125 Year Celebration

Dr. George HeathIt has been 125 years since Michigan physicist Dr. George Heath founded the American Numismatic Association in 1891. Heath, who operated a coin business on the side, began this journey by publishing his own magazine in 1888 called The Numismatist. He used the magazine as a call to other collectors to create the ANA.

The ANA will celebrate this milestone at the upcoming World’s Fair of Money. In an interesting coincidence, or maybe planning, the celebration will be help practically next door to the place called “The Happiest Place on Earth.” Irrespective of whatever issues anyone sees or perceives with regard to the ANA, you have to admit that an organization like the ANA to survive 125 years is pretty amazing.

If you are interested in a long-form history of the ANA, I recommend reading “125 Years of Collecting with the American Numismatic Association” written by Q. David Bowers. It is not a quick read, but 125 years of history was not easy to create. The current page is in seven parts with an eighth promised for next month. There is no indication if that will be the last part. Still, it is a recommended article.

Currently, if you become an ANA member or renew your membership for 3 years or donate $125, you can receive a 2016 American Silver Eagle graded MS-69 by Numismatic Guarantee Corporation with a special Anniversary Label. I there is a limit of 2,500 coins. If you become a life member or donate $500, you can receive one graded MS-70. There is a 250 limit on the higher graded coins.

There was also a set of coins created for the National Money Show with a special label. There was a renewal opportunity that allowed existing ANA members to renew and receive their coin with the National Money Show label. These were coins left over from the show in Dallas.

Not only did I take advantage of the renewal offer but added a donation to receive both versions of the coin in MS-65. Although I do not collect grading service labels, this was an opportunity to support the ANA. There may be a limited number of coins left. If you are not a member, you may want to consider joining. If you are a member, either consider a three-year renewal or donate $125 to help the ANA. I believe it is a good cause!

Image of Dr. George Heath courtesy of the ANA.

How It’s Done: Packing Bullion Coins

American Silver Eagle Monster Box

American Silver Eagle Monster Box

When I am in the mood for the mental chewing gum that is television, I love to watch what I like to call documentary entertainment. The pros call it infotainment, information entertainment. These are cooking shows or a car-related show that takes a car with a problem and shows us how to fix them. Whether I am watching Chopped, Wheeler Dealers, or All Girls Garage I can find enough interesting watching.

Another of my guilty pleasures is How It’s Made on the Science Channel. How It’s Made is simply a show that will demonstrate how every day and other items are manufactured. I am fascinated by seeing the process of manufacturing. Some of the machines that are created to make our everyday items is fascinating. Take something simple as a pencil and think about how a company makes thousands over the course of a day and the non-standard machines required to do this.

The U.S. Mint infrequently posts videos about their coins, people and operations. What I find fascinating is the How It»s Made like videos that shows how they deal with the basic manufacturing process. In the latest video, the U.S. Mint shows how they package American Silver Eagle bullion coins into tubes for shipping to dealer.

The machine is called an Auto Tuber and can be found at the West Point branch mint where bullion coins are struck. After the coins are struck, they are laid flat on trays with the trays being stacked on a rack. From the rack, a machine takes one of the trays, places it next to the Auto Tuber, and pours the coins into the tracks. Using a suction cup fingers, the machine lifts the coins and places them into tube. The tubes are capped, weighed, packaged, inventoried, and sent for shipping.

At the end of the line is a human worker who picks up the packed green boxes you might have seen some dealers advertise for sale as “Monster Boxes” and places them on a pallet for shipping. That is where the one-minute journey ends.

BONUS VIDEO

Similar to the standard production videos is the proof set production video from the U.S. Mint in San Francisco that includes a similar machine that places the coins in the holders.

Credits

  • Monster box image courtesy of Wikipedia.
  • Videos courtesy of the U.S. Mint.

Raging into March

2015 American Silver Eagle Bullion CoinWhat began as an English proverb as “March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb” may become a relic of history. Aside from the weather implications the markets are experiencing a lion-like robustness that even has the governors and branch presidents of the Federal Reserve issuing conflicting statements about the future of interest rates.

While the professionals are attempting to figure out what the economic numbers are saying, one thing is clear that the U.S. Mint is on pace to break its 2015 sales for American Silver Eagle bullion coins. March opens with the U.S. Mint announcing that it has another 1 million silver coins ready for sale. This is the fifth time in 2016 that the U.S. Mint has made this type of announcement.

Year to date, gold prices are up about 17-percent and silver prices are up 11-percent. This has not stopped the buying of bullion coins. One Canadian dealer recently informed me that they sold out of a specific silver issue from the Royal Canadian Mint because of high demand, especially from the United States.

