US Coins

Monday Morning Brief for Feb. 21, 2022: Valuing changes, bad bill

Commemorative coins are being sought to mark the 100th anniversary in 2024 of the Fleet Reserve Association, an organization likely unfamiliar to most collectors.

Original images courtesy of the Fleet Reserve Association.

The very first issue of Coin World, published in April 1960, featured a price guide for U.S. coins. Founding publisher J. Oliver Amos recognized the importance of a regularly updated price guide in an era where all other price guides were found in annually produced references like the “Red Book.”

Coin World’s price guide, called U.S. Trends for years, has always been a part of our publishing efforts. It has been expanded and enhanced over the year, but the editors and management have always sought ways to improve the product. Some new changes debut in this issue.

Staring with the March monthly issue of Coin World, we have added a new feature that will improve your experience with our values guide — a visual feature to identify coins whose prices have been revised since the last edition. Coins whose prices have been raised will now appear in green while coins whose prices have been lowered appear in red ink. Prices printed in black ink have not change since the last issue.

Readers will be able to see at a glance where our analysts team has made changes. Readers and advertisers have long asked for such a feature; we heard you and have made the necessary changes to the computer program that manages our valuing database.

We have other changes planned in the weeks ahead, to be introduced in our weekly issues. We will talk more about those changes when they are introduced, but I know readers will appreciate the new features.

And now some thoughts on the newest legislation seeking a future commemorative coin program. I will attempt to avoid a rant.

Why this association?

As Paul Gilkes reports this week on Page 10, legislation was recently introduced for a three-denomination commemorative coin program honoring — wait for it — the centennial anniversary of the Fleet Reserve Association. “The what association?” I asked myself, when I first edited Paul’s article. You may have had the same reaction.

I had never heard of the Fleet Reserve Association, which was founded in 1924 “to protect pay and benefits of enlisted Sea Service members and their families,” Paul reports. He adds, “Although the association was originally named for the Navy’s Fleet Reserve program, membership in FRA is open to all current and former sailors, marines, and Coast Guard personnel.”

The association appears to serve a noble cause, but why are coin collectors being called upon to finance the organization’s operations?

Increasingly, Congress is treating the collecting community as a never-closing bank that can be relied upon to finance a beneficiary’s operations, with no expectations that the “bank” — the collecting community — will ever receive any return except a few coins sold at inflated prices made even higher by the addition of surcharges.

If this legislation becomes law and commemorative coins honoring the association are issued in 2024, expect sales to be low. Few Americans, including collectors, have ever heard of the association, and history shows that the members and beneficiaries of such organizations rarely buy the coins either.

The U.S. commemorative coin program is broken. For every program like the 2019 coins celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission to the moon (a truly monumental historical event deserving of commemorative coin recognition), there are two or three coin programs for civic organizations that will experience poor sales. Members of Congress keep passing legislation that few collectors support and dwindling commemorative sales figures show that.

The Fleet Reserve Association may be a worthy organization providing important services, but coin collectors should not be expected to pay the group’s bills.
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