It won’t be long now before computer technology will allow us to know precisely when a coin was struck and to forever keep track of that fact.
St. Patrick’s Day is Thursday.
If you want, say a silver American Eagle struck on March 17, 2016, such a wish could be fulfilled – all without the intermediary of paper trails and plastic slabs.
You will just scan the coin to reveal the ID.
Records of all owners could be kept as well.
The question is what will we do with this ability once we have it?
So far we have a workaround in that we can order coins that were struck early on in the production cycle with some sort of slab and label attesting to the fact that they are first strikes or early strikes.
With computers, the logical conclusion of this process is to know precisely when each coin is struck.
If 50 million silver American Eagles are struck with a 2016 date, we will be able to know which ones were struck in 2015.
We will be able to know which piece was actually struck first. We could group them: First 10, first 100, first 1,000, etc.
Already grading companies are keeping track of their slabs and the coins put into them.
The Royal Canadian Mint has a scanner for dealers that link a Maple Leaf to the die that struck it in order to prove authenticity.
Collectors in the future will be able to buy coins struck on their birthday. They could buy coins struck on their anniversary and give them as gifts to spouses.
Imagine buying a proof set and knowing when every coin in it was struck, or perhaps matching each coin to the other denominations struck on the same day or in the same week?
If you know when a silver Eagle in your possession was struck, what will that do to the market value?
In the beginning coins called first strikes carried quite a premium to the rest, but as more were submitted for the designation and the novelty factor wore off, prices came down.
Will we have price guides for coins struck on all the days of the year?
How will they be valued?
Will we simply get tired of the possibility and decide it is more information than we really want to know?
With technology, there is no real turning back. We will probably get the information whether it makes any commercial difference to us or not.
If collectors pay a premium, the Mint could offer a service where collectors could place orders for proof coins struck on the dates that interest them.
This sounds hopelessly complicated until you remember that complicated situations are just what computers are good at sorting out.
For bullion coins, though, there is still the problem that the Mint won’t accept orders from collectors, just from Authorized Purchasers.
There are some problems that computers can’t solve.
Buzz blogger Dave Harper has twice won the Numismatic Literary Guild Award for Best Blog and is editor of the weekly newspaper "Numismatic News."
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