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Make sure it's silver

I have been thinking about the many products the U.S. Mint offers.

Some are successful. Some are not. Some are perennials.

But what makes something successful for collectors?

If I buy Numismatic Product X right this very minute, what will the market for it be like in 15 years when I want to sell it?

Let’s start with the composition of the new Product X.

This year has been a good one for coins made of base metal in the form of the four Coin and Chronicles Sets that include reverse proof Presidential dollars.

The fact the dollar coins are made of base metal makes me pessimistic about the long-term future of the sets.

For evidence I look at the clad proof and mint sets of the last 47 years.

Loyal buyers of each and every one have lost a ton of money and when they were offered some were as hot as the Coin and Chronicles sets are now.

Sure, there are some good ones, but mostly they are all bad. Collectors looking for long-term value should stick to precious metals.

The melt value of precious metal coins gives the buyer a long-term base even if every collector of the future turns their nose up at them.

Current buyers of Coin and Chronicles Sets will very likely retort that the low mintages will help ensure their value.

Certainly low mintages are better than high mintages, but mintages are relative.

Silver American Eagles have done pretty well in holding their value despite mintages in the millions and tens of millions.

Obviously, there are many more people interested in these coins, collectors and investors, than in reverse proof Presidential dollars.

In my lifetime, interest has migrated from small and affordable coins like Lincoln cents to large silver coins that often get very pricey. Think Morgan dollars here.

This preference is not absolute, but it is a guide.

Unless you think collecting tastes are going to change, you should stick with the tried and true.

Investors aside, silver American Eagles are very obviously following in the Morgan dollar tradition.

Gold is also a precious metal. It comes in large sizes like the one-ounce Eagle and Buffalo coins. Why not buy these?

I cannot say there is anything wrong with that logic.

Gold Eagles have high intrinsic value to protect your financial health long-term.

However, the tendency to add permanent numismatic value on top of bullion value is less pronounced with gold than for silver coins.

This is because there are fewer collectors who can afford gold.

Even the common pieces are darned expensive relative to average collector income.

It is no wonder so many collectors willingly pay $20 for a one-ounce silver bullion Eagle and $48.95 for the proof but balk at $1,182 for a one-ounce gold bullion coin despite the fact that both precious metals will move higher in price over the very long term.

It is a matter of financial reach, not that something is wrong with gold.

Over time, I do not expect this collector preference for silver to change very much even if the American economy returns to great prosperity.

If the silver American Eagle series concludes at the 35- or 40-year mark, that would augment collector interest and numismatic value would increase. Collectors love a defined set. But we collectors cannot count on this.

For things like state quarters, this means stick to the silver proofs and skip the clad.

That might sound awfully cold blooded, but for someone starting out today with the full freedom to purchase or ignore, the silver option seems best to optimize long-term value.

However, even if you have your eye on values 15 years from now, always remember to collect what you like.

You will have a miserable time if your only coin collecting goal is to sell well.

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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