The US Mint has scheduled to conclude sales of the 2011 commemorative coins on Friday, December 16, 2011 at 5:00 PM ET. Many readers have asked my opinion about this year’s commemoratives- so I wanted to provide this post with the latest available information and both the pro and con sides of the future potential.
This year’s commemorative coins include $5 gold coins, silver dollars, and clad composition half dollars featuring the U.S. Army, and $5 gold coins and silver dollars featuring the Medal of Honor. As mentioned on numerous occasions, this year’s programs include a number of coins that are poised to have extremely low mintages within the context of modern commemorative issues of the same denomination.
Throughout the modern commemorative era, there have been some issues which experienced slow sales. This may have been caused by an overabundance of other commemorative or numismatic offerings, general unpopularity of theme or design, and/or collector preference for certain versions or packaging options. Many of these overlooked or unpopular issues ironically went on to secondary market success after the low mintages were recognized. Within this light, some of the 2011 commemoratives seem to present a good opportunity.
Shown below are tables including the lowest mintage modern commemorative issues for uncirculated $5 gold coins, proof $5 gold coins, uncirculated half dollars, and proof half dollars. The numbers for the 2011 coins are based on the last available figures, which reflect sales through December 12, 2011.
(I don’t have the silver dollars in any of the charts. The Army Silver Dollars sales have reached 117,958 for proofs and 43,185 for uncirculated coins. The Medal of Honor Silver Dollars have reached 109,270 proofs and 43,414 uncirculated coins. While these are at the lower end of the mintage spectrum for commemorative silver dollars, there are plenty issues with lower mintages which do not command much of a premium. The absolute mintage low for commemorative silver dollars is all the way down at 14,497.)
|Uncirculated $5 Gold Commemoratives|
|1997 Jackie Robinson||5,174|
|2001 Capitol Visitor Center||6,761|
|2011 Medal of Honor||7,910|
|1996 Olympic Flag Bearer||9,174|
|1996 Olympic Cauldron||9,210|
|Proof $5 Gold Commemoratives|
|2011 Medal of Honor||17,739|
|1997 Jackie Robinson||24,072|
|2001 Capitol Visitor Center||27,652|
|Uncirculated Half Dollar Commemoratives|
|1996 Olympic Swimming||49,533|
|1996 Olympic Soccer||52,836|
|2003 First Flight||57,726|
|Proof Half Dollar Commemoratives|
|2001 Capitol Visitor Center||77,962|
|2003 Fist Flight||109,710|
|1996 Olympic Swimming||114,315|
|1996 Olympic Soccer||122,412|
Each of the prior year uncirculated $5 gold coins with a mintage of less than 10,000 commands a significant premium, which seems to bode well for this year’s coins. Only slight premiums exist for the lower mintage proof $5 gold coins, although this year’s coins may set a new absolute low. For the half dollars, essentially only the 1996 Olympic half dollars command a premium, although again this year’s coins may set a new absolute low.
Using past history as a guide, there seems to be a favorable case for the future performance of several of this year’s commemorative coins. However, past performance is not always indicative of future potential. I will provide some counterarguments to the low mintage aspect.
“Low” mintages are relative. Recently, the First Spouse Gold Coin series has experienced historically low mintages across a number of issues. While these have appreciated on the secondary market, it has not been to the extent of past low mintage gold coins. For this particular series, low mintages have become typical and will likely be experienced for the foreseeable future of the series. If future $5 gold commemorative coins continue to experience low mintages and establish a new lower norm, the 2011 issues will become less exceptional.
More collectors may be proactively buying coins in anticipation of low mintages. After seeing past issues with low sales experience huge appreciation on the secondary market, collectors are less likely to be caught off guard in a similar fashion. More of the group who appreciate the low mintages may be buying their coins from the Mint at issue prices, leaving fewer to drive prices higher on the secondary market. Compared to the mid-1990’s, there is much more timely information available, leaving less room for surprises.
Finally, collecting habits may be changing. Compared to a decade ago, assembling a complete collection of modern commemoratives (or even a particular denomination for modern commemoratives) is much more difficult. As the years have gone by, the number of issues in the series has increased. In recent years, the higher prices of gold and silver have made the coins more expensive. The reason that low mintage coins command premiums is because the same number of collectors for a particular series are forced to chase after a smaller supply of coins, driving up prices. If the number of active collectors of a series has diminished, the supply of coins would need to be that much smaller to create a similar result.
To summarize, as I have written in the past, several of the 2011 commemorative coins have potential based on their low mintages. However, there are some factors to consider which may represent a shift from the patterns of the past.