US Coins

Monday Morning Brief for October 29, 2018

The U.S. Mint released this surprise 2017-P Lincoln cent into circulation in January 2017. Now officials are considering a 2019 circulating “rarity.”

Coin World file images.

One of the biggest announcements of the Oct. 17 United States Mint forum was the news that the Mint was thinking about releasing a circulating rarity in 2019.

Mint Director David Ryder gave no details other than that, so we can only speculate about what deliberately rare coin the Mint might place into circulation next year. 

The idea of introducing a “rarity” into circulation is not new. When I participated in the Mint forum a few years ago, the group of hobby professionals and collectors I met with suggested such a possibility.

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Last year, we got a glimpse of how collectors might react to finding something unexpected in circulation. In early 2017, collectors were astonished when they began finding 2017-P Lincoln cents in circulation. Mint officials made no advance announcement that they would be adding the P Mint mark of the Philadelphia Mint to the cent for the first time in history; they wanted it to be a 225th anniversary surprise for collectors (the Mint was founded in 1792). The 2017-P cents are by no means rare — according to the Mint’s records, it struck 4,361,220,000 of them — but they are popular as a one-year subtype. Today, some sellers are charging about $6 per 50-coin roll of 2017-P cents compared to about $3 for a roll of 2017-D cents.

Some collectors have speculated in the past that the Mint has released certain die varieties into circulation deliberately to encourage collector interest. The 1995 Lincoln, Doubled Die Obverse cent was the subject of one variety specialist’s speculation, but I think it highly unlikely that the Mint issued that coin deliberately.

But should the Mint even do this? For me, the answer is dependent on what the rarity is, the number of pieces struck, and how they are released. 

The nature of the coin is vital. A deliberate, major doubled die variety would excite a lot of collectors, but I have serious reservations about the Mint making deliberate “errors” of this kind. However, if the nature of the rarity is boring, the hobby could be underwhelmed, I think that another Mint mark variety — maybe a coin with the W Mint mark of the West Point Mint — would be a good choice.

Strike too few of them and collectors unable to find them will be upset. 

Importantly, if the Mint issues them in such a way that dealers are able to snap up the majority of pieces, I can guarantee that this would infuriate collectors, many of whom already suspect collusion between the Mint and major dealers.

The idea of a deliberate rarity is intriguing, but it has to be done right. 

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