Mint delays help keep First Spouse gold series 'forgotten'

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Published : 10/30/13
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The First Spouse gold $10 bullion coin series might be considered to be one of the “forgotten” products of the U.S. Mint, and the Mint’s delay in offering the 2013 coins can’t help boost the series’ popularity with collectors.

The series has a lot going for it, in theory.

The coins are an attractive bullion product with handsome, varied designs. They’re struck in .9999 fine gold and weigh a half-ounce.

Part of the decline in the popularity of First Spouse coins has to do with the increasing price of gold. The series started off with a bang in 2007, with big mintages. But gold was much cheaper then, hovering in the $650 to $800 an ounce range for much of the year. 2008 saw gold prices rise to the $800 to $1,000 an ounce range, and mintages dropped off substantially. As gold moved up in 2010, 2011 and 2012, mintages fell further while the Mint’s prices for the First Spouse coins rose in tandem with the price of gold. Simply put, the series is much more expensive to collect now than it was in 2007. The first Proof 2007 coins were offered for $429.95 each and the Uncirculated versions for $410.95. As of Oct. 23, 2012 First Spouse coins (the only ones available currently) are at $840 and $820, respectively.

Then there’s the Mint’s huge delay in making the coins available for sale. Collectors who wanted the five 2013 issues had to wait until Oct. 21 to find out that the first one, for Ida McKinley, will go on sale Nov. 14.

The delays aren’t new. The first 2012 coin was not released until Oct. 11, 2012; the last was released in December. These delays make it very hard for collectors to spread out their purchases.

The cause for both the 2012 and 2013 delays is “finning,” which is when a wire rim is formed from gold flowing up into the thin gap between the collar and a die. Finning was an issue for one of the 2012 First Spouse coins. It was again the root of the delay in 2013.

Mint officials explained to Coin World on Sept. 23: “Because gold is a very soft metal, it can be very difficult to deal with. When the coins are pressed, excess metal can build up on the coin’s edges.”

I’m certain that I wasn’t alone in thinking that the U.S. Mint has been producing gold coins since 1795. How can these First Spouse coins be so challenging to strike? After all, the U.S. Mint has been producing American Buffalo .9999 fine gold bullion coins since 2008, including a half-ounce and two other small fractional sizes in 2008.

Dec. 31, 2013, is the final day the West Point Mint can strike 2013 coins. Sales can continue indefinitely, and without a clear sales deadline, it seems that it is becoming increasingly tough to motivate collectors to buy these coins from the Mint.

The Mint is trying to spice up demand by lowering authorized mintages. The maximum mintage for each coin combined in Proof and Uncirculated versions was 13,000 for the 2012 series and that number was reduced to 10,000 for 2013.

But, one wonders if it’s too little too late. Those who are already invested in the series can look at the bright side. Today’s low demand translates to low mintages, creating tomorrow’s rarities.

Steve Roach

sroach@coinworld.com

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