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Numbers still important to many collectors

Wouldn’t you like to be able to work for a month and get paid as if it were a full year or more? I would. Most businesses would.

Well, the U.S. Mint sort of did that with the 2009 fractional gold American Eagle bullion coins, but it can’t feel triumphant about it because even though it is supposedly run like a business, its benchmarks still have the characteristics of public service. Customers still want more.

Nearly the entire year had passed before the Mint was able to offer the fractionals for sale Dec. 3. Demand was so high it had to ration the supply using its standard allocation process among its authorized purchasers. Even then it ran out of the first batch Dec. 4.

More went on sale Dec. 14. They sold in a flash with the usual rationing disclaimer.

For the tenth-ounce coin, the number sold equaled last year’s at 270,000. I checked back on the numbers for 2006 and 2007. The sales in those years were 270,000 and 180,000, respectively.

So by the standard of recent years, a whole year’s worth was taken up by the secondary market.

Relatively speaking, there was an even greater supply of half-ounce and quarter-ounce coins offered from the perspective that the supply is lasting longer.

So far 101,000 half-ounce coins have been purchased. The first tranche in early December totaled 56,000. The second tranche total has nearly equaled it, but the Mint says they are not yet sold out.

This compares to 50,000 in 2007 and in 2008 and 42,000 in 2006.

For the quarter ounce, the first tranche in early December was 58,000 coins. The second batch has helped total sales reach 100,000 and the  Mint has some left.

In 2008, the Mint sold 58,000 quarter ounces. In 2007 it was 32,000 pieces and in 2006 the number sold was 46,000.

These are not bad sales gains, but because of ongoing market demand, they are not good enough.

What I wonder about all of this is if collectors will remember this year’s numbers for many years into the future as collectors of my generation memorized the mintages of the key Lincoln cents back in the 1960s circulation finds era?

That is probably too much to expect, but certainly the importance that this generation of coin buyers is attaching to numbers is no less than what earlier collectors did. But, the current generation has the advantage of getting more numbers more quickly than those of us did who were active many years ago.

It used to take dealers and collectors decades to get the experience necessary to truly have a sense of relative scarcities and rarities. Now we can turn to the Mint Statistics page to get weekly updates of the modern issues and check population reports of grading services to get a sense of relative rarities of older issues.

Collectors of the past probably would consider the present availability of statistical information to be a wonderful advance. It is.

Lately, though, many of us are simply thinking of why the Mint is not producing even larger numbers of gold coins (and silver, too) to meet current demand.

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