US Coins

Monday Morning Brief for July 20, 2020: Early results are in

Images illustrate the contrast between the colorized reverse of this Proof 2020-S clad Basketball Hall of Fame half dollar and its non-colorized obverse.

Original images courtesy of the United States Mint

Early reactions are in via social media: A majority of collectors speaking up are not fans of the U.S. Mint’s new colorized Basketball Hall of Fame commemorative coins. For the first time in United States history, the nation’s Mint is issuing colorized coins, decades after other nations’ mints embraced the concept for special collector coins and even some circulating pieces.  

This early, negative collector reaction is not unexpected. In the lead-up to the release of the first images of the coins, collectors have been deeply skeptical of the idea. But now that collectors have finally seen what the coins look like, their negative reaction has only intensified.

Collector reasoning follows several paths — some think that colorized coins are beneath the dignity of U.S. coinage; others, that the execution of the colorization is less than they anticipated; others that the entire concept of colorizing coins is just wrong.

The Basketball Hall of Fame copper-nickel clad half dollar and silver dollar may be the first officially colorized U.S. coins, but they are by no means the first ones in the marketplace. Private manufacturers have been applying color to genuine U.S. coins for decades — State quarter dollars and their successors, plus many other U.S. coins, bear color privately applied to varying degrees of artistic attractiveness. There is hardly a coin dealer or publication staffer who has not been contacted by someone who has encountered a privately colorized coin in circulation and wondered if it was some sort of rarity. Such pieces are considered worthless from the general collector viewpoint and thus suitable only for using as currency.

Will the two Basketball coins become coveted collector’s items in the future, after sales conclude? Both colorized editions are limited to an edition of 75,000 pieces. Based on the overall collector reaction, it is unlikely that traditional collectors will buy enough of the coins to reach a sellout. However, it would not be surprising if several dealers buy large numbers of the coins to aggressively market them to less sophisticated/knowledgeable collectors, at prices well above their issue prices. After all, they are the first of their kind, the numbers are limited, and they are collectible.

If the Mint considers the experiment successful, the 2020 coins could be followed by colorized coins in future programs. If that were to happen, and collectors who are less traditional were to embrace the broader series, these first issues could become desirable.

Then again, prices for the colorized Basketball coins could fall well below issue prices, making collectors wary of future purchases.

This is an experiment that had to occur. The U.S. Mint must keep up with its competitors by exploring new concepts like colorization and special finishes. While such techniques might not appeal to many collectors, they could entice a new generation of collectors and Mint customers. That would be an outcome that all of us should welcome no matter our personal feelings on the subject.
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