Buffalo Fractional Gold May Be Returning
2017 is already shaping as a banner year for the U.S. Mint and not just because it marks the 225th anniversary of our mint.
It will be a year of many firsts – from the first coin to depict Liberty as an African-American woman to the first enhanced uncirculated coin set and the expected first American Palladium Eagles.
But it may also be a year in which the Mint returns to a popular subset of the American Buffalo Gold coin, namely, the fractional coins of one-half, one-quarter, and one-tenth of an ounce that were only issued in 2008 in both proof and uncirculated finishes.
Those coins, which have some of the lowest mintages of any modern U.S. gold coin, were discontinued after 2008 because of low sales numbers and the fact that the Mint’s leadership believed it was necessary to reduce the number of coin programs.
But sales of the coin in 2008 were low because of the economic crisis and the fact that buyers had a cornucopia of precious metal coins to choose from, including not just 4 sizes of proof American Gold Eagles and Buffaloes both in two finishes but also proof and burnished American Platinum Eagles and many others.
The situation today is very different. The economy is back on much firmer ground, consumer confidence is up, and the Mint no longer issues as many precious metal coins for collectors. The First Spouse $10 gold coins are over, and there will be just one $5 gold commemorative this year for the Boys Town centennial, which will probably only sell a couple thousand coins.
It is true that the fractional Buffalo gold coins, which may return as 24 karat-proof coins, would compete with the four proof American Gold Eagles and should sell for the same premium. But they would likely be much more popular than the fractional Gold Eagles, whose sales have tended to be low in recent years, while the 1-ounce version remains the most popular option.
If as I expect the Buffaloes considerably outsell the Eagles in 2017, the Mint could consider limiting the Gold eagle program to the 1-ounce coin.
The news about the fractional Buffaloes was included in an e-mail sent by Principal Deputy Director Rhett Jeppson to participants of the Mint’s forum held in Philadelphia last October, according to a collector who went to the forum.*
A big question is whether the coins will have set maximum mintages like the proof Gold Eagles, or be minted to demand. Most collectors believe the fractionals need to have a higher mintage than the 2008 coins, and that could boost the value of those coins, which are still substantial though off their peak levels.
Let us hope the Mint moves forward with this idea, which will be welcomed by many collectors who love the classic Buffalo design and others who simply can’t afford to purchase the 1-ounce proof versions, and still others who have grown tired of the Golf Eagles after thirty years.
In addition, this move would probably not require congressional approval since the Mint has broad statutory authority to issue gold coins.
If you support the return of the fractional Buffaloes, I would suggest writing to or calling the Mint, commenting on their Facebook page, or writing a letter to the editor of a widely-read hobby periodical like Coin World.
*This article will be updated if the Mint is able to provide any additional details.