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The Coin Analyst: PCGS First Strike Proof-70 San Francisco Sets Are On Fire

by Louis Golino for CoinWeek ……

By the end of October the U.S. Mint plans to complete the process of fulfilling orders for the 2012 San Francisco two-coin American silver eagle proof set. Sometime after that it will announce the final mintage for the set, which will play a key role in shaping premiums for the sets.

As of July 6, the day after the last orders were taken, a total of 251,302 set were ordered. That number is expected to change as a result of order cancellations, expired credit cards, and related issues. The Mint has not been providing updated figures since then in its weekly sales reports and is waiting until the last sets have been shipped.

Because the number is so close to the 248,000 mintage of the 2006 20th anniversary silver eagle sets, collectors are eager to see what the mintage of the San Francisco sets will be. The 2006 sets sell for about four times issue price today.

From the time it was first announced a lot of buyers tended to downplay the aftermarket potential for these sets because they were minted to demand. That seems to have ended up lowering demand for the sets and sales of them while they were available from the Mint.

But in recent weeks a very interesting situation has developed. On the one hand, raw sets and those graded PF-69 are not bringing a very strong premium. Plenty such sets are available and many dealers are offering discounts on them. That could change depending on the final sales number.

But sets graded PF-70, specifically those graded by PCGS and with the first strike designation, are selling for very strong premiums. And very few first strike 70 PCGS sets are available on the retail or wholesale market.

Two factors are at play here. First, the number of sets grading 70 is much lower than it was for similar silver eagle sets, especially at PCGS, where approximately 32% of the 2012 sets have received the top grade. Most collectors and dealers report receiving an even smaller percentage of 70 sets than that.

Second, the cut-off date at PCGS for first strike sets was August 25. The Mint fulfilled orders for these sets in batches, and not many of them were received in time to be first-strike eligible because of delays in processing the Mint’s orders.

Unopened boxes that are postmarked by or before August 25 are also eligible to be sent in for first strike designation, but news of the low percentage of coins receiving the top grade appears to have deterred many people from sending their sets in for grading.

The PCGS 70 first strike sets are now fetching between $500-645 on e-Bay, and to my knowledge only one major coin dealer has the sets in stock, Goldmart , which is a subsidiary of Legacy Precious Metals.

Nick VanderLaan , a manager at Goldmart, posted a market report on the PCGS discussion board on September 9 that alerted collectors to his views on the scarcity and market potential for PCGS 70 first strike San Francisco sets.

In his report and subsequent e-mails to clients, Mr. VanderLaan made the case that these versions of the sets were underpriced because in his view only about 3500-3800 such sets existed at the time out of a tentative mintage of about a quarter million sets.

He explained that unopened, first strike-eligible sets are almost impossible to find at the moment on the wholesale market. Second, he agreed with the view I expressed in this column when the sets were first released that the mint-to-demand approach ended up discouraging a lot of collectors and dealers from paying enough attention to these sets.

I recently spoke to Mr. VanderLaan. He noted that the key reason the PCGS 70 first strike sets are doing so well and are likely to continue to perform well is their scarcity compared to raw sets and NGC-graded sets.

As of October 1 there were only a total of 4,025 such sets compared to over 13,000 NGC early release 70 sets. The NGC sets are selling for $370-400. He also pointed out that by comparison there are 7,800 PCGS 70 25th anniversary sets. He also thinks the final number of San Francisco sets minted will come in under a quarter million.

In addition, he points out that the 2012 sets include the second rarest reverse proof silver eagle after (in theory) the 2011 coin, and the second rarest proof silver eagle (including those in the Making American History coin and currency sets) after the 1995-W proof coin. In fact, among reverse proof coins graded PF-70 with the first strike designation, the 2012 coins are so far twice as scare since the 2011 reverse proof coins, which have a population of 8,156 and are listed on the PCGS price guide for $625.

Mr. VanderLaan discusses these sets with fellow dealers who also believe they have more upside potential, though it is of course impossible to put a hard number on it. The holiday gift-giving period will also be a factor, and may lead to increased demand as well.

On October 3 a PCGS set sold on e-Bay for $470, and two days later, the same set sold for $540. More recently some sold for $645. I have only seen a handful of sets for sale on e-Bay recently.

