Making Moderns: Dollars affect collector interest
- Published: Jan 3, 2013, 7 PM
Last month’s column focused on efforts the U.S. Mint made to improve its Uncirculated Mint set sales from 2005 to 2007, including offering sets with more attractive Satin Finish coins, and packaging the coins in an upgraded semi-rigid holder. Despite these efforts, in 2008, Uncirculated Mint set sales fell to 745,464, a 40-year low.
In 2009, the Mint faced yet another challenge. They were adding eight more coins: new Lincoln cents that commemorated the bicentennial of the president’s birth. The cents included were a bronze alloy, rather than the copper-plated zinc composition used in circulation. The 36-coin set was the largest ever and the most expensive yet issued, at $27.95, a $5 increase from the prior year.
The set was released Oct. 1 and only 784,614 sets were sold, almost unchanged from 2008. The set’s higher price put it beyond the level of a casual gift or giveaway.
And there was a new problem. The cents included were special bronze issues. The 2009 Mint set failed to be a source of all current circulating coins by including noncirculating, legal tender versions in their place.
If 2009 was disappointing, 2010 was catastrophic. Even though it contained just 28 coins, the Mint raised the price another $4, to $31.95. The same set had cost $22.95 two years prior. Sets went on sale July 15 and sales declined by more than 25 percent to 583,897.
Something had to be done.
In 2010, the Mint made two announcements. First, the Mint announced that their core annual sets would be available in January 2011, giving collectors a longer window to purchase sets during the current year. Second, it announced the discontinuance of the Satin Finish. In a press release, it again focused on the appearance of the coins: “The satin finish ... highlights surface marks that inherently result from the coin-handling systems.”
Despite new efforts, sales declined again, to 533,529. In 2012, the Mint responded by dropping the Uncirculated Mint set’s price to $27.95, but it postponed release until May 21.
Final sales figures haven’t been released for 2012, but they are expected to be in the 500,000 range, as are predictions for the 2013 set, released June 4.
The 2012 set currently has the highest secondary market value of any recently issued Mint set, and likely all these recent sets will remain keys for the near future.
Although the Mint has made real attempts to reinvigorate Mint set sales, a fundamental problem remains. Foremost, the set is no longer a convenient way to get circulating coins. From 2005 to 2010, the sets contained coins with a special finish and even special composition coins. Now, they contain 10 different dollar coins. These issues seldom circulate in the United States. Until a dollar coin is widely used in commerce, a Mint set comprising largely dollar coins won’t capture the enthusiasm of collectors.
When it does, these back issues may find new life.
Scott schechter is a grader at NGC and co-author of 100 Greatest U.S. Modern Coins. He can be reached by email directed to him at email@example.com.