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5-ounce hot potato burns fingers

This article was originally printed in Numismatic News.
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Everybody but the Mint seems to know that when you find yourself holding a hot potato, the object is to throw it to someone else as quickly as you can to avoid burning your hands.

This rule seems to be serially violated when it comes to the America the Beautiful 5-ounce bullion coin program. The latest development is the Mint is going to sell the numismatic versions of the 2010 ATB coins directly to collectors starting with the Hot Springs design on April 28.

As quick as you can say “sellout,” the Mint will find itself in the usual position of handling numerous complaints from disappointed collectors who will not be lucky enough to be able to purchase one of the 27,000 pieces that will be available for that design.

Then the Mint will repeat the process with Yellowstone, Yosemite, Grand Canyon and Mount Hood.

Will we see the “offer, sellout, complain” cycle repeat through all five designs?

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Sadly, it seems likely.

Nothing whets the collector appetite for a purchase more than the possibility that the coin will sell out and then be worth more on the secondary market.

It doesn’t matter what the collector’s underlying long-term interest might be. It is like a game. When the Mint offers what seems to be a no-risk, profit-making opportunity, it will be taken.

What should the Mint have done?

It would have been better to offer the five coins together as a set as the bullion coins were. Then 27,000 sets would have been offered. All would have sold. Complaints would have been generated, but only once. End of story.

Then attention would have turned exclusively to the 2011 bullion coins, which with higher projected mintages of 125,000, will likely allow collector attitudes to simmer down.

Sure, the 2011 coins will still become available in higher numbers, but by dragging out the 2010 program, the Mint will be reminding collectors of why they don’t like the Mint.

I will get more headlines this way, but that is not a good thing. This program is poisoning attitudes. Some readers have called Authorized Purchasers crooks. They aren’t. Some accuse the Mint of making sweetheart deals. It doesn’t. One reader even telephoned me to complain about a letter another reader wrote.

Why? The reader who wrote said he had purchased two ATB sets, one set each from two Authorized Purchasers.

The reader on the phone told me the writer must be a liar.

I asked why. The claim is perfectly consistent with the on-the-fly sales conditions that prevailed.

The response? The writer must be a liar because the telephone caller had bought one set from an AP and his background was checked so thoroughly that the writer’s claim must be a lie.

Such venom among readers is not a good thing. It’s in all our interests to throw this 2010 hot potato as fast as we can.

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