The PCGS first strike sets that are in highest demand and which bring the highest prices are those with a special label signed by silver eagle reverse designer John Mercanti, whose new book on silver eagles co-authored with Miles Standish will be published by Whitman in November. The Mercanti labels are only available to bulk submitters

A review of the PCGS discussion board at Collector’s Universe confirms what I have heard from other collectors and the information from Mr. VanderLaan. Submitter after submitter lamented the unusually low number of 70 coins they received back from PCGS. That is true of smaller submitters and of larger ones.

One poster said he wanted to know what results large dealers received. John Maben noted on September 7 that of 51 two-coin sets submitted, he only received 6 70 sets back. He also noted that his best result was in the 30% range. Mr. VanderLaan of Goldmart said his company’s PCGS submissions were mostly in the 24-28% range, and only 21% for the first batch of submissions.

In addition, Mr. Maben’s Modern Coin Mart  has sold out of PCGS 70 first strike sets. That  confirms how few are available, especially since Mr. Maben’s company is the major market maker in these kinds of coins.

Goldmart still has sets available and is selling them for $450, which is slightly above wholesale. Mr. VanderLaan said his company tries to price coins as competitively as possible, usually just a notch above wholesale.

Buyers and submitters have speculated that either quality control at the San Francisco Mint was poor on these sets, or that PCGS was unusually tough in grading them. Whatever the real reason, those who bought already graded 70 sets, especially those from PCGS, when they were first available are doing very well.

In light of the factors discussed above, I would not be surprised to see the value of the PCGS first strike sets continue to increase, whatever the final overall mintage of these sets.

It appears that dealers and investors snatched up the limited supply quickly, and that they are waiting for higher prices before putting them on the market.

There may be lessons here for those who adamantly refuse to have their modern U.S. Mint coins graded, and who believe that first strike designations mean nothing.

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.

Louis Golino
Louis Golino
Louis Golino is an award-winning numismatic journalist and writer specializing on modern U.S. and world coins. He has been writing a weekly column for CoinWeek since May 2011 called “The Coin Analyst,” which focuses primarily on modern numismatic issues and developments at major world mints. In August 2015 he received the Numismatic Literary Guild’s (NLG) award for Best Website Column for “The Coin Analyst.” He is also a contributor to Coin World, where he wrote a bimonthly feature and weekly blog, and The Numismatist, the American Numismatic Association’s (ANA) monthly publication, where he writes a monthly column on modern world coins. He is also a founding member of the Modern Coin Forum sponsored by Modern Coin Mart. He previously served as a congressional relations specialist and policy analyst at the Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress and as a syndicated columnist and news analyst on international politics and national security for a wide variety of publications. He has been writing professionally since the early 1980s when he began writing op-ed articles and news analyses.

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  1. who believe that first strike designations mean nothing.
    My understanding is that so far PCGS has graded very few of these sets without First Strike designation. I haven’t seen them for sale yet, so I do question the value of the extra $36 in fees.

    • Shutter, Do you have any numbers as opposed to your “understanding”? My PCGS membership expired recently, so I can’t access the pop report.

      In any event, to me the key fact is that PCGS 70 FS sets are three times more scarce than NGC 70 ER sets, which explains the premium difference.

  2. Hi Louis,

    Good article as always, especially on getting the data from the coin dealers. I honestly had no idea this was going on with the PCGS first strikes. Nice job in finding this out.

    It’s possible the non-PGCS coins will be helped out a bit when the cancellation numbers are announced. I think they could be substantial.

  3. The last numbers that I had was that the ratio of PCGS MS70 FS to non-FS was something like 100:1. This is bound to change, but so far, there just haven’t been enough non-FS sets to claim that there is or isn’t a premium for FS designation.

    the key fact is that PCGS 70 FS sets are three times more scarce than NGC 70 ER sets
    That is true. But there are even fewer NGC 70 First Releases, and they aren’t commanding premiums over NGC 70 Early Releases. There are really two key factors. First, PCGS graded fewer coins, so PCGS slabs are less common. Second, PCGS grading is generally believed to be tighter than NGC. ER, FR, FS designations are not really part of the equation.

    Also need to keep in mind that so far NGC and PCGS have graded 15%-25% of the total mintage. The 4,000+ sets graded by PCGS isn’t terribly rare to begin with, but they will still have close to 200,000 ungraded brothers and sisters out there.

    • Shutter, Thanks for your input. I know for a fact that several dealers have PF (no MS for these proof sets) 69 FS sets for sale such as Silvertowne, Mint Products, etc., and they are all about $200, not $450-650 as the PF70 FS ones are going for. I would need to see more data, but I find it very hard to believe that there are no non-FS 70 sets, esp. given the delays at the Mint in shipping these sets.

