This article was originally printed in the latest issue of Numismatic News.
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With secondary market prices that jumped up to the $80 to $90 range for its BU or proof versions shortly after its 2005 issue, the Marine Corps 230th anniversary commemorative silver dollar was a winner.
The fact that collectors purchased 600,000 of them made it a winner. But that sales number also planted the seeds of a less than stellar future. Whatever short-term enthusiasms might occur, long-term value is determined by mintages.
Quickly moving from selling out all 600,000 coins to a price approaching $100 on the secondary market was a good sign not only for those who bought the Marine Corps dollar directly from the Mint at the lower issue prices, but also those who want a strong modern commemorative silver dollar market.
It’s worth remembering that when the Marine Corps dollar was initially authorized some had what were pretty good reasons to question precisely how well the Marine Corps dollar would do in terms of sales. After all, there were some odd aspects to the proposal starting with the fact that it was commemorating the 230th anniversary of the Marine Corps, rather than the 200th or 250th. As commemorative ideas go, that was a bit peculiar. Centennials are common and bicentennials are regular, but the 230th anniversary of anything is not normally the subject of commemoratives.
There was also a pretty good reason to think in terms of selling fewer than the maximum authorized totals. The reason is very simply that modern commemorative silver dollar tend to struggle to even sell the 500,000 pieces when they are authorized. The only recent issue to reach 500,000 for sales was the American Buffalo silver dollar in 2001 and some could suggest that its sales were primarily thanks to the great James Earle Fraser Buffalo nickel design of 1913 being used on a large silver coin. Collectors are nothing if not nostalgic.
In fairness, those who approved the Marine Corps dollar apparently knew something about Marines and their loyalty. That said, there are not 600,000 current or former Marines collecting coins. If you happen to have been in the Marines or still are in the Marines there is no shortage of things from coffee mugs to coins you can acquire noting your loyalty to the Marine Corps. The Marine Corps dollar would have to stand out from all the other items to produce anything close to sales of the authorized pieces.
Historically, we frankly have very little experience with sold- out modern commemoratives and their prices. The $5 Statue of Liberty gold coin sold out its 500,000 authorization and soared to about triple its issue price only to then drop to a level below its issue price and then trading essentially for gold bullion value.
In the case of the 1992 White House silver dollar, which also sold out its 500,000 authorized pieces, you had a similar situation. Its price, not unlike the Statue of Liberty $5, also rose dramatically only to fall back to below its original issue price.
The more recent American Buffalo silver dollar seemed to break the trend. It sold out its 500,000 authorization and then steadily marched to over $100. What makes the American Buffalo dollar different is that its price rose to over $100 and remained there. The Marine dollar has come down again to about issue price of $33 and $37 for the BU and proof, respectively.
Certainly the Mint was concerned enough about reaching the sales level of 600,000 that it created special sets to help push up the original sales numbers. There was a Marine Coin & Stamp Set that sold roughly 50,000 of the BU coins while the American Legacy Collection moved 49,000 proofs to help the total sales to reach 600,000.