Jeff Starck

Starck Contrasts

Jeff Starck

Jeff is a senior editor and was Coin World's 2003 Margo Russell intern and joined the staff in 2004. Jeff has been a collector since childhood and fondly remembers the challenges of completing Whitman folders by pulling coins from circulation and searching rolls from the bank. His current collecting interest focuses on Missouri-related numismatics and exonumia. He is the primary writer for the World Coins section in the monthly Special Edition and is responsible for Coin World's coverage of world coins and weekly International page. He graduated with a bachelor of arts degree from Webster University in St. Louis where he was editor-in-chief of its weekly student newspaper.

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Phantom First Spouse mintage limit a U.S. Mint misstep

There are few U.S. Mint products that I look forward to annually with fervor, and chief among these is the annual First Spouse Bronze Medal Set.

When the program began in 2007 as a corollary to the much more expensive gold coins, I found a blank Dansco album and blank pages to cobble together a meaningful way to collect and display these medals. Every year when my local coin club placed an order, I made sure to order a set, eagerly anticipating the chance to better learn the stories of First Spouses and/or contemporary coinage designs as new medals were released.

The recent and rapid sellout of only 7,500 sets of 2014 medals has rendered that effort moot.

After a few weeks, the sets sold out, despite never before previously having a mintage limit. Today, those sets are selling for three to six multiples of the $16.95 issue price.

The quick sellout caught myself—and many other collectors—off-guard, and left us scratching our heads.

The fact that several sets from previous years remain available at the Mint website, even at this writing, certainly lulled me (and probably other collectors as well) into believing that the 2014 set would remain available until we were ready to place an order for other items.

Shortly after the set was listed at the Mint website as “out of stock,” a fellow coin club collector called Mint customer service and was told that more sets would be made. I called a regional Midwestern dealer that has served my family for several decades, and who has carried the sets from the beginning, and a representative there told me the same story, that a Mint customer service agent told them that more sets would be made.

Paul Gilkes, Coin World’s tenacious U.S. Mint reporter, quickly sorted out the situation with his sources at the Mint, only to discover that the set had a previously unreported mintage limit and that no more would be made.

This has created another set of “winners and losers,” as those folks who pounced on the sets are now well positioned to capitalize on the unmet demand.

When the 2014 National Baseball Hall of Fame silver and gold coins quickly sold out, and people began “flipping” the coins for profit, I certainly had no complaints, as those coins had mintage limits that were announced well in advance of the sales period.

Sour grapes may make bitter whine, but this really isn’t a complaint about profit—this rapid sellout means that many collectors will not be able to fill what heretofore had been an inexpensive, educational set with historical implications at a price that even beginning collectors could manage.

The situation with the Enhanced Uncirculated finish Native American $1 included in the 2014 American $1 Coin & Currency Set has rightfully been described as a rare misstep for the U.S. Mint marketing team.

The 2014 First Spouse Bronze Medal Set with a phantom mintage limit, is just as much as misstep, and even more disappointing.

The right thing for the Mint would be to make more 2014 First Spouse Bronze Medal sets, either to a specific limit or to those sold within a specified sales period, with plenty of fair warning for collectors to make plans to get their orders in.

Until then, four empty holes in a brown Dansco album will serve as a glaring reminder of my failure to act, and of the set that now will remain incomplete.

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Older Comments (1)
I agree with the comments. I too can't legitimately afford to collect the First Spouse coins in gold. If I did, I would have no money left to buy my annual proof set, silver proof set, Uncirculated Mint set, JFK rolls, Prez rolls, Native American rolls, Silver proof Eagle, and an occasional commemorative or special set. So I too look forward to popping just over a dozen dollars or so for 4 or 5 bronze medals per year. I usually wait until December to buy most of my items because of Christmas bonus money being available at that time. I build up a Wish List on the Mint website and then take the plunge after Thanksgiving is over. When the program started, they were only offered as individual medals, not until the end of the first year did the 4 medal set appear (The first year set commands a premium these days, among others).When I clicked on the Purchase button on my wish list for the Spouse Medal Set, I too was disappointed to see the Sold Our sign. I wrote Customer Service and they replied that I could buy them as individual medals. Not only was that wrong, but my efforts to secure one medal each via purchasing the medals combined with the Prez dollars took a sour turn. Two of those combined sets were sold out also, Coolidge and Harding. So I was able to get the Hoover and Roosevelt medals (along with an unneeded Prez Dollar because I also get the full proof sets mentioned above). Efforts to find additional medals on ebay (over $200 per set of 4) and at coin dealers websites proved fruitless (one dealer jacked up the price from $59 to $99 overnight after the sellout). I wasn't going to pay $100 per medal. Maybe I'll wait for the hype and greed to mellow out and get some after the balloon bursts (if it ever will)? Yes, I failed to act early, lesson learned. I'm not enrolled in a subscription for the medal sets. I just hate paying extra for the shipping on every little item I order from the US Mint. It's not like the Mint couldn't melt the extra inventory down the road to make more bronze medals later on.