 2007 first spouse gold coins, later decline to their bullion value because they are readily available in the secondary market, even with all the melting of the 2007 spouse coins.
But coins which few people bought when they were released, such as the uncirculated 1996 Olympic coins, which contain the keys to the silver commemorative dollar series, or the uncirculated 2000 Library of Congress bi-metallic coin, today command big premiums. There are plenty of other examples.
There is, of course, no guarantee that things will play out this way with the ATB series, and the 35,000 mintage is indeed too high and should probably be reduced to around 25,000 for the 2012 releases and beyond. In addition, I agree with the author of Doomberg that the Mint needs to do a better job of spacing out the release of these coins.
But remember that just because 35,000 were minted does not mean they will all be sold, and 5 years or more from now, some issues could be scarce coins that command nice premiums.
Finally, when it comes to modern Mint products, it is highly advisable to collect what you enjoy rather than trying to predict future values, which is a risky game.
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 Coin Week, “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.
I have “flipped” all the 2010 bullion & “P” coins. I’m only keeping the one’s that I like, so far Yosemite & Mt Hood. 2012 Puerto Rico is next on my list.
The ATB 5oz series, both bullion and collector uncirculated, are like the word of mouth dives with the most appetizing foods at fast-food prices: hardly anyone aside from a handful of diehards know anything at all about them. Part of the problem is the perception of Mint hardly caring to issue these at all since they not moneymakers (sorry for the pun) in the true sense of the word, and by the lack of ANY marketing by the Mint. Just this week I received the Christmas 2011 gift catalogue, everything numismatic is in there except for the 5 oz coins and the platinum proof. If the Mint won’t market to the collecting choir, what chance does the general masses get to find out about these coins aside from the overhyped venues of Coin Vault at HSN? The dearth of circulation quarters makes the entire series an unknown, but someday this series has the potential to go big.
I first heard of this series on the collecting grapevine about a year ago, and I knew the excitement for a new series in a heretofore unissued size would reach fever pitch as it did in March and April of this year. Just as quickly, I knew that interest as a novelty item would wane by the summer, as most causal collectors would suddenly realize how quickly their collecting budgets would be depleted over the course of two months as NP1 and NP4 were released approximately 3 weeks apart at $280 a pop. Particularly if that collector had also participated in the AP bullion raids in the first quarter of the year… As you can probably tell, I enjoy this series greatly for its collecting challenges while staying within a reasonable and strategic acquisition rate, even though the Mint’s issuing calendar might otherwise dictate. Certainly, the expectation that Mint will issue these in 2012 at a more stately pace, now that the series is beginning its maturation period, but since when has the Mint heeded the wishes of the collecting fraternity?
Speaking of 2012, has the Treasury Secretary picked out the quarter designs yet? If he picks the designs the CCAC and CFA picked out, there will be another banner year of quarters, particularly the Hawaiian Volcanoes subject. Thank you for your collecting insights and informative articles, Louis, I greatly enjoy reading them when I run across them.
P.S. The series that could be conceivably stated as ended early are the platinum proof fractionals due to the enormous spike in the metal in late 2008. Not everyone can afford the 1oz proof coin that left of the series, and that’s unfortunate as few people get to personally experience the outstanding reverse designs.
Thanks for your comments and your interest in my articles. You are right about the fractional proof platinum eagles. The same would go for the fractional burnished platinum coins.
The 2012 quarter designs are definitely out and contain some nice designs like the one you mentioned.
You are also right about the lack of advertising. I mentioned that in the article, and it is indeed hard to understand esp. since this series does not have the solid demand of others like the American silver eagles. There are probably silver investors who would pick up at least the bullion ones at current premiums, if they knew about them.
Louis, this is a great article and it brings up a lot of points I want to address about the coin series. I will give a more detailed response on my own blog later this evening.
As a short response for now, I do agree with you on the potential future value of the coins, and I also agree with you that the numbers sold will probably not fall quite as badly as the First Spouse series in the short to medium term. However, if inflation continues and we continue to have runups in silver prices continuing into 2013-2014, that could drastically alter the situation.
I think it’s worth noting that the Mint looks like it’s decreasing support of the series, though. I received a copy of the Christmas catalog along with the Glacier AtB and they are still not advertising any of the AtB numismatic releases.
CoinUpdate has a good roundup on the status of the 2012 quarters here with information on the designs (and more links to information about the designs): http://news.coinupdate.com/america-the-beautiful-quarters-release-dates-1021/
I think that a number of factors have come together to dampen enthusiasm for the 5 oz. ATB numismatic “P” mint issues:
1. The fiasco of the initial offering of the 2010 bullion issues in late 2010 that created a limited edition of 33,000 of each design and the resulting crash and burn of the aftermarket price of those coins. A lot of collectors gambled on these sets, and lost big bucks (especially on the high grade slab coins). The Authorized Distributors made big bucks as they slabbed and pushed them off.
2. The poor planning of the release of the coins resulted in too many successive release dates for the average collector to be able to budget for: 8 releases for in 2011 and there will have to be 7 releases in 2012 just to catch up to a 5 per year release basis.
3. Simply way to many U.S. Mint bullion and numismatic offerings to suck up the collector and investor dollars, ranging from basically “junk” clad coin sets to proof precious metals in a highly volatile metals market. Add to this expense the high mark ups for slab graded modern mint issues.
4. The U.S. Mint trends to cooking up up occasional new offerings within any given year (Such as the 2011 25th Anniversary Set) that touches off frenzied purchasing by collectors with limited resources.
5. Once the circulating ATB quarters get into circulation and noticed, I think that the ATB numismatic issues will gain more of a following. They are a decent value as a collectable at $230.
Louis, et al – What is your opinion to date (July 25, 2013) regarding the ATB Program for the 5oz silver coins? how was today’s release of the Great Basin taken to the public. The price isnt bad for an uncirculated, when compared to spot or bullion prices, but i wonder if the low demand and thus low mintage? issue will secure a spot 10 years from now for these coins, or will they just be a dud at a small prmium over spot and the Mint coins are just like bullion…? thoughts? Also, fill me in on the specialized proof eagles that came out with the blackened areas,,, those were a smashing hit no? any available? what were they selling at th mint at, and what are they selling for now?
I have collected the ATB 5 oz silver quarters both the entire sets certified SP70 & the MS69
2010 thru 2018 . I absolutely love them & I plan on leaving them to my grandson
series to end in 2021. Not since the Morgan silver dollars have I enjoyed watching this COIN series grow…SO MUCH FUN!
I am still loving & collecting the ATB 5 oz silver Quarters SP70 & MS69
I now own the PALLADIUM 2017 2018 2019 Mercury Dime PRETTY PRICY STILL I LOVE THEM
I got killed on the Pride of Two Nations US & Canadian mint set I got both I way over paid for the Canadian set.
Bought the 5 oz Apollo coin very nice
I guess i am getting numb to over paying for all coins LOL
If the coin touches my heart I just gotta buy it,,,,SO MUCH FUN !!!!