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Taking issue with issue price

Most coin collectors are good with numbers. Dealers are even more so.

Most collectors also like precision.

With an increasingly messy marketplace, precision isn’t always obtainable.

A phone call to the office yesterday reminded me of our ever changing hobby environment.

I did not talk to the caller, but the person who did emailed me to ask how we should respond.

The caller observed that we regularly publish the issue price of proof sets. Why don’t we do the same for proof gold Buffalo coins?

This is a perfectly reasonable question.

The answer is messy and perhaps is unreasonable.

I am in the camp that likes to know issue prices. I remember many of them.

There is a certain satisfaction in being able to remember almost 50 years later that I paid $5 for a 1969 proof set and $2.50 for the 1970 mint set. Both I ordered from the Mint.

I do not have all prices memorized, so I find myself referring to price guides to refresh my memory from time to time.

In the case of clad proof sets, issue price is an easy concept.

The Mint sets the price, begins to offer them and by the close of availability collectors have purchased a given number of them all at the same issue price.

With the proliferation of Mint issues made of precious metals and highly volatile commodity markets, the concept of issue price becomes much more complicated. I probably should write that issue prices are much more elastic.

Metals prices change second by second during the trading day. The Mint has a weekly formula for setting the price of its precious metals coins.

The price I pay today could be higher or lower than what someone paid last week and next week the price could be yet another figure.

I have written many stories to announce the upcoming availability of new precious metal products that also say the price has not yet been determined by the Mint.

What is issue price?

For each collector, issue price is what their receipt says it is. But because receipt figures now vary so widely, publishing one figure and calling it the issue price is not really a useful option however much it offends my sense of precision.

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."