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Core sales declines not healthy

How would you define the core of the numismatic hobby and do you think it is healthy?

Outsiders are mesmerized by gold and silver headlines and impressed with the cash flows of dealers who are either selling investment coins to investors, or who are buying scrap gold and silver from the general public.

It does indeed put an impressive veneer on the hobby. But what’s behind the storefront?

Let me define the core of the hobby as those persons who tend to buy annual Mint products to keep their collections up to date. Members of this group usually have other interests as well, but they always seem to find a few dollars to plow into the new issues.

If you look behind headlines like the recent silver Eagle anniversary set sellout, this group currently doesn’t look all that healthy.

Did you know that current sales of the four-coin Presidential proof set are down by 54 percent when comparing 2011 sales to those of 2010?

Ah, you might say, people are just tired of Presidential dollars and collectors are catching up with public opinion that dismissed their utility from the outset.

Well, how about the five-quarter proof set? This number has declined by 57 percent.

Perhaps they don’t like the clad anymore and would prefer just the silver version? Well, that set is down 55 percent, an almost identical decline.

Sales are holding up better with the very basic proof set. Its sales have declined by just 18 percent and the silver proof set is down by 16 percent.

The classic uncirculated coin set is down by 22 percent.

I don’t think these numbers reflect a loss of interest by collectors. They could be resetting priorities to pay for the ever more expensive American Eagle proof issues, their personal economic situations may be deteriorating, or it is some combination of the two.

We can debate the details, but sales declines of this magnitude in the basic collector sets to me doesn’t look healthy.