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What number would you pick for next year?

HarperD_color.jpgHey, buddy, do you have a spare quarter of a billion dollars? The coin hobby collectively doesn?t seem to have it ? at least when it comes to spending on the Buffalo 24-karat gold proof coin program launched by the Mint June 22.

That doesn?t mean the market is not large. It is. It simply means that there are limits to what the hobby can afford when it comes to Mint offerings.

When sales of the Buffalo proof coin began June 22, the Mint sold 50,000 coins in one day. Telephone lines were jammed. Web site traffic spiked and slowed down the order process.

In four days, the Mint sold 75,000 coins and the sales pace has progressively declined since. Now the number jiggles upwards by maybe 1,000 coins a week. However, five months into its availability, it seems that collector interest has pretty much shifted elsewhere.

Certainly, who would buy a Buffalo when the three 20th-anniversary sets went up for sale at the end of August? Who would buy it now when the ?W? mintmarked uncirculated coins are being offered individually?

Collectors are confronted by a huge number of choices. They are making them. I think we can conclude that those of us who thought the Buffalo coin could not sell out have pretty much been proven right.

That doesn?t mean that collectors had no interest in the proof. They did. It is gorgeous. I have not seen or heard too many negative comments.

However, the Mint did set the bar awfully high. At a price of $800 each, it would take $240 million to buy out the maximum mintage of 300,000. That?s almost a quarter of a billion dollars.

I don?t think many collectors think in terms of numbers that size. It is clear the Mint marketers do. What will they think?

Well, let?s take a look. With sales pretty much stalled out at 228,000 as we reach Thanksgiving, it is clear the Mint has much to thank collectors for. They have 182,400,000 reasons to say thanks. Put another way, total sales as this is written have reached $182,400,000. That?s an amazingly large number to someone like me who used to buy proof sets for $5 back in the late 1960s. With three million sets sold then, the Mint got all of $15 million from the program.

Because we had been starved of proof sets for three years, as none were produced from 1965-1967, we thought the proof set featuring coins with the new ?S? mintmark was hot stuff. Little did we know what kind of world the Mint and eBay would make for us in 2006.

The fact the Buffalo proof can achieve sales of almost $200 million when the Mint has so many other offerings on its calendar is nothing short of remarkable. It proves why many other marketers want to get into coins. Coins are hot. Coins are fashionable. But coins are not limitless sources of revenue. Nevertheless, the Mint should be congratulated on a successful launch of a beautiful new coin.

The next question is what will be done for the 2007 proof Buffalo? I assume the Mint might just cut back the maximum mintage number. Wouldn?t you, if you were running the program? This has been the pattern of recent years when sales of gold, silver and platinum American Eagles disappointed. Then, of course, the numbers get nudged higher when interest increases.

What number should the Mint use next year? Well, 200,000 seems like a good number from which to start the thinking process. Perhaps 150,000 would be better. This is a first year of issue. First years of issue seem to almost always attract buyers who find new coins novel. Some of these buyers won?t be up for repeat purchases in 2007. How do you quantify the number?

Well, the proof 1986 gold American Eagle sold 446,290. The following year, sales dropped by two-thirds to 147,498. This pattern is likely to repeat. If sales drop by two-thirds from the current sales number of 228,000, we would be at roughly 75,000 coins. So that?s my pick for 2007 proof Buffalo sales, 75,000. The Mint will probably pick a higher maximum, but sales would again fall short. What do you think?

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