US Coins

Monday Morning Brief for March 22, 2021: Getting too expensive?

The price of the 2021-S Silver Proof set is the same as 2020, $105, even though the 2021-S set has three fewer silver coins.

Images courtesy of the United States Mint.

Everything costs more these days, or so it seems, as inflation drives up costs for a wide range of consumer products, from the food we place on our tables to health care to the products offered to customers of the United States Mint.

During the last few years, U.S. Mint officials have increased the prices of many of the Mint’s collector products. As a government agency, it is tasked to provide goods and services at no loss to the government, which everyone can support, I believe. However, the danger is that higher prices for such items as the Silver Proof set and the bronze duplicates of congressional gold medal threaten to turn some Mint customers into ex-customers, since they can no longer afford to buy coins and sets that used to be affordable even on a fixed income.

When I started buying Proof sets directly from the U.S. Mint in the late 1960s, the cost was $5 per five-coin set. When an Eisenhower dollar was added to the set in 1974, the price was bumped all the way up to $7.

The 2021-S Silver Proof set will go on sale in April at the same price as the 2020-S version, $105, which might be seen as good news, until you compare the numbers of coins in the two sets: 10 for the 2020 set versus seven for the 2021, which features just two quarter dollars compared to the older set’s five America the Beautiful quarter dollars. And, it should be noted, the 2020 Silver Proof set included a Reverse Proof 2020-W Jefferson 5-cent coin as a bonus.

The 2021 set does not even represent a “complete” set of annual coins — it has the year’s Native American dollar but not the four American Innovation dollars for the year. Anyone wanting those four dollars will have to buy an additional product — a four-coin Proof set whose price is not yet publicly revealed.

Compare the price of the 10-coin 2021 set to that of the 10-coin 2015 set, which had twice the number of coins, including that year’s four Presidential dollars, the Native American dollar, five America the Beautiful quarter dollars, and the cent, 5-cent coin and dime. That set was issued at the price of $53.95, which now registers as a bargain.

The cost for the 10-coin 2019-S Silver Proof set was more expensive than the 2015 set despite having just 10 coins, at $54.95. That 2019 set was accompanied by an 11th coin — a Reverse Proof 2019-W Lincoln cent, making it an even better bargain price-wise than the 2021 set. 

Prices are higher for other Mint products, as we have reported previously. A 3-inch bronze duplicate of a congressional gold medal cost $39.95 last year; starting Jan. 1, the price was increased by more than 400% to a staggering $160. The price for the 1.3125-inch and 1.5-inch bronze medals almost tripled, going to $20 from $6.95.

United States Mint products are not the only collectible items whose prices are rising. I collect limited edition Hot Wheels die-cast cars through the Red Line Club sponsored by Mattel Inc. Prices have been rising for those cars the last few years as well, when you can snag one when it goes on sale (a highly demanded, limited-edition Hot Wheels VW Drag Bus offered on March 16 sold out in about six minutes, mirroring the experiences customers of the Mint have for its low-mintage products; and yes, I was one of the lucky collectors to be able to buy one of the “Candy Striper” Drag Buses).

The Mint makes great products, usually with high quality, that collectors love to collect, but the price increases are angering collectors, some of whom contact us to complain. Higher prices for Mint products seem inevitable. Unfortunately, the higher costs could drive collectors out of the market. I envision much lower sales of the 3-inch bronze medals because of their $160 price tag.

Let us hope that future price increases at the Mint will not be as severe as they have been the last two years. 
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