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Silver medal sellout: Good or bad?

The silver Liberty Mint medal that went on sale yesterday sold out in less than five minutes.

The silver Liberty medal proved popular with buyers.

The silver Liberty medal proved popular with buyers.

I’m surprised.

The medal had a low mintage of 12,500 each from two mints, San Francisco and West Point.

Had it been a coin with just 25,000 produced, I wouldn’t be surprised at a sellout at all.

But it’s a medal.

Coin collectors are supposed to look down their noses at medals. That has been conventional wisdom for the half century I have been a collector.

Is it time to change conventional wisdom? Perhaps it is.

I have had a number of emails and phone calls from people who were not able to get their orders in before the Mint put up the unavailable sign on its website.

Two were collectors trying to place their orders by telephone. While they were talking to a telephone sales person, the status changed to unavailable.

That riled them.

One of the phone callers suggested to me that the Mint should set aside a quantity for telephone orders so that computer buyers will not take them all.

Perhaps the Mint can tweak its electronic system used by telephone sales people to put a hold on a product when an order conversation begins rather than ends.

However the order technology turns out, though, the basic question remains why the sudden interest in medals?

The fact that the Liberty medals are not coins aside, most collectors probably were attracted to the beautiful designs on both sides. Liberty and eagles are just what many collectors would like to see on circulating coins.

The $34.95 price of the one-ounce silver medal seems reasonable.

Having both “S” and a “W” mintmarked versions means that collectors who focus on completeness need one of each. Perhaps that should have been the household order limit rather than two of each.

But that is hindsight.

A dark interpretation is the order flippers have taken over the process. They order. They sell. They don’t care what’s offered. No collector feeling is involved at all.

These flippers basically are average people with computers. The big marketing companies buy their coins from the little guys because household order limits restrict how many they can get for their cable TV programs, or computer distribution channels.

So this morning we know the silver Liberty medal offer is closed except perhaps for a few that might become available because some transactions do not go through. Those few will not likely satisfy all the collectors who feel deprived following the medal Mint offer.

The Mint will have to figure out a way to break a very negative dynamic that has been at work in recent years. Each successful new product as measured by a sellout engenders more criticism or even outright hatred for the Mint.

I have suggested fixed periods of order acceptance and then striking as many as are ordered.

This guarantees universal fulfillment. But it does not guarantee a profit to flippers.

The last time the Mint tried this, collectors complained that deliveries were not fast enough.

Collectors cannot have it both ways. They either can be never disappointed by sellouts as they wait a bit for deliveries while coins are struck to order, or they can all pile in at the stroke of noon Eastern Time as was the case yesterday and succeed in buying something – or nothing.

Failure to buy constantly being equated by some collectors to being the victims of some form of rigging is not healthy.

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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