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Viewpoint: It’s all about the coin, not the label

By Pete Acampora

What if they threw a party and no one came? Or worse; what if they threw a party and everybody not invited came? Or, as we saw in Chicago, what if they threw a party and everyone was welcome but the onslaught of those wanting to attend created massive problems?

Such was the JFK $5 gold release.

I must admit that when the news of a JFK 50th anniversary gold coin was announced, I wanted one. However, this gold 50-cent piece confused me just a bit. Would it be part of JFK 50-cent series? Was it a $5 gold piece like the American Eagle or gold Buffalo series? Was it a gold commemorative piece commemorating JFK, the man; or the 1964 coin itself?

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Well, I didn’t care, I wanted one! However, if it’s commemorating a coin, may I respectfully ask, huh? Really? A coin? I just think waiting until 1917 (Kennedy’s 100th anniversary of his birth, as well as my dad’s) would have been the event to commemorate. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Kennedy half, I love the Mercury dime, Standing Liberty quarter, Saint-Gauden’s $20 gold piece, $4 Stella and scores of other coins our country has produced. I just don’t get why commemorating a “coin” is a special event. There are so many historical people and events that have shaped this country more appropriate to honor or commemorate. A coin is just not that significant. To me. My opinion.

Then I thought about the baseball commemorative coins and how the prices were initially very high and have come down to more reasonable levels since. I still thought about driving to Philly and buying one at the U.S. Mint since I couldn’t get to Chicago. Then I heard that you could still only buy one coin in person. So, I thought, I’ll just order them online.

While I was waiting for that day to arrive, I began to think about one glaring difference between the $5 gold Baseball Hall of Fame commemorative sales and the JFK Gold $5, i.e., the JFK coin is made to order. Simply that means the US Mint will produce as many of these coins as are ordered until Dec. 31, 2014. This coin will be no rarity. I still want one! But I don’t want to pay such an enormous amount of money over the original selling price to someone who doesn’t appreciate the art, history and importance behind the man on the coin. Who is crazy enough to pay $1,400 – $2,700 for a PCGS graded PF-69 $5 gold JFK coin when at that grade, it is only the gold content that means anything?

Oh, wait, people are paying premiums for holders and labels. And facsimile signatures on labels. Maybe our hobby should have a subsection called “holder collectors” or “facsimile signature collectors of America.”

Please, someone tell me the difference between a JFK gold $5 PF-70 first day of issue coin and that same PF-70 coin produced on Dec. 31? I’m not quite getting the difference. Also, to that person that paid $100,000 (yikes) for supposedly the “first coin sold” that day, may I point out to him and others that there were “first coins sold” at Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Denver and San Francisco (I’m not forgetting the time differences). I really wonder which one was actually “the first” and again, what’s the difference between any of those first coins sold and any of the last coins produced and sold in December?

They’re not just “virtually” identical, the coins are identical in every aspect. Every minute aspect! I still want one but I don’t see the necessity (because of limited funds) to pay a premium to simply buy a holder. And before some of the many astute readers out there ask if I own any coins in special holders, I have to say yes. But honestly, I paid no more for the coin if it had been in a different holder. That’s the way it was up until the baseball and now the JFK coin were being marketed (although there are plenty of early PCGS rattlers/green labels and some NGC black labels that are fetching extra dollars in the marketplace).

I’m not saying there isn’t or shouldn’t be a niche of collectors of holders. Collect whatever makes you happy. I’m just saying that inexperienced “collectors” may be spending their money in hopes of making a killing.

In my humble opinion, the JFK half in PF-69 will never be that coin. To those looking on the secondary market at an encapsulated, graded PF-69 that is selling for over $1,500, I say buy one directly from the U.S. Mint for $1,277 (as I intend to do when I can scrape together the funds), send it out to get graded for about $100 and most likely you’ll get back a PF-69 coin. Some may even get back a PF-70 coin. Oh, it won’t have a special holder though and for some, that piece of plastic is all that matters; not that coin inside. I still want one!

There were some very serious problems with the two special releases this year. Many, if not all, of the readers of numismatic publications know of these problems. I want to humbly offer a simple solution (with which I’m sure many will find fault or find other unique problems; but I’m throwing it out there anyway).

Remember the draft? Not beer, the military draft. Same rules apply. Every member on the U.S. Mint email, snail mail list who would like a particular coin is assigned a number for use prior to the first (pick a time limit) days/weeks of the initial release. These numbers are randomly selected by lottery like the ones televised for state/national lotteries. Winners are notified that if they wish to still purchase the coin, a section of the Mint’s website, or a new web address, will be open for them on (date) so that they could claim their one coin.

Also, since the coin is made to order, everyone gets at least one if they want to pay the price. It would be against the rules to sell/assign their number and the coin could only be acquired through the Mint website. I also know some will say: how can that be effective as the Mint website crashes whenever it’s just a wee bit cloudy outside? Someone smarter than I can figure that one out. This process would be in effect for the first days. Then the ordering open to anyone and the limits can be increased.

The grading services can still make their special holders, but the average Joe will have just as good a chance of getting a coin, and getting that coin specially holdered if they wish, as that great, big, bully coin dealer with deep pockets. Coin collectors should love this. No more security problems for those waiting in line for a coin; no more busing in shills to wait in line; no more people holding signs up wanting to buy your coin at a price that seems great; no more potentially violent confrontations; no more police. (Imagine how elated that first-in-line coin owner felt about getting $5,000 plus a replacement JFK gold coin; and then how he felt when that same coin he was holding 10 minutes earlier was sold for $100,000! Do you think he might have been taken advantage of? Just sayin’.

After all is said and done, a lottery style sale would allow us all to get back to the business of appreciating coins; not worshipping holders. Imagine an 1804 silver dollar in a third-party holder facsimile-signed by Thomas Jefferson and/or Alexander Hamilton, as opposed to any other genuine raw example discovered in Auntie Em’s sewing chest. I mean, really? Does the holder add anything more to the value of this coin? Some would argue yes; me, not so much. Facsimile signatures? It’s like having a genuine Civil War letter that’s signed by Lincoln’s secretary, Mrs. Kennedy. C’mon. The letter is cool; the signature, not really. Would it be nice to own? Yup.

Another problem I think may have happened (and I have no data to back this up), is that the regular dealers probably sold less than they normally have at past ANA shows because the large JFK crowds may have intimidated regular collectors and detracted from the main purpose of the show. It would be interesting to find out if that is true and also if the same happened at Baltimore with the baseball commemoratives especially since there were a lot more of them offered at the time. Dealers might support a coin draft of some sort just to keep their businesses profitable at shows such as these where the cost of the bourse, transportation, room, food, etc. can be extremely expensive.

In any event, this is all one man’s opinion and everything is in the perspective you hold my numismatic friends but most assuredly, some of this is food for thought. Oh, yeah, I still want one of the JFK gold $5! I’m willing to pay double face value. No holder required. Any takers?

This “Viewpoint” was written by Pete Acampora of New York City.

Viewpoint is a forum for the expression of opinion on a variety of numismatic subjects. To have your opinion considered for Viewpoint, write to David C. Harper, Editor, Numismatic News, 700 E. State St., Iola, WI 54990. Send email to david.harper@fwmedia.com.

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