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Dangerous Lincoln assumptions

Sales of the two-roll set of the Formative Years Lincoln cents by the Mint have reached 250,557. This compares to 96,000 that were sold for the Birthplace design.

I had an e-mail from a hobbyist who couldn’t believe the numbers. He wanted me to verify that the numbers Numismatic News is reporting weekly in its Mint Statistics column correspond to the products that he is interested in.

Though he did not say it, it seems that he was placing some sort of significance in the 96,000 number from the first offering and somehow concluding that the second offering is not right in consequence because the number has gotten so much larger.

I assume his visions of secondary market profits from the second issue have disappeared, or he is nursing losses from the way he wrote.

I could be wrong.

Speculation has a downside to it. Sometimes prices of new issues do go down. In fact, long suffering buyers of U.S. proof sets in the last 41 years can probably cite chapter and verse about them. Yet for some years, U.S. proof sets were wonderful speculations that made money for the bold.

What’s going on with Lincoln cents?

Well, my opinion is the Mint was embarrassed when the banking system failed to distribute the new 2009 cents in time for the Feb. 12 introduction. It then decided it would have to throw together something as fast as it could and did so, offering the first two-roll set in the middle of March that then sold out in 13 days.

Then the Mint vowed to itself that it would not be caught short again and made sure it had very large supplies of two-roll sets for the second issue. At the same time, some collectors who somehow assumed that the 96,000 number was some sort of fixed target rather than an accident acted on this assumption.

Assumptions are dangerous things in speculations. The Mint never announced a fixed total for either offering, so speculators are flying blind.

Collectors, on the other hand, who simply want the new cents, are happy that the coins of the second design are more easily available.

If the pattern holds, burned speculators will be gun-shy for the third issue come August and September and the sales number will be lower than the number for the second issue.