This is reaching beyond collectors. While the numismatic world was focused on Dallas for the National Money Show, my business kept me in the D.C. area as a vendor at one of the largest antiques shows in the mid-Atlantic region. Although coins are a very minor part of the show, some dealers that were selling silver coins had high volumes of sales. One dealer reported that he sold out of the 30 American Silver Eagle bullion coins graded MS-70 by the middle of the show’s second day.

An informal poll of attendees to the National Money Show suggests similar sales performances.

Even though there may be areas of the economy that has not caught up to the current economic trends, it is difficult to find an analyst or pundit that does not believe that the current trends will end in the short term.

It is likely that March will go out like a raging bull, even if I could not find a one-armed economist to disagree!
 

Charging Bull by Arturo DiModica

Charging Bull by Arturo DiModica is a bronze sculpture that stands in Bowling Green Park just south of the Financial District in lower Manhattan.

December 2015 Numismatic Legislation

Congress ended the calendar year with a proverbial bang. Aside from actually passing a budget, they passed a comprehensive transportation bill that not only has the possibility of raising our infrastructure grade from a D– to a D (hey… it’s an improvement), but in a few short words will have a big impact on the U.S. Mint.

H.R. 22: Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act
Sponsor: Sen. Rodney Davis (R-IL)
• Introduced: January 6, 2015
• Passed House of Representatives on January 6, 2015
• Passed Senate with amendments on July 30, 2015
• Conference report presented to Senate on November 5, 2015
• Conference committee convened November 18, 2015
• Conference report agreed on by the House and Senate on December 3, 2015
• Signed by the President on December 4, 2015 to become Public Law 114-94

Read the details of this law at https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/114/hr22

If you want to read my analysis of the impact to the U.S. Mint from this law, see the following four-part series:

  1. Transportation drives numismatic changes
  2. Now with more silver
  3. Palladium arcadium
  4. Transportation silver eagles

Transportation Silver Eagles

2015 American Silver Eagle Bullion CoinAt the end of my last report on how the recent transportation bill will have an effect on coin collectors, I said that I would discuss how the new law will impact American Silver Eagle collectors. After taking a little time off for holiday festivities, we are going to look at the impact and unintended consequences of congress.

To review, earlier this month congress passed and the president signed the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act or the “FAST Act” (H.R. 22; now Public Law 114-94). It is a comprehensive transportation bill that is over 490 pages long with one third of those paged dedicated to items other than transportation. Buried deep in the document is Title LXXIII, “Bullion and Collectible Coin Production Efficiency and Cost Savings” section. For today’s post, we look at Section 73002:

Sec. 73002. American Eagle Silver Bullion 30th Anniversary
Proof and uncirculated versions of coins issued by the Secretary of the Treasury pursuant to subsection (e) of section 5112 of title 31, United States Code, during calendar year 2016 shall have a smooth edge incused with a designation that notes the 30th anniversary of the first issue of coins under such subsection.

If you are not familiar with “subsection (e) of section 5112 of title 31, United States Code” (31 U.S.C. § 5112(e)), it is the part of the law that authorizes the American Silver Eagle program. It says that these coins are to 40.6 millimeters in diameter containing 31.103 grams (one troy ounce) of .999 fine silver with a symbolic design of Liberty on the obverse and an eagle on the reverse.

Along with the prescribed elements the coin will have a reeded edge. It is this reeded edge requirement that may be causing a problem.

As written, Section 73002 does not say that the 2016 coin with a smooth edge with an inscription designating as the 30th anniversary of the first issue is for a special collectible. It is written as a blanket statement for all coins issued in 2016. Because of the word issued, the U.S. Mint is going to cancel the 2015 Limited Edition Silver Proof set.

2014 Limited Edition Silver Set (LS3) will be on sale until December 30, 2015 at noon.

2014 Limited Edition Silver Set (LS3) will be on sale until December 30, 2015 at noon.

The Limited Edition Silver Proof set consists of a dime, all five quarters, and a Kennedy Half-dollar struck in 90-percent silver. The set also includes an American Silver Eagle packaged in a special case. Originally, the 2015 Limited Edition Silver Proof set was to be released on November 23. It was reported that issues with packaging has delayed the issuance of this set. Because of the delay, the U.S. Mint was supposed to start selling the set on December 30 in order to meet its legal requirement to sell the coins in the same year as issued. While they can carry over the sets to subsequent years, they have to start selling them in 2015.

