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What would Arnold Jeffcoat say?


Every so often my mind will drift back to my first boss at Numismatic News, Arnold Jeffcoat. He was a man of very strong opinions and you didn’t have to ask him to share them. They just came over the room divider with endless clouds of cigarette smoke.

I thought of him today as I was thinking about the U.S. Mint’s current product line-up. He considered anything that was sold by the Mint to collectors to be a form of tax that removed those hobby dollars from numismatics.

For example, if I buy an old proof set from a dealer on a bourse floor today, you can be sure the dealer will in turn spend the money I spent with him buying new inventory from another dealer. This, Jeffcoat believed, was a virtuous, ever expanding circle that helped numismatics.

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He thought the money the Mint collects from us never comes back in any form unless perhaps a Mint employee also happened to be a collector who spends some of his earnings in numismatics.

Jeffcoat’s opinion was formed in a time when basically there were two Mint products: proof sets and uncirculated coin sets that we all called mint sets.

The year I was given a spot here was 1978. The proof set cost $9. The Mint sold 3,127,781. The mint set was $7 and 2,162,609 were sold.

That meant the Mint basically received $28,150,029 for proof sets and $15,138,263 for mint sets for a grand total of $43,288,292.

Jeffcoat thought that $43 million would have been better spent at home in the hobby, so to speak.

I saw his logic, but I never quite agreed completely. I always said that some purchasers of proof and mint sets never set foot on a bourse floor and their money never would have entered numismatics otherwise. I still believe that.

However, with the ongoing expansion in the number of Mint products, I think Jeffcoat’s thinking is becoming more true.

As larger and larger sums of money are taken from the hobby for more and more forms of silver Eagles, I know those dollars aren’t coming from newcomers or buyers who would not be spending money in numismatics otherwise. Those funds mostly are coming from mainstream, one foot on the bourse, one foot in a shop, collectors.

That’s why I have asked the current deputy director of the Mint on more than one occasion if the Mint plans to prune some of the Mint’s current offerings in future years. I don’t think it is a bad thing to think this way.

Look at those 1978 mintage numbers. Current proof set and mint set figures are pale shadows of them. Sure, there are many other competitors for collector funds with silver sets and partial quarter and dollar proof sets, but now Jeffcoat’s theory that the Mint’s sales are coming at the hobby’s expense I think can be expanded to say that Mint sales are cannibalizing sales of its own other products.

Collectors have not got an infinite supply of funds to spend and when we chase after Eagles, other items suffer.

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