Enhanced Uncirculated American Eagle complicates series

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Published : 04/03/13
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It is tough to write about the new Enhanced Uncirculated 2013-W American Eagle silver coin without actually seeing it. The United States Mint has acknowledged that the current pictures don’t really do the coin justice, as the pictures make the coin’s surfaces look as if they were modified with a Sharpie pen.

But, one doesn’t have to examine it to know that the United States Mint is playing a dangerous game in further expanding the American Eagle series and placing more pressure on already stressed collector wallets.

The coin will be available as part of a 2013 American Eagle West Point Two-Coin set that will include an Enhanced Uncirculated and a Reverse Proof 2013-W American Eagle silver dollar. Both coins will be available only in the set, for which the price, ordering/mintage limits and date of sale have yet to be announced.

The Enhanced Uncirculated coin will use three distinct finishes — heavy frost, light frost and brilliant polish.

Aesthetics aside, the new coin further complicates a series that has recently become very challenging for a new collector to navigate. One is reminded of psychologist Barry Schwartz’s popular 2004 book The Paradox of Choice — Why More is Less. The premise of his research is that when consumers are faced with too many choices for a given product, they actually may buy less.

A key is that having too many choices causes consumer anxiety, and anxiety is something relatively incompatible with a leisure activity like coin collecting.

It bears repeating that one of the hallmarks of the American Eagle silver dollar series that has made it so successful with collectors is that it has been a relatively easy series to collect. People used to be able to purchase one Proof coin and one bullion issue each year and keep current on a set.

A wrench was thrown into things in 1995, when the scarce Proof 1995-W coin was made available only as part of a five-coin 10th Anniversary set, but that was an outlier at the time.

Then in 2006, the Reverse Proof issues started, which have been offered as part of sets in 2006, 2011, 2012 and now 2013. This complicated the Proof series.

2006 also marked the first year that “burnished” Uncirculated pieces were struck for collectors at the West Point Mint, and production of that finish has continued nearly every year.

In 2011, the situation for Uncirculated American Eagle aficionados was further complicated when grading services began to differentiate between those bullion issues struck at the West Point Mint and those struck at the San Francisco Mint based on where the coins were shipped.

While coins from each Mint are visually indistinguishable, their shipping location indicated their place of production, so the grading services acknowledged this by putting a San Francisco “S” Mint mark in parentheses for those where the shipping indicated that they were from the San Francisco facility.

Add to this the grading services’ distinctions for “Early Release” and “First Strike” coins, and it’s very challenging for new collectors to wrap their heads around what they’re buying.

The series is growing so quickly that it risks losing its numismatic appeal to collectors. It’s the leading silver bullion coin, and that status isn’t threatened by new collector finishes, but will collectors keep buying these premium American Eagle products in the future?

The new Enhanced Uncirculated finish will only add to the complications for collectors seeking to enter the series, and to collectors who want to keep their sets current.

The U.S. Mint is working on a slippery slope as it continues to expand this series.

Best,

Steve Roach

sroach@coinworld.com

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