However, that word “issued” causes a problem. If the coins are part of a packaging production, the coins may not have been struck in 2016 but the sets are being issued in 2016, then the 2015 could be violating the law. It is that ambiguity in a law passed by congress that will cause the 2015 Limited Edition Silver Proof set from being released.

Sausage making at its finest!

Images courtesy of the U.S. Mint

Summary of November 2015 Legislation

I know that there is little the U.S. Mint can do without congress’s permission, but sometimes sifting through what congress is doing can be tiresome. There is so much good that congress can do but the political in-fighting is so insidious that all one can do is shake their head in disgust. At least there is one interesting item to report:

H.R. 22: Developing a Reliable and Innovative Vision for the Economy Act
Sponsor: Sen. Rodney Davis (R-IL)
• Introduced: January 6, 2015
• Passed House of Representatives on January 6, 2015
• Passed Senate with amendments on July 30, 2015
• Conference report presented to Senate on November 5, 2015
• Conference committee convened November 18, 2015
• Of significance to numismatics:

  • SEC. 73002. AMERICAN EAGLE SILVER BULLION 30TH ANNIVERSARY: Proof and uncirculated versions of ASE coins during 2016 shall have a smooth edge incused with a designation that notes the 30th anniversary of the first issue of coins.

Track this bill at https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/114/hr22

In other words, congress is mandating a 30th Anniversary American Silver Eagle set. I wonder if it will match the 25th Anniversary set?

2011 American Silver Eagle 25th Anniversary Set

2011 American Silver Eagle 25th Anniversary Set

Image of American Eagle set courtesy of the U.S. Mint

U.S. Mint winding down Eagle production

2015 American Silver Eagle Bullion CoinAs we wind down to the end of the year, the U.S. Mint has been announcing their end of the year production availability for 2015 American Eagle bullion coins. Starting with the announcement on November 14, 2015 that the quarter ounce $10 gold American Eagle bullion coin has sold out and no more will be produced. For 2015, the U.S. Mint has sold 39,500 ounces of quarter ounce American Eagle bullion coin representing 158,000 coins. This represents a 33-percent increase from 2014.

A few days later on November 18, the U.S. Mint announced that the one-tenth ounce American Eagle gold bullion coin has been sold out. For the year, the U.S. Mint produced 980,000 of the one-tenth ounce gold American Eagle proof coins representing 98,000 ounces of gold. This year’s production is a bit more than 73-percent increase over the 565,000 coins struck in 2014.

UPDATE: In a 4:35 PM note (24-Nov-15), the U.S. Mint has announced that the one-ounce gold American Eagle bullion coin has sold out! Orders for 2016 bullion coins will begin on January 11, 2016.

The day after announcing that they will be restricting the production of the American Silver Eagle bullion coins to 1 million coins per week, the U.S. Mint announced that they will continue to produce the coins through the week of December 7, 2015. They anticipate that this will cover their full weekly allocation through Monday, December 14, 2015.

With the price of silver dropping, the U.S. Mint has produced 42,929,500 American Silver Eagle bullion coins to this point. Considering the allocation of 1 million coins per week with four weeks left of sales, the final total of silver coins should be between 46-47 million coins. This would be an increase over last year’s record of 44,006,000.

American Silver Eagle bullion coin image courtesy of the U.S. Mint.

News from the U.S. Mint

A couple of quick news items that came out of the U.S. Mint on Tuesday.

2014 American Silver EagleThe U.S. Mint reported that as of December 8, 2014, they had sold a record 42,864,000 one troy ounce American Silver Eagle Bullion coins for all of 2014. This beats the previous record of 42,675,000 coins sold in 2013. Sales of the 2014 bullion coins to authorized dealers will end during the week of December 15.

Taking a sample of five different bullion dealers, the average price is around $20 for one American Silver Eagle Bullion coin. If each coin is worth about $20 each, that means the U.S. Mint sold $857.28 million in silver bullion for 2014. Remember, this is for the bullion coin. This does not count the collectible versions such as the proof or the West Point struck uncirculated coin.

Coin Discovery Set — An Introduction to Coin CollectingThe other announcement was that the U.S. Mint will sell a new product, Coin Discovery Set — An Introduction to Coin Collecting. The set costing $24.95 will include three 2014 Kennedy Half-Dollars in three different finishes—proof, uncirculated and circulating. It will also include two coin tubes for quarters, a magnifying glass, cotton gloves, and a booklet that explains the coin production process. The box will the the size to store U.S. Mint proof sets.

