US Coins

Top 10 Stories of 2019: U.S. Mint offers special coins

It should come as no surprise that one of the Top 10 Stories of 2019 was the controversy that followed the rapid sellout of the Enhanced Reverse Proof 2019-S American Eagle silver dollar.

Original images courtesy of United States Mint.

Well, that was exciting (though for many, also frustrating) — we are referring to the year 2019. 

Each December, Coin World editorial staff members look back at the last 12 months and select the year’s top 10 stories. As with all such lists, our choices are purely subjective; your choices will undoubtedly differ in whole or part. In deciding the stories to make the list, we consider such factors as the amount of coverage given a specific story, historical significance, reader interest (as witnessed through Letters to the Editor, comments at our website and Facebook page, emails, and phone calls), and much more, all judged through our combined experiences of nearly 100 years in covering numismatic events.

First of two parts

The 2019 list is dominated by the United States Mint — its products and the public’s reaction to them led the news all year. 

Three of the articles involved Mint products whose release was a road paved with good intentions — producing something special for collectors — that made some people happy and many others angry. 

Other Mint-related articles involved a change nearly 200 years in the making, another change that will make some 2020 coins the last of their kind, and a 2019 coin that was the first of its kind, a hybrid of two other advances in Mint technology and new products.

Finally, several articles made the list that do not fit into neat categories.

First up, the stories that left collectors excited and frustrated, depending on individual luck.

A special American Eagle

The American Eagle silver dollar — a 1-ounce .999 fine silver coin offered in bullion and numismatic versions since 1986 — is one of the most popularly collected coins in the world. When first issued, it was available in just two versions — the bullion coin and a Proof version. Since 2011, when an Uncirculated numismatic coin was introduced, Mint officials have offered an increasingly large number of special versions with distinctive finishes and an array of Mint marks.

In 2019, the Mint offered two different Enhanced Reverse Proof American Eagle silver dollars — a 2019-W coin included with a Canadian Maple Leaf 1-ounce $5 silver coin in a joint U.S.-Canadian product, and a 2019-S coin offered singly.

The two Enhanced Reverse Proof American Eagles, despite their similar finishes, had one huge difference besides the Mint mark. The 2019-W coin offered in the Pride of Two Nations set has a combined product maximum of 110,000 pieces, 100,000 in a set offered by the United States Mint and 10,000 included in a set sold by the Royal Canadian Mint. The 2019-S coin had a mintage maximum of 30,000 pieces, a number that quickly drew attention from hopeful buyers and led to predictions that the coin would sell out quickly. 

It did, and the hue and cry was immediate and widespread. 

The Enhanced Reverse Proof 2019-S American Eagle silver dollar sold out in about 20 minutes, with numerous customers able to add one of the coins to their online shopping cart, only to be told to remove it when the coin sold out before a transaction could be completed. The Mint website and phone lines were overwhelmed with customers — 99,000 people online and 4,700 callers at the moment of launch Nov. 14 — and many customers reported getting error pages as they attempted to complete their orders online.

At the conclusion of the sale, anger whipped up swiftly, with collectors decrying the Mint’s limits — its website capacity, its inability to laser-focus sales to collectors only, and the mintage itself. Anger increased when dealers began offering multiples of the coins (sales were limited to one per household) at prices well above the $65.95 issue price. 

The coins were offered over the counter at the Mint booth at the Whitman Baltimore Expo starting Nov. 14, with customers experiencing long lines. Several dealers at the show hired individuals to stand in line to buy the coins for a profit. 

Prices for the coins rose to the $900 and higher range very quickly, and one coin graded Proof 70 and accompanied by a low serial number certificate of authenticity signed by the Mint director sold to a group of dealers for an astonishing $14,001.

Much of the anger expressed by collectors is directed at the Mint for deciding on a low mintage for the coin. However, a lot of anger has been directed at the dealer community for acquiring multiples of the coins, though it appears that dealers with large numbers of the coins paid premiums to the original buyers of the coins. 

Mint officials did report that certain entities programed “bots” in an effort to circumvent the household limit for the coin. Although Mint officials said that orders from identified bots were not fulfilled, the collector community believed that some bot farms were successful in ordering multiples of the coin.

Although it is too soon to know for sure, it is likely that the Enhanced Reverse Proof 2019-S American Eagle silver dollar will join the Proof 1995-W American Eagle silver dollar (mintage of 30,125 pieces) in becoming one of the keys to the entire series.

West Point Mint quarters

The U.S. Mint’s West Point facility has been striking coins since the 1970s, starting with coins for circulation (without Mint mark, making them indistinguishable from the products of the Philadelphia Mint and similar coins struck without Mint mark at the San Francisco Mint). Collector products, these bearing the W Mint mark, began appearing from the facility starting in the 1980s.

However, no circulating coin of any denomination struck at the West Point Mint bore a W Mint mark — until 2019, when all five of the year’s America the Beautiful quarter dollars were struck in small (relatively speaking) numbers and placed into circulation.

In an April 1 announcement that was no April Fool’s Day joke, Mint officials revealed that 2019-W versions of the year’s first two America the Beautiful quarter dollars had been struck and were scheduled to be placed into circulation in the weeks ahead. Moreover, the Mint said it planned to strike 2019-W versions of the three remaining coins and place those into circulation as well.

