By Louis Golino First day sales of the 2018 American Liberty $10 One-Tenth-Ounce Gold Proof Coin on February 9 were a dismal 9,852, which does not bode well for upcoming sales and secondary market performance. There has also been relatively little ...

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The disappointing American Liberty $10 Proof Coin launch and more...

The disappointing American Liberty $10 Proof Coin launch

By Louis Golino

First day sales of the 2018 American Liberty $10 One-Tenth-Ounce Gold Proof Coin on February 9 were a dismal 9,852, which does not bode well for upcoming sales and secondary market performance.

There has also been relatively little discussion of this new issue in the blogosphere compared to the one-ounce, high-relief version of the coin released last spring — or other higher-profile coins for that matter.  Those who have commented typically either don’t like the coin or do like it but think it is overpriced and will trade close to bullion value eventually.

The lifting of the household limit on the second day of sales is not likely to have a very large impact since the dealers who might have considered large purchases will likely be deterred by the small number of coins sold so far.

Similarly, those collectors who were on the fence about the coin may look at initial sales and decide to pass on it since the early numbers suggest it will never sell out and will be available down the road for substantially under-issue price.

Those who make money of this issue will be dealers selling pre-orders for graded coins, but I have little doubt the price of graded examples will come down with time.

In the run-up to the coin’s release, there did seem to be a decent amount of enthusiasm for it. It is the first tenth-ounce Proof gold coin that was not an American eagle released since 2008 when the Mint issued fractional Buffalo gold pieces. It is also the first modern Liberty gold coin of its size.

Hover to zoom.

However, by the time the 2018 coin was released, much of that interest seemed to have waned.

So, what went wrong?

First, the maximum mintage of 135,000 is too high, especially in the current market, which is rather soft for both modern issues and bullion.

Second, the fact that the other versions of the coin have not sold out of their maximums should have been a clue that a lower mintage level should have been set.

It is hard to determine in advance what max to set, especially for a new issue. The Mint should consider other options such as making an initial batch of around 25,000 coins, seeing how they sell, and not even announcing a maximum mintage in advance. It could do what the Mexican Mint does and not release mintages until sales have ended, which keeps buyers guessing.

Also, the price of $215 was problematic for many buyers, especially since the coin is not struck in high relief.  I see no reason why it should have been priced much higher than the 2018 $5 American Gold Eagle Proof coin, which, based on the new pricing grid, will be $187.50 if gold is between $1,300 and $1,350. It might acquire a few dollars more since the coin requires its own dies and packaging, so $195 would have been about right and would have likely brought in more buyers.

A third issue is that collectors remain divided on the design since it was first selected by the coin design review committees — and this dynamic most likely suppressed sales. As it happens almost every time, the design is discussed by collectors in an online forum. The usual comments appeared to be about how “ugly” the design is, or how the stars in Liberty’s crown are too big on forums like the PCGS message board.

I also saw comments intended as a criticism of the plan to release future coins with Liberty depicted with other ethnicities such as “an Oriental or Persian. . .”

Another poster said: “It is obvious to me that some responding to this thread and other threads with the liberty are based around their un-comfortability with the ethnicity of the profile, masked by their distaste of the design. Such is life.”

Still, others said they had no issue with the ethnicity but simply did not like the design and compared it to the Susan B. Anthony dollar.

As the French say, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

Fourth, the African-American Liberty design has now appeared on two gold coins and five silver medals in the past year, which is too much for one design, even if it was intended to be the centerpiece of the Mint’s 225th anniversary program.

Those who could not afford the $100 gold version were able to purchase the silver medals last year, so to make the tenth-ounce version appealing, it needed something else, and that something would probably be a high relief strike.

The mint has never issued a high-relief gold coin of a tenth-ounce, and only three large high-relief gold issues in the modern era — not to mention that no silver coin of this type has ever been issued.

High-relief issues are something buyers want and that they get from other mints.

At the same time, one could make the case that since the U.S. Mint has not yet figured out how to strike high-relief coins without reducing the size of the diameter, as some foreign mints have been able to, a tenth-ounce Liberty high-relief coin would have been rather tiny.

The bottom line lesson is that the Mint needs to do more than recycle the same designs in different metals and sizes. If collectors are going to pay a considerable premium, they want something that is special. As such, those who market collector coins at the Mint would do well to develop a keener sense of what today’s collectors of modern U.S. coins want.

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Bowers on collecting: American medals to the fore — 1893 Columbian Exposition Award Medal

By Q. David Bowers

Welcome to the latest installment in my series on the subject. I highlight some of those featured in the best-selling Whitman book, 100 Greatest American Medals and Tokens. This week I feature the prize medal issued to exhibitors at the World’s Columbian Exposition. I have a personal connection to this event. The first “rare coin” I ever owned was a worn 1893 Columbian commemorative half dollar. My paternal great-grandmother, Frances Mumaugh, a highly accomplished professional artist, exhibited five paintings there.

