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US Coins & Medals – Playing Cat and Mouse With Lady Liberty

By Jim BisognaniNumismatic Guaranty Corporation …..
Five minute sellout now claiming five times issue price; silver looking to take home gold; “The thing is gorgeous”

Many kids have already gone back to school and those that haven’t will be heading in mass for the classroom after Labor Day. Wow, the summer has slipped by very fast. As we prepare for the inevitable change of season, the numismatic market has been steady but also witnessed a bit of a change and in a whirlwind fashion.

libertysilvermedalAt high noon on Tuesday, August 23, the numismatic collecting public embraced a non-coin with unexpected fervor. The Silver American Liberty Medal struck in Proof format at both West Point and San Francisco facilities was the target. This one-ounce silver medallion was thought to be the perfect complement to last year’s 2015-W American Liberty High Relief $100 gold coin. However, the allotted mintage for both West Point and San Francisco deliveries was limited to 12,500 pieces for each facility, which combined was just slightly over half of the production of the gold coin. The US Mint established a two-medal limit for each, equaling a maximum four medals per customer.

I, too, was impressed by the design and the attractive issue price of $34.95. As a collector I had planned on trying to snare a pair. Working from home can sometimes be a blessing and sometimes a cause of unforeseen consternation. Having been a subscriber to the US Mint for many decades, in the least fortuitous of timing, around 11:15 am I found that my login credentials were not recognized. Luckily, I was able to chat online with a customer service rep and get things squared away with new password and such so I could participate in the noontime rush. As I was about to login to the Mint website, my Internet connection crashed and I had to muster up some fast IT savvy and get my router rebooted and back online.

It was now approximately 11:55 am and my cat Toby, who sits on the chair next to me in my home office (acting as my copilot during the day), heard something and jumped down quite abruptly. An unusual and highly audible commotion followed, and I was compelled to leave my numismatic post to see what was happening. As I entered the living room I caught the blurring trail of our other cat, Molly, scurrying down the hallway. I thought she was playing but that theory changed when I heard a high-pitched squeal.

A field mouse had gotten into the house and was now frightened and cornered next to a bookcase in the hallway by both felines. While both Toby and Molly kept their eyes trained on the little brown and white prey, I bolted into the adjacent bathroom and grabbed a square piece of Tupperware and quickly returned to the scene of cat and mouse. With my left hand I placed the opening of the container in front of both cats and with a slight sweeping motion of my right hand the mouse jumped forward and hopped right into the open container. I put a lid on the plastic tub and put the little guy out of harm’s way in the bathroom and shut the door.

I then raced back to my office, noting that it was now 11:58 am!

I quickly refreshed the Mint website and on my two computer screens I opened the pages for the San Francisco and West Point American Liberty medals. Then as 12 noon arrived I quickly refreshed each page and was fortunate enough to beat the long odds having secured two of each in my cart and completed the purchase. I received the all important Mint confirmation at 12:04 pm (as I’m writing this my four medals were delivered today).

What has ensued was not expected at all. Demand was unprecedented as the US Mint sold out in under 5 minutes. The Mint rep I spoke to said that they had just processed an order for a customer and at 12:05 pm both American Liberty medals went to “Unavailable” status. Electronic trading networks were busy upping the ante for two-piece sets initially offering $120 per set. Then it was $85 for either mintmark and that quickly advanced to $120. On-line auction listings went up fast and furious. eBay was extraordinarily busy and being a statistical nut I have kept track.

On August 23, presales and those with “confirmation in hand” topped 340 sold listings; by the end of the next day that figure nearly doubled. As I am writing this 1,114 have been sold. Although a majority of offerings are for four-piece lots (two per mintmark), some two-piece sets and singles are in the mix. Yet on average by my calculations in just one week nearly 12% of the entire American Liberty Medal production has been sold on the secondary market.

