A few predictions on the the U.S. Mint and its 2016 programs

Expect the gold centennial versions of the Walking Liberty half dollar, Standing Liberty quarter dollar, and Winged Liberty Head dime to be popular with collectors in 2016.

Images courtesy of U.S. Mint.

?A few weeks ago, in the Dec. 14 issue of Coin World, I noted that the editorial staff was beginning to think about its selections for the “Top 10 Stories of 2015,” the latest installment of a long-running annual series in our pages. Well, we have pretty much wrapped up that list and you should see the results in the Jan. 11, 2016, issue. It’s a pretty interesting list and I’ll also share some observations from what readers saw as the most interesting stories of the year.

In the meantime, it seems fitting that as 2015 comes to an end, we look forward to what 2016 will bring for the collecting community by making some predictions for the year. While we could visit many areas, we’ll limit our “predictions” to those involving the largest coin dealer in the world — the United States Mint.

The sales record for the American Eagle silver bullion coin will fall (again): 

This is a pretty safe prediction. Since 2008, sales of the American Eagle 1-ounce silver bullion coin have set a new record every year but 2012. 

In 2007, sales of the coin totaled 9,887,000 pieces (please note that calendar sales may differ from mintages; in some years, sales included coins of two or three dates). In 2008, that sales figure more than doubled, to 19,583,000 (mintage for the 2008 coin, 20,583,000), breaking the old sales record of 10,475,500 coins in 2002. From 2009 to 2015, a new sales record was established in every year but for 2012, and even that year, with 33,742,500 coins sold, the total was more than triple the 2007 sales figure. This year’s total so far, with one more week of sales left for calendar 2015, is 45,786,000 coins.

Silver demand has been rising across most categories — silver, jewelry, bars and ingots, coins — for several years. Silver coins have proven to be an increasingly popular investment during the last decade, showing impressive gains worldwide. Thomson Reuters noted on Nov. 17, “Coin demand should account for 12% of physical demand this year, up from 10% in 2014 and just 4% ten years ago.”
The United States Mint has done an admirable job meeting demand, going from striking a little more than 9 million coins in 2007 to striking more than 45 million coins nine years later. Likely the Mint could be striking and selling even higher numbers if not constrained by a worldwide shortage of silver coin planchets.

Will that trend soften in 2016? We’ll see this time next year, but don’t be surprised if we report the United States Mint sets a new American Eagle silver bullion coin sales record next year.

The United States Mint will anger collectors somehow, somewhen: 

As good a job as the Mint does meeting demand for the American Eagle silver bullion coins, it has a history of making stumbles. In 2009 it was the decision to not strike Proof versions of the American Eagle silver bullion coin, to focus all attention on meeting demand for the bullion versions. Collectors hated that decision because it left them with a one-year gap in their collections for the first time since sales began in 1986.

In 2015, the Mint sales and marketing team made a series of blunders, seen most vividly with sales of the Harry S. Truman Coin and Chronicles set as part of the Presidential dollar program. The Mint sorely underestimated sales of the Truman and Eisenhower sets; both sold out in minutes, and many collectors were unsuccessful in placing orders by phone or at the Mint website. The Mint made some changes when offering the Kennedy and Johnson sets, making the sales of those two products much smoother, but the damage had been done; a lot of collectors who were unsuccessful in buying the first two sets suddenly found that their sets of Presidential dollars were incomplete.

Obviously, the Mint can’t please 100 percent of the people 100 percent of the time (to steal a phrase), but some decisions seem to really, really hack off large numbers of collectors, even when that anger is misdirected or based on an erroneous conclusion. We hope that the Mint’s marketing team will make better decisions in 2016 but we don’t like the odds on that.

The 2016 gold centennial editions of the Winged Liberty Head dime, Standing Liberty quarter dollar, and Walking Liberty half dollar will be a hit with collectors (but not as big a hit as silver versions would be): 

Collectors are understandably excited about the Mint’s decision to issue 2016 versions of the Winged Liberty Head dime, Standing Liberty quarter dollar, and Walking Liberty half dollar in gold to celebrate the centennial of the introduction of these three coins in 1916.

All three designs are celebrated for their beauty and it can be said that each design is the best ever created for its respective denomination. All three coins were designed during the period known as the Golden Age of U.S. Coinage Design. Many of the designs from that era — 1907 to 1921 — have been resurrected on modern U.S. coins: the Indian Head 5-cent coin and the Saint-Gaudens gold double eagle among them. The obverse of the Walking Liberty half dollar was resurrected in 1986 for the American Eagle 1-ounce silver bullion coin and has been used on that coin ever since. The “Mercury” dime and Standing Liberty quarter now join that list of designs taken from the Philadelphia Mint’s vaults, dusted off, and reused for a modern purpose

The coins should sell well, but the program would be even better had the Mint been able to issue the centennial coins in silver (the original composition of the 1916 coins) in addition to gold.

However, while provisions in the U.S. Code give the Treasury secretary broad authority to issue certain gold coins without congressional approval, the office lacks similar authority for silver coins. Issuing the centennial coins in silver requires an act of Congress, and no such legislation is pending.

With gold coins priced above the budgets of many collectors, sales of the centennial coins will be well below what they could have been had the Mint sought and gained congressional approval for the silver coins.

The U.S. Mint will issue an exciting new product that is on no one’s collection radar screens: 

The Mint does a great job of developing a new product and springing it upon collectors with little advance notice. In recent years that has included new treatments like the Reverse Proof finish and Enhanced Uncirculated finish, and coins like the American Liberty, High Relief gold coin.

Will the Mint surprise us and excite us and maybe upset us in 2016? We can’t wait to see.