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Disappointed, but was it fair?

I had an email this morning that made me stop and think.

See how you react to it.

It reads:

“By late December I took advantage of the last chance sales of coins on the U.S. Mint site. The 5-Star General $5 gold proof coin was on sale for only $393.30, less than that of the uncirculated coin which had sold out. I placed the order on December 28, and received a confirmation number. It was in the bag, so I thought. A few weeks later I received an email that my order was canceled. No reason was given. Why does the Mint say they have a coin for sale when it does not? It has an inventory yet it still accepted my order. A similar thing happened in 2011 with the 25th anniversary American Eagle five-coin set ... The Mint is declining in service and integrity.”

Is the Mint declining in service and integrity?

I know what it is to feel the disappointment of an order that is turned down. The first time it happened to me was in 1969.

However, if you wait until the last hours, last minutes even of an offer than has been available for most of the year, in my opinion it becomes a different issue.

Very often, the point of placing a last-minute order is because you have noticed that the coin is low mintage and you think you are going to make a speculative profit by buying it.

I understand that motivation. It is not collecting, but it is a speculative impulse that all collectors are subject to from time to time.

I do not know the motive of this particular buyer. He did not say, but the other Mint offer he cites was also one that had inspired a great deal of speculation.

It seems to me, the only way to prevent this from happening is for the Mint never to completely sell out.

Unlike retail products where sellers can always offer one more DVD, book, or pair of jeans, an item with a fixed supply and a computer ordering system virtually guarantees that a situation like this will develop.

At the end of an availability period, the Mint website, because it can accept multiple orders simultaneously can very easily see those last orders outstrip the remaining supply.

Who gets the last coin when two or more collectors place their electronic orders simultaneously?

That’s a good question. The only obvious part of the answer is that someone will not get what was ordered and be disappointed.

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."