1893 Columbian Exposition Award Medal

Eglit-90 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition Award Medal in Bronze, MS-65 Brown. Hover to zoom. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

In the chronicle of world’s fairs, America has many notable entries, including the 1876 Centennial Exhibition, the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition, the 1926 Sesquicentennial Exposition, the 1933 Century of Progress, and those of later years. None ranks with the 1893 Columbian in terms of importance. Set in the dawn of the age of electricity, the ornately decorated white building was a heavenly sight at night.

Map of grounds of the World’s Columbian Exposition. Image courtesy of Century Magazine.

Planned to open in 1892 to observe the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ discovery of America (never mind the Norsemen who arrived centuries earlier), the event was to showcase the ultimate in American technology, art, and science, in good company with exhibits from around the world. Construction took longer than expected, and it was not until 1893 that the fairgrounds were ready to receive the public. President Grover Cleveland was on hand to signal the opening.

A ticket to the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition.

It was envisioned that Augustus Saint-Gaudens, one of America’s most accomplished and laureated sculptors, would create the official award medal. Offered a fee of $5,000, a remarkable sum for the era, the artist demurred at first, as he was busy with another commission, the Shaw Memorial (today an attraction in Boston Common near the Massachusetts State House). He suggested that the work be placed with an artist in France, where medallic engraving was a high form of art.

Finally, he consented to do the work, if only to keep it out of the hands of Charles E. Barber, the chief engraver at the Mint. By Saint-Gaudens and other sculptors of the time, Barber’s work was viewed as mediocre at best. Finally consenting, the artist prepared suggestions for the design, the obverse featuring Columbus reaching shore in the New World, a triumphant pose with his cape flared and hand outstretched. The reverse depicted a nude boy holding a torch and several small wreaths against a background of lettered inscriptions.

In a complicated scenario. The depiction of a nude male was considered erotic or obscene by some observers, while in the same era nude females in paintings and statues were perfectly acceptable. After much wrangling, an insipid reverse design by Chief Engraver Barber was mated with Saint-Gaudens’ obverse. The process took a long time, and the medals and accompanying certificates were not awarded to recipients until 1896. It was planned at first that 20,000 medals would be struck, but final production fell far short of that figure.

Estimated Market Values — Copper Strikings

Mint State-63 to 65 (Choice to Gem): $150 to $200

Mint State-60 to 62: $100 to $150

Commentary: The surface is often brass in appearance as made. These typically come with the name of the awardee on the back, by use of an insert into the die. The prices are for medals without original aluminum boxes, which could add $50 to the estimate.

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The inverse relationship of precious metals and Bitcoin

Background image by Uberpenguin.

In my previous article discussing the rise of Bitcoin as a possible form of digital bullion, I compared and contrasted its measure of value in comparison to gold and silver bullion. When I wrote my first article, the value of Bitcoin was rising toward an impressive $20,000 in value, and — as experts had predicted — it fell in value once more to a low of around $6,000 earlier this month. It has just now returned to a value of near $11,000 for the first time this year. While Bitcoin appears to rise and fall in a cyclical nature, when it actually decides to rapidly increase or decrease in value is still risky to assess as an investor. As experts have previously suggested, a currency that fluctuates in value as much as Bitcoin tends to be a sign of its weakness rather than its strength — so how do gold and silver measure up?

Hover to zoom. Image courtesy of APMEX.

According to APMEX, which has tracked the price of gold per ounce since February 16, 1987, the precious metal is currently sitting at $1,348.90 per ounce. The highest price gold reached during this period of 31 years was $1,864.12 on September 5, 2011. It was speculated that this may have been due to a growing accumulation of debt by European countries like Greece and Ireland that year. And, of course, many of the world’s economies were still recovering from the Great Recession of 2008. While there have been some fluctuations here and there, the price of gold has held a noticeable upward trend in growth since 2015. Being a relatively new and speculative form of currency, Bitcoin appears to double and half itself in value during the same month at times.

Image courtesy of APMEX.

Silver, on the other hand, appears to have the same growth trend as gold until around January 21, 2013, when its value sharply cut in half over the subsequent months (from $31.95 in January to $19.97 in August of the same year). Silver currently sits at a value of $16.74 per ounce. Silver’s sudden drop in value in 2013 can partially be explained by advancements in technology, particularly with photography and electronics — the former for switching largely to digital media and the latter for decreases in the size of appliances that use silver. However, what’s interesting to note is that gold faced a similar drop in 2013 as well (though not as severe and noticeable as the one for silver), having gone from $1,684.88 in January to $1,300.40 in August. This suggests that there is at least one common factor that caused both precious metals to suddenly decrease in value that year.

