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Buffalo buyers bet on gold or beauty?

Have you lost track of how many times the price of gold has risen above $1,300 an ounce, only to be knocked down again to a price below that nice, round number?

I have.

The original J.P. Morgan, banker and rescuer of the U.S. financial system in 1893 and 1907, was once asked what the market would do that day by a young reporter.

His reply was that it would fluctuate.

It was an honest answer to a question that basically has no answer.

Day-to-day fluctuations in the price of gold are subject to so many short-term variables that flipping a coin probably is in order.

The major factors on the minds of collectors today as the 2014 proof Buffalo one-ounce coin goes on sale at the U.S. Mint website go far beyond the basic ones of retail price, affordability and desirability.

If it were a sure bet that gold bullion will soar in price, buyers will be numerous.

If buyers expect the bullion price to decline, they will hang back.

How many potential buyers today are actually building a set of these coins in the good, old-fashioned way?

This is the ninth regular proof issue since the sequence began in 2006. At a base value of $1,700 each, such collectors would have $15,300 tied up in their sets, much more if they collect reverse proofs and the uncirculated pieces. Some pieces are currently worth far more than the base price.

Most would say this set is beyond affordable for most collectors, yet 47,836 reverse proofs were sold last year as well as 18,594 regular proofs.

Those are strong numbers for coins as expensive as one-ounce gold pieces.

What is the dominant motivation for buyers? As a collector I hope it is the sheer beauty of a gold proof rendition of the James Earle Fraser Buffalo and Indian Head designs.

But is it?

Buzz blogger Dave Harper is winner of the 2013 Numismatic Literary Guild Award for Best Blog and is editor of the weekly newspaper "Numismatic News."