US Coins

Monday Morning Brief for May 18, 2020: Mint creates an artificial rarity

The mintage of the Proof 2020-W End of World War II 75th Anniversary American Eagle gold $50 coin is being limited to 1,945. Mint customers are already decrying the decision leading to that number.

Original images courtesy of United States Mint.

The decision to limit the mintage of the Proof 2020-W End of World War II 75th Anniversary American Eagle gold $50 coin to a minuscule 1,945 pieces will test the limits of how far United States Mint officials can push their customers before they collectively throw up their hands and say, “No more!”

The 1,945-coin figure is an obvious nod to the end of World War II in 1945, and the addition of the Mint’s 75th anniversary privy mark to the obverse of the coin makes that connection vividly. From a promotional viewpoint, tying the mintage to the year the war ended might seem cute. From a practical position, it will only anger the many collectors who would like to add the coin to their collection, but who will fail to make a purchase when the Mint website jams up and the toll-free ordering line is deluged at noon on whatever day the coin goes on sale.

The announcement of the tiny mintage limit is already generating angry comments at the Coin World Facebook page; the first critical comments from readers were posted very quickly. Few if any are supportive. Elsewhere, collectors are speculating about successful purchasers being able to flip the coins for big bucks.

Many collectors are already convinced that Mint officials cater to dealers and wholesalers rather than to them. Every time a limited-edition product goes on sale, response triggers a meltdown at the Mint website, then the product turns up in quantity in dealer inventories, and customers accuse the Mint of opening a back door to preferred dealer customers and ignoring household limits for these special buyers. We have never seen evidence of that kind of under-the-counter dealing, but collector anger and suspicion is understandable.

The mess will be even worse if the Mint makes a sizeable number of them available on site at sales points at Mint facilities, or at a major convention like this August’s American Numismatic Association World’s Fair of Money in Pittsburgh. In past launches of limited-edition products, dealers have paid others to stand in line on their behalf at conventions and in Mint sales shops, to circumvent “household” limits. The practice is not illegal, but a lot of collectors find the process unfair, especially if unable to attend a convention or travel to a Mint facility, or pay their own proxy.

The 1,945-coin mintage is the lowest limit set for any modern U.S. coin. Sure, sales figures for some recent gold coins total just a few thousand pieces, but those programs had no huge following (think of the First Spouse series and some recent commemorative coin programs). Mintages were not limited to tiny numbers; demand drove the final tallies.

The American Eagle gold bullion coin program, however, has a much larger following than the First Spouse series or commemorative coins like the 2017 Boys Town Centennial gold half eagle. Proof sales in the American Eagle gold coin program typically reach tens of thousands of pieces annually.

U.S. Mint officials seem intent on creating an artificial rarity with this new release. When the coin sells out in minutes, they will tout the program as a success and point to the fact that a relative handful of customers will have a coin that is almost certain to rise in value immediately, possibly exponentially. As for the hundreds or thousands of collectors left in the digital dust — well, that is just how these sales play out.

Mint officials should not be surprised, however, when future sales lag, as more collectors get fed up with the Mint’s approach at selling coins and say, collectively in a rising chorus, “That’s it. We’re done.”

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