A Good Delivery bar, the standard for trade in the major international gold markets.

It appears that since January 2013, while gold and silver are still more valuable than they were before 2011, they have not yet returned to their peak value between the years of 2011 and 2013. Why is this? What happened during those years to cause this spike and subsequent fall in the value of gold and silver? The answer is rather complicated, and while not all factors are known, what most investors understand is that when political and economic turmoil are high, precious metal prices tend to rise in value with the chaos. In short, the value of gold and silver holds an inverse relationship with the health of the economy.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, between 2008 and 2012, the Producer Price Index (PPI) for gold experienced a 101.1 percent surge in value. We all know what happened in 2008 to create economic turmoil. On the other hand, the Bureau notes that during times of economic prosperity:

Investors are more likely to turn to more speculative investments, such as stocks, bonds, and real estate. During these times, the price for gold often declines.

Bitcoin price history chart, linear scale. Year numbers are placed around the middle of the designated year.

Enter Bitcoin in 2009, a more “speculative” investment than precious metals. Since the Bureau and a variety of other sources have determined that increasing values of precious metals indicate economic turmoil, then the increase in the value of speculative investments like Bitcoin seems to indicate a healthy economy. While this relationship may not be perfect, it appears that precious metals and Bitcoin share a sort of connection that allows investors to crudely assess the relative health of the economy and when it is best to invest in either tangible assets or speculative ones. Utilizing this knowledge, we can determine that 2013 was the economic turning point for the great recession in the United States, given the sudden drop in the value of both gold and silver. Not surprisingly, the notorious cryptocurrency experienced its first surge in value in 2013 as well.

While Bitcoin fluctuates more rapidly and less predictably than gold and silver, it may be that it is now becoming one of the many speculative investments like stocks and bonds that we can indirectly use to assess the health of the economy. Today’s investors might conclude that silver and gold should be bought during economically prosperous times, and sold during economically hectic times — and that the best time for speculative investments like Bitcoin is the opposite. Could this crucial distinction save your wallet? Only time will tell.

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United States Mint to release set of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore coins on February 20

Washington — The United States Mint will accept orders for the 2018 America the Beautiful Quarters Three-Coin Set-Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore (product code 18AD) beginning February 20 at noon Eastern Time (ET).

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This set includes an Uncirculated quarter from the Philadelphia Mint, an Uncirculated quarter from the Denver Mint, and a Proof quarter from the San Francisco Mint featuring Chapel Rock and the white pine tree that grows atop it on their reverse (tails). Inscriptions are PICTURED ROCKSMICHIGAN2018, and E PLURIBUS UNUM.

The obverse (heads) depicts the 1932 portrait of George Washington by John Flanagan, which has been restored to bring out subtle details and the beauty of the original model. Inscriptions are UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, LIBERTY, IN GOD WE TRUST, and QUARTER DOLLAR.

All three coins are mounted on a durable plastic card featuring an image of Michigan’s Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. The certificate of authenticity is printed on the back of the card.

The America the Beautiful Quarters Three-Coin Set-Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is priced at $9.95. Orders will be accepted at the Mint’s online catalog and at 1-800-USA-MINT (872-6468). Hearing and speech-impaired customers with TTY equipment may order at 1-888-321-MINT. Information about shipping options is available at the Mint’s website.

About the United States Mint
The United States Mint was created by Congress in 1792 and became part of the Department of the Treasury in 1873. It is the Nation’s sole manufacturer of legal tender coinage and is responsible for producing circulating coinage for the Nation to conduct its trade and commerce. The United States Mint also produces numismatic products, including Proof, Uncirculated, and commemorative coins; Congressional Gold Medals; and silver and gold bullion coins. Its numismatic programs are self-sustaining and operate at no cost to taxpayers.

Note: To ensure that all members of the public have fair and equal access to United States Mint products, orders placed prior to the official on-sale date and time of February 20, 2018, at noon ET, will not be deemed accepted by the United States Mint and will not be honored.

Press release courtesy of the United States Mint.

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Bowers on collecting: American medals to the fore — the 1787 Washington and Columbia medal

By Q. David Bowers

Welcome to the latest installment in my series on the subject. I highlight some of those featured in the best-selling Whitman book, 100 Greatest American Medals and Tokens. This week I feature the Washington and Columbia medal, one of my all-time favorite items in American numismatics. I own a very nice example in the bank but still appreciate it every time I look at a photograph of it.

The 1787 Washington and Columbia Medal — An Early American Classic

Hover to zoom.

