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Viewpoint: Rapid sellout shows need for fixes

By: Nathan D. Edington

Two of the coins in the 25th anniversary silver American Eagle set are only available in the set. Rather than strike more sets as this week’s poll question asks, a fair compromise would be for the Mint to strike 50,000 or 100,000 more of these unique coins, and then give collectors the chance to purchase them, one each per customer, one each per household per day, up to a limit of three of each per household.

There are legitimate collectors who waited and battled to secure the sets and it seems unfair to them to both excessively dilute the rarity of their sets, and potentially, significantly dilute future gains in value that these collectors stand to enjoy.

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The fact is that the barn door is shut at this point and attempting to belatedly correct the issues surrounding the ordering process for the sets does little more than to foster a climate of unfairness and ill will.

The Mint, however, in moving forward, must take action so that a debacle of this nature is prevented from ever having a repeat occurrence.

For “sensitive” issues such as these sets, telephone and Internet ordering systems (being the easily overtaxed beasts that they are) should be completely nixed, in favor of a first-come, first-served order-by-snail-mail system. Those fearful of having their paper order forms lost in the mail can always choose to use special mailing services, such as Certified Return Receipt Requested. There is always a risk of a mail order being lost or misdirected, but it is far less of a risk than a website failing or a phone tree collapsing. The first 100,000 orders to arrive – with proper payment and postmarked after a certain date – get filled and all is well.

Order limits need to also be revisited. It is extremely rare that a collector (notice I said collector) is interested in sinking $1,500 into five sets of identical coins. This reeks of speculation and is unfair to true collectors interested in simply having a single specimen in their collection.

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For this reason, the Mint should strictly enforce something along the lines of a “one set per customer, per day, up to three sets per household” policy for at least the first 50 percent of sets, and perhaps even as many as 80 to 90 percent. Then, if the Mint must do so, let the speculators and collectors interested in multiples vie for the remaining sets.

Furthermore, just as the Mint and Treasury are responsible for coin-related legislation such as the laws criminalizing the melting of pennies and nickels, there should be new laws that prohibit the sale of certain Mint products on the secondary market until a given amount of time has passed from the filling of the last available order.

This would eliminate the eBay “presales,” some of which have reached as much as $1,000 for a single set. It would also prevent rampant speculation on the part of dealers.

I personally have observed in recent years that the Mint seems to be fixated on the idea of fueling “investment.” Serving collectors has been relegated to an afterthought.

This can be seen in the immense number of modern commemoratives and special issues that have been produced by the Mint in recent years, many of which place high price tags on coins that just aren’t that special (to wit: $68 for a 1-ounce silver Eagle). This is unfortunate and troubling.

A numismatist, a keeper of coins for future generations, should be able to hold the Mint as a bastion – a Holy Grail, if you will – of numismatic excellence, and take pride in their purchases as numismatic treasures to be enjoyed, rather than the spoils of a fruitless afternoon arguing with a telephonic robot, a blank computer screen, or a myriad of eBay sellers.

After all, if the coin market is to become nothing more than a cut-throat, speculative environment, what is the difference between holding, say, a beautiful blast-white 1893-S Morgan dollar, and paying the equivalent price to simply hold a certificate of ownership of the same coin in some unspecified vault, and trading that certificate on a computerized exchange? Shall we all simply day-trade a rare coin ETF, and call it a day?

When a hobby crosses the line from a source of enjoyment to a source of stress, we must begin to ask questions. These are precisely the questions that the Mint must answer, sooner rather than later.

This Viewpoint was written by a Nathan D. Edington of Myersville, Md. See the Buzz page for more comments and Page 4 for the weekly poll results. To have your opinion considered for Viewpoint, write to David C. Harper, Editor, Numismatic News, 700 E. State St., Iola, WI 54990. Send email to david.harper@fwmedia.com.

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