The highest confirmed price for a four-piece lot (two of each) was $707 or $176.75 per medal–over five times the original issue price! I haven’t witnessed this much excitement courtesy of a US Mint product since late October 2011 when the 25th Anniversary Silver Eagle sets were the darlings of the day. Yet even those sets issued at $299.95 never approached five times the issue price having topped off around $900 per sealed set or three times issue price.

This is certainly the first time that a non-coin has generated this type of demand. NGC-certified PF 70 Ultra Cameo match mintmark sets (Early Releases or First Releases) have already been commanding $579 per pair on eBay. Personally, I think this silver medal is very well designed, simplistic, elegant, etc. The lack of superfluous mottoes and denomination lend to the beauty. I am particularly partial to the eagle! Just one week since her release a lot of market makers in modern issues are still scrambling for inventory.

According to well-known dealer Kevin Lipton of Beverly Hills, California, “The simple fact is, the thing is beautiful; it matches the gold coin. So everyone that bought the gold in proof, well every salesman in America is going to get on the phone and say hey you want to get this to match your gold coin. Plus the thing is gorgeous!”

I asked Kevin what he thought in the near-term about the issue. “We usually try to buy a very big quantity of this type of issue. We have many sources and we have many tentacles out there to buy these in big quantities and we got snuffed in a big way on this one. We haven’t had enough of them to meet what we’ve obligated to our clients. We’re just busy trying to get our own inventory. It’s a beautiful design. I think any time that you have something that’s really beautiful people are going to want it-covet it… but you never know. It really has a fabulous price point going for it.”

Ian Russell, President of GreatCollections, commented, “We definitely fielded a lot of calls and emails about this medal. The Mint went from making two million 9/11 medals a few years back to making a total of 25,000 of these two.”

Ian agreed with me that it is a lot of interest for a medal versus a coin. “[T]he design is very attractive and I think it’s perfect to market with the 2015 $100 Gold High Relief. I also heard that the coins were not struck with consistency, so the market for PF 70s might be strong. But it’s only fair to say, I’ve not seen any actual grading results yet.”

John Brush, President of David Lawrence Rare Coin Galleries offered his opinion. “From a collector’s standpoint, the method of sale and the quantity is very disappointing.”

In John’s estimation the maximum order limit should have been a single medal per household and the mintage should have been as high as the high-relief or the 2016 Gold Centennial Dimes and Quarters.

“I think that the initial sell-out in such a short period of time is extremely disappointing for collectors as many simply cannot get away from their jobs or duties and attempt to purchase the coin during the workday. From a dealer’s standpoint, we were not a major participant in lining up buyers and employees to purchase the coins. We didn’t expect the excitement that occurred with the release and at the issue price; it didn’t really seem like a feasible plan due to the time it would take to do so. As for the current demand and price point, I believe that it is 100% influenced by larger dealers and modern coin market makers. Of course, with such a limited supply, this is somewhat inevitable that the prices would be driven up. I actually expect them to get a bit higher in the coming week or two before slowing down dramatically when the 2016 Gold Standing Liberty Quarter is released.”

Collectors I’ve spoken to are also very impressed with the quality and presentation of this medal. In fact many hobbyists are lobbying that this design replace the silver eagle or at bare minimum that the American Liberty eagle supplants the reverse of the silver eagle! Time will tell if and what changes will be made if any.

For now collectors have a chance to enjoy a beautiful bit of numismatic non-coin Americana!

As for the little field mouse, I couldn’t resist. I bought a proper little home for him and Benji is having the time of his life spoiled in his new abode and spending his leisure time running in his wheel while the cats watch!

Until next time, happy collecting!

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Jim Bisognani is an NGC Price Guide Analyst having previously served for many years as an analyst and writer for another major price guide. He has written extensively on US coin market trends and values.

Jim Bisognani
Jim Bisognani
Jim Bisognani has written extensively on US coin market trends and values and was the market analyst and writer for a major pricing guide for many years. He currently resides in Southern California and frequently attends major coin shows and auctions.

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