Before showcasing this medal, I will share some background information about how my interest was spawned. In 1979 John J. Ford, Jr. contributed the foreword to my book, Adventures With Rare Coins, a commentary telling of a collector friend and the appeal a certain medal had to him:

Ted Craige was once offered a specimen of the extraordinarily rare Washington and Columbia medal. It fascinated him, and after establishing what it was, he located a book titled Voyages of the Columbia to the Northwest Coast 1787-1790 and 1790-1793 by F.W. Howay.

Early on, he and I discovered that the particular piece he had been offered was spurious, a cast copy, but Ted read the book from cover to cover (all 518 pages) anyway. Once he got started, he couldn’t stop. Once he completed the book he couldn’t bear to part with it; it just had to be in his library. He even wanted to keep the fake medal, but the price prohibited it.

His enthusiasm grew as he researched the origin of the medal, the controversy concerning the diesinker, the purpose of issue, and other details. To my knowledge, he never owned a genuine specimen of this rare medal, but he certainly knew as much about it as any numismatist of my acquaintance.

Well, to me, this was so interesting that I had to get a copy of the Howay book. There was no Internet then, so this involved some letter writing. Finally, I tracked one down, after which I spent the next several evenings reading it cover to cover.

Then I simply had to own one! After some effort, I found a very nice example and I didn’t stop there. With my fine friend Anne Bentley, curator of the Massachusetts Historical Society, I learned more, studied the several examples in the MHS collection, and delved further into history.

Now, here is the information from the 100 Greatest Medals and Tokens book:

1787 Columbia and Washington Medal

6 silver known (3 in private hands)

4 to 6 copper known

2 or 3 white metal known

Copper impression of the Columbia and Washington medal presented in 1791 by John Barrell to the newly formed Massachusetts Historical Society, the first such society in America. Paul Revere, another contributor, saw the medal and offered to smooth and trim its edge, which he did by giving it a rounded rather than vertical format. The Society also has silver and white metal impressions.

By any account the Columbia and Washington medal is one of America’s most historical and important. In 2005 Anne Bentley, curator of the Massachusetts Historical Society, stated that this medal was the most important item in their collections. This piece is shown above.

Depicted on the obverse of this 40-millimeter medal are two ships and the inscription, COLUMBIA and WASHINGTON, commanded by J. KENDRICK. The Columbia Rediviva, usually called the Columbia, was an 83-foot-long full-rigged ship which displaced 212 tons. A consort was provided for her by the Lady Washington, under Captain Robert Gray, usually cited simply as the Washington, a sloop of 90 tons. Interestingly, the dropping of the Lady in popular usage has resulted in some demand for this medal by collectors of George Washington numismatica.

The reverse bears the inscription Fitted at Boston, N. America, for the Pacific Ocean, by J. Barrell, C. Brown, C. Bulfinch, J. Darby, C. Hatch, J.M. Pintard, 1787. Charles Bulfinch was one of America’s best-known architects. The dies are attributed to Joseph Callender, who also cut dies for 1787 and 1788 Massachusetts copper coins. There were two reverses made: the 1st and the 2nd, with slight differences in the arrangement of the lettering and ornaments.

The ships were set to sail from Boston to explore the distant coast of the Pacific Northwest in the area now known as the states of Oregon and Washington. Medals were struck, some say by Paul Revere. A few silver impressions seem to have been for presentation to the ship’s owners, in addition to some white metal pieces as well. Comprising most of the production were several hundred copper examples to be taken for distribution to Native Americans. Also taken were newly minted 1787 Massachusetts half cents and cents.

The ships set sail on September 30th of that year, with Captain John Kendrick in charge of the expedition. They traveled together until at Cape Horn (at the tip of South America) they separated, not to see each other again until they arrived at Nootka Sound on the Northwest Pacific coast.

Today, the larger ship is remembered in the name of the Columbia River, first seen by Captain Gray. The voyage was the first in which the American flag was carried to the region of the Pacific Northwest. The Columbia returned to Boston on August 9, 1790, having made history as the first American vessel to have circumnavigated the globe.

The 1st reverse as illustrated by a white metal example in the Massachusetts Historical Society collection. Note the rosette at the top center border.

Estimated Market Values

Silver Strikings

Mint State-60 to 62: $100,000 upward.

EF-40 to AU-58: $40,000 to $70,000.

Very Fine-20 to 35: $25,000 to $40,000.

Copper and White Metal Strikings

Mint State-60 to 62: $20,000 to $25,000.

EF-40 to AU-58: $10,000 to $20,000.

Very Fine-20 to 35: $5,000 to $10,000.

Commentary: Values are highly conjectural due to the extreme rarity of these medals. A superb high-grade copper medal in the Massachusetts Historical Society, presented by one of the voyage’s planners, is the key item in that museum and is priceless.

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