Last month’s column focused on efforts the U.S. Mint made to
improve its Uncirculated Mint set sales from 2005 to 2007, including
offering sets with more attractive Satin Finish coins, and packaging
the coins in an upgraded semi-rigid holder. Despite these efforts, in
2008, Uncirculated Mint set sales fell to 745,464, a 40-year low.
In 2009, the Mint faced yet another challenge. They were adding
eight more coins: new Lincoln cents that commemorated the bicentennial
of the president’s birth. The cents included were a bronze alloy,
rather than the copper-plated zinc composition used in circulation.
The 36-coin set was the largest ever and the most expensive yet
issued, at $27.95, a $5 increase from the prior year.
The set was released Oct. 1 and only 784,614 sets were sold,
almost unchanged from 2008. The set’s higher price put it beyond the
level of a casual gift or giveaway.
And there was a new problem. The cents included were special
bronze issues. The 2009 Mint set failed to be a source of all current
circulating coins by including noncirculating, legal tender versions
in their place.
If 2009 was disappointing, 2010 was catastrophic. Even though it
contained just 28 coins, the Mint raised the price another $4, to
$31.95. The same set had cost $22.95 two years prior. Sets went on
sale July 15 and sales declined by more than 25 percent to 583,897.
Something had to be done.
In 2010, the Mint made two announcements. First, the Mint
announced that their core annual sets would be available in January
2011, giving collectors a longer window to purchase sets during the
current year. Second, it announced the discontinuance of the Satin
Finish. In a press release, it again focused on the appearance of the
coins: “The satin finish ... highlights surface marks that inherently
result from the coin-handling systems.”
Despite new efforts, sales declined again, to 533,529. In 2012,
the Mint responded by dropping the Uncirculated Mint set’s price to
$27.95, but it postponed release until May 21.
Final sales figures haven’t been released for 2012, but they are
expected to be in the 500,000 range, as are predictions for the 2013
set, released June 4.
The 2012 set currently has the highest secondary market value of
any recently issued Mint set, and likely all these recent sets will
remain keys for the near future.
Although the Mint has made real attempts to reinvigorate Mint set
sales, a fundamental problem remains. Foremost, the set is no longer a
convenient way to get circulating coins. From 2005 to 2010, the sets
contained coins with a special finish and even special composition
coins. Now, they contain 10 different dollar coins. These issues
seldom circulate in the United States. Until a dollar coin is widely
used in commerce, a Mint set comprising largely dollar coins won’t
capture the enthusiasm of collectors.
When it does, these back issues may find new life.
Scott schechter is a grader at NGC and co-author of 100
Greatest U.S. Modern Coins. He can be reached by email directed
to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.