For many little kids, this time of year is a period of waiting for Santa Claus to come with gifts.
For collectors and investors it can also be a period of waiting as the U.S. Mint changes from offering silver American Eagle bullion coins with this year’s date on it to offering the 2013 pieces.
The Mint notified its Authorized Purchasers on Friday that it had sold out of its supply of 2012 silver American Eagle bullion coins. That leaves a three-week gap in new coin supplies. The Mint will begin taking orders from Authorized Purchasers for the 2013 coins on Jan. 7, 2013.
Historically, for most years, this availability gap is routine. But with heightened attention being paid to gold and silver who knows how it will be interpreted.
Stepping back from the day-to-day logistical questions of price fluctuations, premiums over melt value and questions of when my favorite dealer can get me the coins I want, 2012 was a year when buyers took 33,742,500 of the 1-ounce coins, some 15.37 percent fewer than the 39,868,500 coins they purchased with the 2011 date.
Does that mean anything?
It interrupts a steady increase in numbers registered since 9,028,036 coins were sold in 2007, 20,58,000 in 2008, 28,766,500 in 2009 and 34,662,500 in 2010.
As those numbers soared, the U.S. Mint was dogged by an inability to supply the market with the number of coins demanded of it. Rationing was applied to supply.
But those supply bottlenecks have been overcome. Now it is a question of how many coins buyers want each year.
Because this demand is primarily a function of market expectations, you can fill in the blank here with your own favorite scenario for 2013.
What is certain, though, is that demand in January will soar. It always does as collectors jostle with investors to be the first to buy the new dates. It is a characteristic that we seem to share with the new car market. I like driving a new car, don't you?
We want to be seen with the new and the flashy. That applies to silver Eagles as each new date is released.
In January 2012 buyers grabbed 6,107,000 of the new coins. That was down just a bit from 6,422,000 in 2011. If results in the first month of 2013 deviate strongly either way from these figures, we will be given a better idea of what might occur for the rest of the year.
The odds are that the 2013 number will be very similar to the two prior years.
Collectors, though, will ultimately focus on mintages. Over the long haul, the mintage numbers for 2012 and 2011 indicate they will be common dates. Collectors would be well served to pick up examples of the lower mintage pieces in the series even as they anxiously await the opportunity to add the 2013 coin to their holdings
That will make the wait worthwhile.
Buzz blogger Dave Harper is editor of the weekly newspaper "Numismatic News."