      Also, several dealers such as MCM and Paradise have been selling non-ER 70 NGC sets for $250-280, whereas the NGC 70 ER sets are in the $400 range, so even among the NGC sets that are more plentiful, the ER designation is adding $100-150 or more to the tab, whereas among say regular silver eagles, there is usually no difference in price for ER’s.

  4. It is amazing what some people will pay for a piece of plastic, paper with a little ink and hologram. Do they even look at the coins? Are the coins even important?

    I refuse to buy graded coins or have my coins graded. I will, on occasion, load up on Mint coins I think might sell out before demand is satisfied. I do this to finance the collecting of coins I might not otherwise afford by selling off excess coins/sets.

    I’m sure that grading companies had integrity at some point in the past and perhaps a few still do. By and large, grading companies simply dream up ways to separate you from your hard earned money these days. Flippers still manage to find some meat on the bone as well. I don’t fault the graders or flippers as they are simply providing services that the market is apparently, enthusiastic to bear. I fault collectors who pay over the top prices for coins that are not rare.

    As david alluded to above, time will prove that the long term value of these coins is not there. Of course, if silver prices rise dramatically and stay high, they might be a good buy but that will not be due to the rarity of the coin.

  5. There is a real need for grading, just grading. I agree with david and IndenturedServant, there is no real point about the coin’s rarity based on when it was submitted for grading. This seemed to really explode with the 25th Anniversary set. The mint had 100,000 sets made to sell and they ALL sold in one day and these blood sucker grading firms had the gall to charge extra for nothing more than being submitted by some magical date, puleaze. And don’t tell me it was to keep people honest about all coins being originally together. If there are any 5 coin sets out there being sold as a PF70, I can almost guarantee the numbers don’t match. Paying extra for an early release or first strike designation is akin to flushing money away. Maybe the graders can start coloring their cases by when you submit the coin, starting with red (for envy, don’t you wish your case was red).

  6. To back up David’s comment, look at the 2010 5-oz ATB coin set. For $969.95 I received five PCGS-graded coins from APMEX (you could not purchase these from the Mint, remember?). I flipped the set – three coins had the highest grade of MS-69 DMPL – for $1,800 the very next day.

    Just a little over a year later, APMEX is asking $1,526 for a set of all five graded MS-69 DMPL. The point is there is a lot of initial interest in these coin sets, but it is mainly from the flippers.

    It takes a year or so for the coins themselves to prove their true value.

  7. How can 32 percent of the sets graded be PERFECT. Am I missing something here? Perfect literally means perfect. Is PCGS documenting almost one third of the coins as perfect? I am disillusioned with grade inflation and do not submit governemt issued mints sets for grading. I used to submit sets and individual coins directly from the mint for grading but never got aboveMS or PR 69. you would think if 32 percent of the anniv. sets were MS70 then I would have gotten at least one MS70. I am beginning to think MS70 is a marketing ploy used by the large firms that submit large numbers of coins. I refuse to play this game and will enjoy my coins in there original packaging. Something smells fishy here. How can 32 percent of anything be perfect? Think about it.

  8. A couple of points: I agree that with modern graded issues the true value tends to take time to be established. There are lots of cases when it makes sense to buy after a couple months when prices tend to settle down a little, or even later as with the 2010 ATB’s unless you were able to get them at issue price of spot plus 10%.
    In the case of the sets discussed in my article, prices have gone nowhere but way up since the sets first hit the market in August.
    Since my article was published, it has become impossible to find a set for under $500. Goldmart raised their prices to that level, and e-Bay prices are over $500, with few sets available. One of the reasons I wrote this article is that it is unusual for dealers not to have a recently issued modern set in the top grade from PCGS in their inventories.
    Finally, I was not suggesting that most of the value of these sets comes from being first strike labeled. That is just part of it, and it is the relative scarcity of 70 sets from PCGS that is the main driver of price.
    In an absolute sense no modern coins are truly rare, the way a classic coin with a mintage under 500 is.
    I am a firm believer in teh value of a diversified coin portfolio which can include graded modern, classic, bullion, etc.

  9. It is when it is a silver eagle, there are over 3 million collectors. 2006 set sells for 4X as much today and it is 6 years old. Sorry I have to disagree……I respect your opnion.I was told when I started by business 10 years ago it was very risky, sold it in July 2012 for 4 million…..


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