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First Spouse buyers need cash

First Spouse gold coins will be offered by the U.S. Mint this year even later on the seasonal calendar than was done last year. Once again striking problems caused the delay.

The first 2013 design for Ida McKinley will be put on sale Nov. 14. The second design for Edith Roosevelt will follow a week later on Nov. 21 and the third design for Helen Taft is slated for Dec. 2.

The final two honoring the wives of President Woodrow Wilson have not yet been scheduled.

Of course, the good news is that so few people have been buying these coins that the wait has not been noticed by the great mass of the numismatic hobby.

Sales rates have dropped by 85 percent since the rapid sellouts of the first three designs back in 2007.

Then a sellout meant 20,000 proofs and 20,000 uncirculated coins went out the door.

Now, using the numbers for the 2012 Frances Cleveland second term design we have a proof sales number of 2,915 and an uncirculated number of 2,220.

Can numbers fall even further?

Probably. That is the trend.

In addition to lack of interest, you have to wonder if even current buyers will experience enough of a financial crunch to drop their efforts to form a full set.

Though prices of the 2013 coins have not yet been announced, if they remain in the neighborhood of $840 for the proofs and $820 for the uncirculateds that currently prevails for the 2012 coins, that means that First Spouse buyers will have to come up with over $1,600 a week to buy both coins, or half that for one or the other quality.

That is pretty stiff. Only those who planned for the purchases and earmarked funds and have them ready when the coins are will be able to do it easily.

With such low sales numbers already, it will be difficult to prove that any such buyer cash crunch will develop, but it sure looks like it will.

Collectors tend to make their purchase decisions early and the bulk of sales occur during the first few weeks of availability.

Once a collector chooses to sit on his hands about any given issue he more than likely will stay there.

So how low is low?

2,500 proofs? 2,000? 1,500 uncirculateds? 1,000?

These coins have a $10 face value and contain a half troy ounce of gold. Anyone who sticks with it to set completion will at current issue prices have a complete set worth over $66,000, or for just proofs or just uncirculateds, worth half that.

Either number is more than many collectors spend in a lifetime, let alone on just one set.

When I was young and became acquainted with mintages of the gold $50 Panama-Pacific round and octagonal commemoratives of 1915, I wondered how they could be so low at 483 and 645, respectively.

With First Spouse coins, we are having a modern demonstration of how such low mintages come about.

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."