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Silver five-ounce idea crosses into silliness

Harper Dave.jpgWhy does success in Washington, D.C., lead to silliness? I refer to Rep. Michael Castle?s legislation to create a new annual circulating quarter program to succeed the state and territorial quarter program at its end in 2009.

I like the idea of a new round of circulating quarter designs. It is in keeping with the best American traditions. Its success is assured.

But silliness arrives in the form of silver five-ounce replicas of the quarter designs. The Mint already has trouble meeting demand for standard one-ounce American Eagle silver bullion coins.

Do the solons in Congress think the Mint should find other products sold on late-night television to offer the public? How about sterling silver ginsu knives or sterling silver C.D.?s that we can not only collect but listen to rock ?n? roll music when they are played?

Michael Castle and his congressional allies deserve all the accolades the hobby can give them for what they have done in the past. They deserve the support of the hobby for what they propose to do with quarters from 2010 to 2020 and perhaps another 11-year cycle beyond.

But where did the five-ounce replicas come from? Of course, a coin of that size created by the Mint is not technically a replica, but with a stated face value of a quarter dollar and in a nonstandard size, it really is not a bullion coin either.

There is a certain logic to this if you fear that the Mint does not have enough to do with demand for circulating coinage falling and two very large coining facilities in Denver and Philadelphia needing projects to keep busy, but are more ?coins? in precious metal the answer?

We have the standard gold American Eagle bullion coin in .9167 fineness in one-ounce and fractional sizes, we are about to get Buffalo one-ounce and fractional coins in .999 fine gold. A new version of the Ultra High Relief Saint-Gaudens $20 modified to an even troy ounce is coming possibly followed by an annual palladium version. That?s not all, we have the three versions of the gold American Eagle ? bullion coin finish, burnished uncirculated finish with a ?W? mintmark and proof finish. Perhaps we will soon see the gold Buffalo pieces in three finishes also.
And this is just coinage in gold.

Even this make-work logic might have a certain appeal if the Mint were capable of meeting the demand of what is fast becoming a job shop. (Perhaps every collector will soon be granted the option of having his own gold, silver, platinum or palladium coin designed to his own specifications.)
However the Mint is proving that it cannot meet wide swings in demand for the silver American Eagle bullion coin. Its two bullion blank suppliers are cutting deliveries rather than increasing them.

Let us assume the Mint can expand production with new blank suppliers. What happens when demand falls and these contracts lapse? We can go through it all again when the next demand cycle begins.

There is a line between sensible Mint products and nonsense. We can debate where the line is precisely, but I think five-ounce silver quarters crossed it.

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