Sales will open at noon Eastern Standard Time (1600 UTC) on Tuesday December 16, 2014. While there will be no household ordering limit, the U.S. Mint has set a product limit to 45,000 sets.

Images courtesy of the U.S. Mint.

High relief special eagle and missed opportunities

Proposed reverse for the 2015 Ultra High Relief gold coin

Proposed reverse for the 2015 Ultra High Relief gold coin

This afternoon, the Citizens Coin Advisory Committee approved a proposal by the U.S. Mint to produce an ultra-high relief or just a high relief gold coin whose design has not been determined. The coin will comply with all applicable design laws but the obverse will be a more modern interpretation of liberty and the reverse inspired by previous submissions to the committee. The CCAC recommended that the planchet be similar to that of the one-ounce gold coins and not smaller like the 2009 coin.

Along with the gold coin will be a companion silver coin struck on the one-ounce planchet that is used for the American Silver Eagle. Although it was not specifically addressed, it is assumed that silver coin will be of the same or similar relief of the gold coin.

This afternoon I was able to break away from my daily activities to attend the CCAC meeting via conference call. This is the first time I attended one of their meetings and came away a little surprised and a little appalled.

What surprised me with the meeting is how in lock-step the committee is on everything. There appears to be no disagreement or questioning of what the U.S. Mint had proposed. Granted the committee members may have history with the issues beyond this meeting, but I was surprised that alternatives were not recommended or discussed.

The committee was excited because the proposal was somewhat in alignment with a motion they passed last April to create a Liberty Medal series. According to Gary Marks, chairman of the CCAC, the Liberty Medal Series would be an arts medal produced by the U.S. Mint to foster new design and innovation. It is to encourage the artists to have artistic impression beyond what they are allowed to do as part of the coin programs.

I do not know if it was previously discussed but according to the authorizing law for the American Silver Eagle bullion program (31 U.S.C. § 5112(e)(3)) the coins must have a design “symbolic of Liberty on the obverse side” and “of an eagle on the reverse side.” The law does not say that the obverse must be Adolph Weinman’s Walking Liberty design and it does not say that the reverse must be a heraldic eagle. Why has the committee not considered using the existing American Silver Eagle program to create a Liberty design program?

In discussing the overall medallic arts program, the CCAC decided to create a study group to come up with a plan to recommend to the U.S. Mint. Aside from the “American Liberty Silver Medal Program,” as described by Marks, he also proposed Freestyle Medal of an American theme. This would be one medal per year that would be artistic representations.

CCAC Member Heidi Wastweet said that the arts medal will allow for experimenting; allow the artist and designers to “expanding our wings” for future projects. As a result, it will let future stakeholders know what is possible so that it would inspire better designs.

While a medals program is a good idea, what seems to be missing is the subject matter. If the Liberty design can be leverage through the American Eagle bullion program, why not have medals used to honor history? Why is it when nations around the world issued commemorative coins honoring D-Day, the United States, whose mint is overly regulated by intransigent politicians, did not issue any commemorative item on the 70th anniversary of an event that changed world history?

Expanding the medals program in this manner would be the perfect way to honor history when congress has failed to remember they represent a country rather their owners… I mean donors!

Where I was appalled was what I saw as over-the-top cult-like patriotic gushing by some of the members over the proceedings. I thought the CCAC was supposed to be an oversight organization; at least that is how it appears to be described in the authorizing law (31 U.S. Code § 5135). There should not be a problem with supporting the work of the U.S. Mint and support the artists whom everyone agrees should be treated better. However, there were some comments that sounded more like members were wrapping themselves in the flag rather than working on an oversight committee.

As part of his closing remarks, Chairman Marks said, “I believe that this is the single most impactful idea that the Mint can pursue at this point in time in the United States.” Unfortunately, I wish this was the case. It appears to be another missed opportunity by the CCAC similar to previous missed opportunities by this committee.

I will have more commentary in the coming days.

