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Save money: just buy proofs?

It has been a truism in the hobby for a very long time that collectors prefer proof coins to uncirculated coins when they are buying special collector issues.

Often as a group for every uncirculated coin we collectors buy, we buy three proofs. Some collectors buy both, but most seem to take the proof as the ultimate in the coiner’s art and let it go at that.

If you look at the current commemorative coin programs this preference is fairly consistent, though I notice that for the Army clad half dollar for some reason that uncirculated coin is only at a 2-1 disadvantage.

But at the other extreme, when you look at sales of collector one-ounce gold American Eagles, the preference for proofs so far is an incredible 6.5-1. Are collectors cutting back on their purchases of big expensive gold coins or is this simply a reflection of the fact that the uncirculated coin has been available for a shorter length of time?

A shorter sales period might be a workable theory, however, early days of a program usually mean the coins are flying off the Mint’s shelves as collectors rush to fulfill their desire for new coins.

In the case of the uncirculated gold 2011 American Eagle, collectors bought just 187 in the most recent reporting week. That’s not indicative of powerful early demand.

To be fair, sales of the one-ounce proof American Eagle rose by 413. That is hardly more than a 2-1 advantage this week.

We will have to revisit this topic late in the year to see if the ratio has closed to the 3-1 level, or if we are seeing more collectors turning against the uncirculated coin in an effort to conserve funds for other purchases.