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Packaging, price impact new issues sales

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I learned two important things at the World Money Fair Feb. 1-3 in Berlin, Germany. Sure, there was more, much more, but there are two issues that will have an impact on the U.S. market and on the collectors who are actively buying and selling U.S. Mint new issues.

Packaging is becoming increasingly important. The world hobby is being flooded by huge numbers of new coin issues. As large as the number of collectors is, their resources are not infinite. It is a dogfight out there among the world?s mints to earn the collectors dollars. They are increasingly conducting the battle with specialty packaging.

This is new to the American mindset. I have spent 45 years in the hobby essentially scoffing at packaging. The ultimate value of a coin rests solely on the coin itself and its state of preservation. It is not dependent on the box. This has been a truism, event as Panama-Pacific sets in the original copper frames have commanded high values and the routine proof set and modern commemorative market values packaging.

Collectors, it seems, are like cats. The packaging that the world?s mints are dangling in front of us is like a ball of yarn being waved in front of a cat. We are swiping at the packages with our paws. We are awed by the boxes and capsules. We will pay good money to grading firms to certify a new issue as MS-69 or MS-70, even as most of the issue qualifies for those grades but are not encapsulated.

Why collectors would talk a good anti-packaging line over the years and behave in direct contrast to it, I cannot say. But we have. I was particularly taken by a four-coin Sherlock Holmes set from the Cook Islands housed in capsules in a box that looked like the old clapboard that Hollywood directors use to identify each scene as it was filmed. It was very attractive. It was very appealing. I will remember it for a long time.

That is the challenge for the U.S. Mint. What sort of new packaging will it come up with the take its coin issues to to the next level? It is a question that needs an answer.

The second point I come away with from Berlin is the appearance of price resistance in modern issues. The rocketing price of gold and silver may be a good thing for investors who bought the metals at lower prices. The higher prices may even attract newcomers who want to get in on what looks like a sure thing. However, buyers of new issues made of precious metals are balking. World mints don?t want to quantify it. It would give away too much to competitors, but the sizes of new issues seem to be shrinking. Coins of roughly one-half or one-third of a troy ounce are becoming more common for silver coins, instead of the much larger silver dollar sized and bigger one-ounce coins.

Is this price resistance the reason last year?s commemorative sets for Jamestown and Little Rock did not seem to excite buyers? Probably. It might be much easier to dismiss the historical events, but nobody wants to admit that he hasn?t enough money to buy all that he wants. Instead of saying it is too expensive, he will say the events just weren?t that appealing.

Perhaps this means that silver half dollars as were issued for George Washington in 1982 will make a comeback, or perhaps Congress will authorize $2.50 gold pieces as were used for the Pan-Pac set and the 1926 sesquicentennial, instead of the $5 gold piece. Lower prices will mean something to U.S. collectors. I cannot quantify it here, but that was what I was hearing it Europe.

You might think that higher precious metals would open a door for copper-nickel clad. It does not seem to. The allure of gold and silver is strong. Buyers seem willing to settle for smaller sizes rather than abandon the precious metals.

If future commemorative sets have gorgeous new packages with smaller coins, remember you saw it here first.

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