Lessons of 2017 for Modern Numismatics
The end of the year is always a good time to take stock of developments in the hobby over the past year.
Perhaps the most important trend for modern coins is the fact that the market has continued to become softer and more saturated, making it a good one for buyers and a tough one for sellers. There are far fewer opportunities than in the past to buy something at issue price and sell it for a profit, especially if you are not a dealer.
This means you have to adapt to a changing numismatic arena. There will always be opportunities for those who do their homework, such as the ultra-low mintage gold Libertads I covered in my December feature in Coin World magazine, or the 2017 Niue Ares two-ounce ultra-high relief silver coin I discussed in an earlier article.
While the U.S. and other mints and coin dealers will always do things that we periodically find annoying, I prefer to direct my energy toward figuring out how to make things work for me, rather than spend a lot of time kvetching. For example, we may quibble with the way the Mint sold certain coins like the 2017 palladium American Eagles, but those who paid close attention had ample opportunity to buy those coins, in the weeks before they were released, from a wide range of coin dealers at a price that turned out to be a real bargain.
The same is true of some coins sold with high household limits like the 2016-W Centennial Winged Liberty Head gold dime, which sold out quickly but whose price has come back down to close to issue price. Rather than spend a lot of time venting about how the household limit locked you out, be patient and see how the market develops.
Experienced collectors suspected early on that a coin with a mintage as high as the gold dime (125,000) would be readily available later. For example, in April 2016, longtime dealer Barry Stuppler advised his clients that retail prices for the dimes were likely to come down after initial demand dissipated.
In a similar vein, I often hear or read comments from collectors who are angry about a certain decision by the Mint or Congress, such as to issue another quarter or dollar coin series. They say they will quit the hobby if this happens. But why not just ignore those coins since they are not of interest to you and focus on what you enjoy?
Third, American coin collectors today appear to have become more receptive to modern depictions of Lady Liberty. Consider the contrast between comments over the past two years in advance of the release of the 2015 to 2017 American Liberty gold coins and silver medals and actual sales. It is true that sales were stronger for the 2015 and 2016 products, but nonetheless, this year’s gold coin, in dollar terms, was the Mint’s biggest seller.
In addition, initial reactions to the three modern Liberty designs to be released on the new Proof American Eagle platinum coin series that debuts in January have been positive.
A final observation is that greater consultation between the Mint, the Congress, dealers, and collectors would go a long way towards addressing many of the pressing issues the hobby faces, from getting mintages and order limits right to issuing the kinds of commemorative coins buyers want, and striking the right balance between reusing classic coin designs and issuing coins with new designs.
The forums the Mint held this year and in 2016 were useful in this regard, but much more needs to be done. Surveys from the Mint are useful, but much more outreach is needed.
A Happy 2018 to my readers!