Everybody knows that bullion gets the headlines, but it is the average collector who makes the numismatic hobby what it is.
I decided to take a look at some of the meat-and-potato Mint issues to see how they are doing comparatively speaking.
What can be more nonbullion than the four-coin Presidential proof sets? Sales of the 2014 set stand at 181,635, which seems pretty good on its own. But if you compare it to the 2013 set, you see that 263,123 have been purchased.
The difference of 81,488 means sales of the current offering are 31 percent lower than the 2013 set.
How about the five-quarter clad proof set? The 2014 sales figure is 86,144. This compares to 125,952 for the 2013 set. The difference is 39,808. This is a decline of 32 percent.
Let’s throw in the silver version of the five-quarter proof set. Silver has been rather popular, though now bullion is cooling off.
What of this collector set made of silver? Sales of the 2014 set are 94,160. Sales of the 2013 set are 134,692. The difference is 40,532, or a decline of 30 percent.
Interesting that these numbers are so similar, isn’t it?
The standard uncirculated coin set shows 2014 sales of 235,701. The 2013 number is 368,986. The difference is 133,285. That is a decline of 36 percent.
As recently as 2005 sales of this set topped 1 million. Looking back to 1981 it was almost 3 million. This downtrend is not a friendly one.
Countering the dips this year are sales of routine 2014 two-roll sets of Kennedy half dollars.
This 50th anniversary year has perked up sales a bit.
The 2014 number is 27,159. The 2013 figure is 24,666. The difference of 2,493 is a gain of 10 percent.
However, if we compare it to the 2012 offering, that number is 33,554. The difference between it and the 2014 number is 6,395, which is a decline of 19 percent.
Of course a slower decline is better than a larger one. An anniversary year sales boost is a wonderful help.
Next year will not be an anniversary year, what then?
For that matter, what will happen to all Mint product sales in 2015?
Mint officials are asking themselves that very question. They can see this deterioration coupled with a very obvious demonstration that collectors will still jump into special offerings like gold Kennedy half dollars.
That explains the likely 2015 high-relief gold piece and the 2016 reuse of popular old designs from 1916.
This is turning coins into an annual fashion show. If the Mint guesses right, it will continue to mask falling interest in routine products. If it guesses wrong, underlying sales weakness will be exposed.
It looks like the Mint is trapped into having to make such guesses, because routine sales of old products are becoming less helpful.
And what of average hobbyists? Are they just getting more tight-fisted, novelty minded, or are they going away?
Buzz blogger Dave Harper is winner of the 2014 Numismatic Literary Guild Award for Best Blog and is editor of the weekly newspaper "Numismatic News."