At least for the near future, the $5 gold coin commemorating the bicentennial of the United States Constitution seems likely to be in a class by itself in terms of sales. That makes it a readily available $5 gold with a very interesting story.
There is no doubt that the first of the modern U.S. commemoratives had a certain advantage in terms of sales simply because everyone was excited by the idea of a return of commemoratives, which prior to 1982 had not been issued since 1954. The cloud of questions that hung over the program at the time made it seem unlikely that there would be additional commemoratives. However, the George Washington half dollar of 1982 changed that belief.
There would have been substantial interest in any type of new commemorative, but when it was announced that there was a Los Angeles Olympic proposal involving gold coins, interest peaked. Ultimately there were compromises, but the Los Angeles Olympic program featured a $10 gold coin in 1984. The coin was historic, since there had been no new U.S. gold coins of any type since 1933.
The Los Angeles Olympic $10 was successful and its success paved the way for a $5 Statue of Liberty. The $5 Statue of Liberty gold coin did a remarkable thing. All 500,000 that had been authorized sold out in a short period of time and the price promptly started to rise. The success not only paved the way for more gold commemoratives, but also alerted collectors and dealers alike that there was money to be made in modern commemoratives, more so with a higher mintage authorization.
All of these lessons came together in the 1987 Constitution Bicentennial. In approving the program, lawmakers were not able to make a 500,000 gold coin authorization, as the belief was that the Statue of Liberty $5 might well have sold as many as 1 million pieces. No one wanted to lose out on all the revenue that would mean simply because they had a 500,000 ceiling.
The $5 gold for the bicentennial of the United States Constitution even though it had a much larger authorization was immediately seen as a ticket to profits. After all, the $5 for the Statue of Liberty had basically tripled in price.
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There was, however, a problem in the logic. The Statue of Liberty $5 had been fueled by speculation. Perhaps as many as its last 100,000 sales were primarily repeat orders from those expecting profits. The market was in actuality never large enough to support 500,000 coins.
This was overlooked by many, including those who had missed out on the Statue of Liberty. The new $5 Constitution Bicentennial saw a flood of orders at $200 for a pre-issue proof while a brilliant uncirculated was $195. Later in the regular ordering period, the proof was $225 and $215 for the business strike.
Some ended up happy with the results of the coin. Certainly the Mint was happy. Sales reached 651,659 for the proof and 214,225 for the brilliant uncirculated, more than 350,000 above the Statue of Liberty. Also happy were collectors who simply wanted a coin for their collection.
Everyone else, however, was miserable. The price of the Constitution Bicentennial $5 gold simply crashed. There were hundreds of thousands of surplus coins, even under the best of circumstances. At its lowest, it traded for $100.
Thanks to rising gold prices the price has gone up and currently sits at $446. The lesson from the Constitution Bicentennial $5 is valuable: just because the Statue of Liberty $5 sold out that did not mean the higher prices it saw would also happen with the higher mintage Constitution Bicentennial $5.