Will the American Liberty High Relief Gold Coin be a Success?
On July 30 the Mint will launch the $100 high relief gold American Liberty coin, which could eventually become one of the most important issues of the modern era in U.S. coins if it is a success. That is because it will be both the first modern, high relief coin with a new design, and the first to portray a modern version of Lady Liberty, which is symbolically significant.
This coin is largely the brainchild of Gary Marks, who recently completed his term as chairman of the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee, and the CCAC under his tutelage. Marks has been a strong advocate of the argument that American coins should not just reuse the classic designs of the past, and that they should push the envelope of medallic art by depicting a modern representation of Liberty which reflects the diversity of our country.
The new coin is intended to continue the vision that former U.S. Mint Director Ed Moy began with the very popular 2009 ultra high relief double eagle to promote a renaissance in American coin design. But that coin was released when gold was much less expensive and had an initial issue price of $1,189. It was made to demand and over the course of a year 114,427 of them were sold.
Most serious coin collectors continue to have a strong preference for the classic designs, which is the main reason the 2009 coin did so well. Reactions to the images the Mint released recently of the 2015 coin are encouraging, but the real proof will come when buyers see the coin in hand.
In addition, the 2009 coin came in the most luxurious presentation box the Mint has ever used, while the 2015 coin will be sold in a regular black velvet presentation case like those for gold commemoratives. With a premium that is at least $400 over the gold value, and a price that is $50 higher than other one-ounce gold numismatic coins from the Mint, buyers expected a nicer box.
The cancellation of the companion silver medal of the same design is also unfortunate, as many buyers either wanted to pair them up, or planned to buy the silver medal because they are not able to purchase the gold coin. Hopefully the medal will be issued next year.
Many people are very cautious about buying gold coins when the spot price of gold is declining by the day. If purchasing low-premium gold bullion, that probably represents a good buying opportunity, but when a coin has a premium of about 40% over its gold value, the coin has to be something really special. The 2013 American Buffalo reverse proof gold coin sold 47,836 coins but had the advantage of the most popular of all classic designs and is part of an established series with an existing base of collectors.
It would also help if the coin were the first in a new series as originally intended, but the Mint cancelled the plan to do that, and no rationale for doing so was provided when I asked them about it. Collectors tend to be wary of expensive one-off coins, which they see as a risky choice.
Another factor is that collectors with limited budgets are saving their funds for the 2016 centennial dime, quarter, and half dollars in gold with classic designs.
Perhaps enough buyers will be stunned by the coin that it eventually sells the full 50,000 maximum mintage. And hopefully a good number of coins will be available when the coin is launched online, as long backorders will turn off buyers.
Ultimately, the coin will be a success if future buyers want it, and if it influences the future direction of American coin design as more modern Liberty coins are produced, which was its main purpose.
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