Background from the U.S. Mint

Potential Products
2015 24-karat Gold Ultra High Relief Coin
2015 Silver Medal
Background
  • As a result of the success and popularity of the 2009 Ultra High Relief Double Eagle Gold Coin, the United States Mint (Mint) is considering producing a 2015 24-karat Gold Ultra High Relief (UHR) Coin.
  • The CCAC recommended a new eagle design for the reverse of the American Eagle Silver One Ounce Coin, a change the Mint is not pursuing, opting instead to consider showcasing the beauty and intricacies of the recommended design on a 2015 24k Gold UHR Coin.
  • To compliment such a reverse, the Mint would consider featuring a new, modern rendition of Liberty on the obverse of the 2015 24k Gold UHR Coin.
  • If developed, a 2015 24k Gold UHR Coin would be comparable to the 2009 Ultra High Relief Double Eagle Gold Coin, in that it would also be one troy ounce. The denomination would also have to be determined.
  • To make such a design accessible to various ranges of collectors, the Mint is considering the possibility of producing a medal, struck in silver, bearing the same design as a 2015 24k Gold UHR Coin. Striking these medals in silver would provide an additional opportunity to showcase the intricacy of the design features and the beauty of the artwork.
  • If this concept is pursued, the United States Mint would seek Secretary of the Treasury approval to strike this gold coin under authority of 31 U.S.C. § 5112(i)(4)(C).
  • If this concept is pursued, the United States Mint would seek Secretary of the Treasury approval to strike this silver medal under authority of 31 U.S.C. § 5111 (a)(2).
Design History
  • In 2009, the United States Mint fulfilled the original vision of Augustus Saint-Gaudens with the release of the 2009 Ultra High Relief Double Eagle Gold Coin; closing one chapter of American coin design and beginning a new one.
  • If produced, 2015 24k Gold UHR Coins could be viewed as a follow up to the 2009 Double Eagle UHR, contrasting classic American coin design with modern American coin design.
Image courtesy of the U.S. Mint.

More than just a sales failure

2013 Girl Scouts of the USA Centennial commemorative coin

2013 Girl Scouts of the USA Centennial commemorative coin

For the first time the U.S. Mint’s history, an organization did not receive a payout from a commemorative minted for them.

Following the close of the year, the U.S. Mint told Coin World that the sales of the 2013-W Girl Scouts of the USA Centennial Commemorative coins was so low that it did not cover the costs of the program as required by law. U.S. Mint records show that 86,354 proof and 37,463 uncirculated coins were sold for a total of 123,817 coins. That is a little more than 35-percent of the 350,000 authorized by the law.

Sales of the 2013-W Girl Scouts of the USA Centennial Commemorative coins was to have ended on December 17, 2013 but the U.S. Mint extended the sale through December 31, 2013. By law, a commemorative coin can only be sold in the year it was struck.

The U.S. Mint cannot be faulted for this lack of interest. Information about the coin had been a fixture of the front page of the U.S. Mint’s website. Their information included a video introduction by United States Treasurer Rosie Rios and provided information in its various outreach programs. The U.S. Mint is limited on the type of advertising it is allowed to use.

Usually, the burden of advertising falls to the organization that would most benefit from the sale of the commemorative coin. Since I do not have a connection with Girl Scouts of the USA, I cannot report on their promotional experience.

This news is both sad and troubling. Although there are collectors who will buy the coin to be part of their commemorative collection, the real success or failure of a commemorative coin is based on its subject. For whatever reasons, the Girl Scouts was not a popular subject.

When a commemorative is made for an organization, purchasers want some affinity for the organization. Unless you are a collector, you are not going to buy a coin honoring that organization, especially when the price is over $50 during a recovering economy. I wonder if a clad half-dollar may have been a better idea?

While having a program to honor the centennial of the Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. was a laudable idea, maybe it was not a good one. It was a coin with a limited appeal and those in the target audience did not respond.

It is also troubling that the Girl Scouts were not able to generate more sales on its own. In coming up over 31,000 coins short of being able to receive the payout, it is time to question the diversity of the hobby—again.

Numismatics is dominated by middle-aged to older white males. While there is an outreach to young numismatists, those programs appear to succeed in recruiting mostly white boys and keeping them interested until they become 18 years old.

Consequently, there appears to be no concentration on providing opportunities to young girls and minorities. While the Boy Scouts provide one outlet, local experience shows that those troops are dominated by young white males. Surely there are girls and minorities interested in numismatics. If not, why not?

If anyone missed the point, the executive directors of the American Numismatic Association and Industry Council for Tangible Assets (ICTA) are women. I do not believe either have their jobs because they are women. They are qualified people leading an industry that happens to male dominated.

There has to be a way to appeal to the demographics that are not being represented in the hobby. Aside from women and minorities, the hobby has to figure out how to engage those older than young numismatist (YN) but younger than middle-age. There has to be a way to keep them interested if they started as a YN or grab their interest before middle age. In 2011 I addressed these issues calling potential members the “Lost Demographic.” There have been little changes since.

What will it take to expand the hobby to all sectors of society? Please feel free to let me know in the comments section below. We can all work together for the betterment of the hobby!

Pin It on Pinterest

%d bloggers like this: