When I was a kid growing up in my grandmother’s house, silver quarters still turned up occasionally in circulation. Granny had for years been picking them out of her change from the Sunflower grocery store and putting them in brown plastic medicine bottles that were the perfect size for quarter dollars. (Homemade coin rolls, most assuredly not PVC-free.) Unfortunately for her, this was after the invention of Coca-Cola and before the widespread use of childproof caps. Also unfortunate was the fact that I could reach the topmost shelf of the medicine cabinet by climbing on the sink. I hate to imagine how many of those worn-but-lovely silver quarters ended up in the till of the convenience store down the road. (Even then I could appreciate the ringing sound of a silver quarter when it fell on the Formica counter, compared to the flat tap of the clad coins. Not that I knew the term “clad coins.” There were just “silver quarters” and “those other quarters.”) They’d hardly be worth more than melt today, but I still cringe when I think of them.
In later years, when I was working as a book editor at Whitman Publishing, the most gorgeous Jefferson nickel turned up in my change. My more experienced coworkers reckoned it had been in someone’s nickel album for years, perhaps getting into circulation through the same vector as Granny’s silver quarters—namely, some dumb kid.
* * *
If there were an academic discipline called “U.S. Mint Studies,” dissertations could be written about the Mint’s 225th anniversary offerings, including the 225th Anniversary Enhanced Uncirculated Set (17XC). The sets famously (or infamously) sold out seven minutes after their noon release on August 1, the first day of the World’s Fair of Money in Denver, Colorado. On the morning of August 3, they were available again on the Mint’s website. Counting the opening-day sales, the large dealer returns, and the resumed sales as of August 3, the net sales figure on the Mint’s August 6 report was 217,514 units.
If we take that figure as gospel and ignore any unprocessed returns on the Mint’s shelves as of report time on August 6, that means almost 7,500 sets were available last Monday, August 7. During the course of the week, sales and returns accounted for a net 5,796 in sales, for a final figure on August 13 of 223,310. Around the time people on the East Coast woke up on August 14, the sets were briefly labeled unavailable again, but they were back on the website today. If sales averaged a little over 800 per day last week, and the rate this week slows by (say) half, the final inventory of 1,690 should be gone by the end of the day Friday, August 18. All of which is useful if you’re writing a dissertation on the sets; otherwise, not so much.
Now to consider some older numbers, and to hazard a guess at future value. There’s not much precedent when it comes to special-finish, base-metal coins—just these two examples:
- In 1994, the Mint released a Coinage and Currency set containing an Uncirculated, 1993-dated Thomas Jefferson silver dollar, an Uncirculated 1994-P Jefferson nickel with a special matte finish, and a 1976 $2 Federal Reserve Note. Originally sold for $34, the sets now run about $110, according to the 2018 Red Book. The official sales figure for the sets (and thus for the nickels) is 167,703. They’re valued separately in the Red Book at $50 for an MS-63 and $100 for an MS-65.
- In 1997, the Botanic Garden Coinage and Currency Set contained an Uncirculated 1997 Botanic Garden commemorative silver dollar, an Uncirculated 1997 Jefferson nickel with a special matte finish, and a 1995 $1 Federal Reserve Note. Priced at $36, the extremely limited production of 25,000 sold out completely. The sets are valued around $250 today, based largely on the special nickels, which are valued separately at about $200 for MS-63 and $225 for MS-65.
Our dissertation writer might look at these current values, 23 and 20 years after the initial issues, and guess that in another 20 years, the 2017 Enhanced Uncirculated nickels might be valued at, say, $25 in MS-63 and $50 in MS-65. That’s if our degree in U.S. Mint Studies is part of a humanities program. Move it over to an economics or statistics department, and our hypothetical student will be factoring in all manner of variables: the relative mintages of regular circulating nickels in 1994 and 1997; the ambient economic and numismatic climates over the years; the fact that the 2017 special nickels may seem less special given that there are nine other Enhanced Uncirculated coins to choose from; the possibility that the Mint could start issuing EU sets regularly in subsequent years; and so on. (I also used to edit conference papers for the National Bureau of Economic Research. There’s nothing those people won’t count.)
This humanities student is making no predictions. I’m just going to enjoy looking at my EU coins, maybe put together a selection of the best ones from the handful of sets I ordered, and be grateful my cats have no interest in vending machines.