The end of the year always generates retrospective articles, in which we look back over the course of the 12 calendar months for patterns, insights, and other useful information. Since the phrase “product fatigue” has appeared so often this fall, I decided to look farther back than the year 2016 (which in any case still has a full month left). I wasn’t aiming for a complex analysis; I simply wanted to see where the Mint’s product offerings escalated to what some regard as unmanageable levels—and just how much the volume of products from the Mint has changed.
Since the Mint’s online catalog goes no further back than the beginning of 2015, I relied largely on A Guide Book of United States Coins (the Red Book), supplemented by the Mint’s annual reports. My survey initially went back to 2001, which was the date of the earliest annual report on the Mint’s website. That wouldn’t capture the full effect of the 50 State Quarters Program, which commenced in 1999; but starting with 1998 would leave out the effect of the addition of silver Proofs to the annual clad Proofs, which commenced in 1992. Since that brought me nearly to the beginning of a decade, I decided I may as well key in the data going back to 1990.
Neither of my resources included everything I needed, so I had to make up my own criteria for what to count as a “Mint product.” (The digest version, if you want to skip the next couple of paragraphs, is this: if it’s something people collect, it counts.) The Red Book excludes items like Congratulations Sets and Happy Birthday Sets, which are nice gift items but don’t in themselves have numismatic value. Those, I left out. On the other hand, the Red Book doesn’t list items like the Presidential Dollar Coin Covers, which are included in many collectors’ plans and budgets. I decided to include those, along with items like the P-D-S Uncirculated sets for each of the America the Beautiful quarters. I omitted the individual Mint medals on the grounds that they’re a separate specialty, but I included the Presidential $1 and First Spouse medal sets, which overlap with numismatic collectibles.
Bullion coins were a tough choice; I finally decided to include them just to spare myself the headache of dealing with the Burnished coins. The main bullion offerings change relatively little from year to year, I reasoned; they might change the numbers on the graph but they wouldn’t change its shape.
As for the circulating denominations, I decided to treat each date and mintmark as one item, in the way a collector might purchase them for a folder or album, although singles can be purchased in many ways (and not all of them from the Mint). Regarding boxes, rolls, and bags, I was stumped again. Are these items “collected,” per se, or are they simply bulk purchases? I was spared the decision by a lack of data prior to 2015, and was able to toss these items out.
In a few cases, I had to resort to ebay. For example, I couldn’t recall whether the Mint had issued Presidential Dollar Coin Covers from the beginning, or started those mid-program (which seemed plausible, since the business-strike S-Mint quarter wasn’t introduced until the third year of the ATB program). I went to ebay, found a few covers from the first couple years of the program, and figured it was reasonable to count such covers for every president. One curious product from the 2002 Mint report couldn’t be verified: a “1999–2001 United States Mint Proof Set Collection (29 coins),” of which 14,453 had been sold as of the printing of the 2002 report. I have no idea what that was and couldn’t find any online, but I decided to fly on the wild side and include it in my spreadsheet.
In a nutshell:
The first spike, in 1992, captures the addition of silver Proof dimes, quarters, and halves, and the sets that went with them, along with a few extra commemoratives. The next big spike, in 1995, was produced by a raft of centennial Olympic commemoratives. Subtract those 32 Uncirculated and Proof coins, and you get a perfectly unremarkable 45 products that year.
The Platinum Eagle program provided a bump in 1997, but the next really big thing came along in 1999: the 50 State Quarters Program, which expanded the number of quarter-dollar releases per year from 4 to 20 (not including sets).
The numbers climbed relatively slowly through the early 2000s, first cracking 80 in 2005. The Mint’s offerings of Proof American Eagle coins was picking up steam; the Eagle and Buffalo programs would undergo changes during the Financial Crisis, but the net effect on the sheer number of Mint products would be negligible. This was due largely to the 2007 introduction of the Presidential $1 coins and the First Spouse 1/2-ounce gold coins: each year, four presidents with two business-strike coins and one Proof coin each, plus four (and in some years, five) First Spouse gold bullion coins and a matching number of gold Proofs, plus associated sets and covers, all of which boosted the total number of Mint products to 121 in 2007.
Which brings us up to the record-setting year of 2008, when the short-lived fractional American Buffalo gold coins helped the number of individual collectible Mint products to reach 131.
In 2009, the number remained high at 125, which included the large Lincoln Bicentennial Cents program. In 2010, despite the addition of 10 new ATB five-ounce silver coin products, the number declined to 108. An expansion in Silver Eagle formats and mintmarks, plus a relatively large offering of commemorative coins (U.S. Army and Medal of Honor), helped bump the number back up to 119 the next year. The addition of Uncirculated S-Mint ATB quarters in 2012 contributed to another boost (to 123), and in 2013, the array of 5-Star Generals commemoratives contributed to an almost-all-time high of 129.
Since then, although the number of products per year has seemed large, it’s actually begun to decline a bit: in 2014, 123; and in 2015 and 2016, 118 each year.
Collectors are already expecting a significant drop in the number of products for calendar year 2017. The Presidential $1 and First Spouse series concluded this year with Ronald and Nancy Reagan; just removing those items from the 2016 lineup brings the number down to the upper 80s. (The number I get is 87, but the Mint’s details for the coming months are still sketchy.) As for the next few years, a new administration in the White House may bring about a further tightening and focusing of objectives and programs, not to mention a different economic and regulatory climate.
Meanwhile, Mint News Blog welcomes a more thorough look at the Mint’s catalog offerings. My own was fairly simple; a more vigorous study might examine the amount of money needed to keep up with the Mint’s offerings from year to year. It might shed more light on the markup on products like the Limited Edition Silver Proof Set, or might look at the trends for different types of collectors. Comments and corrections are always welcome. ❑
This post was updated at 9:30 a.m. on November 29 to remove an erroneous mention of ATB quarters in the discussion of the 2007 product numbers. The America the Beautiful program did not roll out until 2010. Thanks to Erik H for making the catch.