The Mint struck 2 million of each design — a small number compared to the numbers of 2019-P and 2019-D quarter dollars struck for circulation (for example, in combined total, 348 million Lowell National Historical Park quarter dollars were struck at the Philadelphia and Denver Mints).

The distribution process was intended to spread the wealth around, in a way, by mixing in small numbers of the 2019-W coins with both the 2019-P and 2019-D coins before the giant ballistic bags were shipped from the Philadelphia and Denver Mints to the Federal Reserve. In theory, the process was intended to ensure wider, more random distribution of the 2019-W coins than would have occurred had all 2 million pieces of each design been shipped to the Fed en masse.

To a degree, that process has worked, for some collectors. A number of collectors have reported finding examples of the 2019-W coins in circulation. However, many collectors have found none of the coins, leading to some collector dissatisfaction and criticism of the Mint’s distribution decisions.

Moreover, some dealers have managed to acquire multiples of the coins, selling them at multiples of their face value, which, as with the Enhanced Reverse Proof American Eagle, has led some collectors to blame dealers for their difficulty in finding the coins at face value.

Some collectors proposed that the Mint sell the 2019-W coins in the same manner as the circulation-quality 2019-P, 2019-D and 2019-S quarter dollars — in roll and bag quantities and in various sets.

The 2019-W America the Beautiful quarter dollars are bringing healthy premiums. Individual uncertified examples currently are selling in a range from $10 to $20, with certified examples bringing more (prices differ by grade).

The Mint’s production of 2019-W quarter dollars for circulation was intended to give collectors something interesting to look for in circulation, and in that sense, it has been successful. However, the distribution of the coins has frustrated many collectors who have sought the coins without luck.

2019-W Lincoln cents

The 2019-W America the Beautiful quarter dollars were not the only special 2019-W coins struck and issued. Mint officials also issued three different 2019-W Lincoln cents, each included with the purchase of one of three annual sets for 2019.

The collector premium 2019-W Lincoln cents were the first Lincoln cents struck at the West Point facility in more than 40 years and the first to bear the facility’s W Mint mark.

A standard Proof 2019-W cent was included separately with the standard 2019 Proof set. The Silver Proof set was accompanied by a Reverse Proof 2019-W Lincoln cent. The Uncirculated Mint set featured a 2019-W Lincoln cent with Uncirculated finish.

Each special cent was packaged individually, separate from the main set’s standard packaging, but mailed together.

In general, the premium cents were well received by collectors, although some problems were encountered. Some of the cents were damaged; some sets were shipped without the premium cents, which were supposed to be placed individually in the shipping box along with the annual sets.

Also, in an embarrassing error, 91 U.S. Mint customers on March 3 and 4 were able to successfully order 921 individual Proof 2019-W Lincoln cents at face value, which were then shipped to them, before officials realized that an internal system used for tracking Mint products had been errantly made public as a live catalog order page.

Another 270 orders for 41,509 cents were canceled, according to the Mint. The Mint customers had reportedly found in the Mint online catalog a link for the cent on the order page for the Uncirculated 2018-W America the Beautiful 5-ounce silver coin for the Voyageurs National Park. The cents were assigned an individual bar code as a routine inventory tracking device, as was the envelope for the cent. But, on March 4, the link took customers to a page where they were able to place orders for the cents at 1 cent each. Word spread online and Mint customers quickly took advantage of the mistake, until the link was eliminated.

The three 2019-W Lincoln cents are selling individually for between $13 and around $100 each, with certified pieces in high grades and certain grading service labels bringing the prices in the upper range.

Apollo II coins

The year 2019 was the 50th anniversary of one of the most important technological achievements in human history — the Apollo 11 lunar landing mission.

The event was an obvious choice for a commemorative coin program, and legislation approving four different coins passed Congress with ease. Three of the coins were of the standard denominations found in most commemorative coin programs, while a fourth represented a first — an amalgamation of two special coins from earlier programs.

The standard coins were a maximum of 50,000 gold $5 half eagles, 400,000 silver dollars and 750,000 copper-nickel clad half dollars. The program also offered up to 100,000 3-inch 5-ounce silver dollars in a Proof-only version.

All four coins have concave obverses and convex reverses. Each shares a common obverse showing the first footprint on the moon and a common reverse design of astronaut Buzz Aldrin’s helmet and visor reflecting the lunar surface.

The extra large silver dollars feature two elements seen separately in prior programs: the concave/convex shape, first seen on the 2014 Baseball Hall of Fame commemorative coins, and the 5-ounce silver coin size, first seen in the America the Beautiful quarter dollars program.

None of the coins sold out, though the gold half eagle came fairly close, with sales totaling more than 43,000 pieces of the maximum mintage of 50,000 coins. 

The 5-ounce coin registered sales topping 66,000 pieces.

Sales for the Apollo 11 coins vastly outstripped sales of the year’s other commemorative coin program, commemorating the centennial of the American Legion.

In the next installment of this series, we look at the remaining stories that made our Top 10 list for 2019. 

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