by Patrick Heller
Passing fads eventually fizzle out. Remember Pet Rocks or Beanie Babies from a few decades ago? Well, numismatics fads also happen, eventually peak, then fizzle out in value.
Here are three examples from the 1960s. Remember when it was the cent that was the most important coin in U.S. proof sets? By the 1980s, the cent was almost unimportant while the half dollar in the sets was considered the key coin.
Longtime collectors may also remember the fad of owning BU U.S. coin rolls. Some of the BU nickel rolls from the early 1960s rose in value to more than 10 times face value. Today, most of these are trading close to face value.
Then there was the fad of foreign proof sets marketed in the mid-1960s onward by a company in Ohio. What happened is that the earliest issues quickly went up in value. That encouraged even more countries to sign royalty agreements for proof sets struck privately in America and marketed to collectors as potentially also going up in value because of their modest mintages. It turned out that this market was flooded with too many issues, which destroyed the value of almost all of them.
More recently, the market for U.S. proof gold American Eagles, individually or in sets, has collapsed in premium to the value of the gold content. Initially, these were promoted as “numismatic investments” that could be held in precious metals IRAs. Early mintages were so large that supplies on the secondary market eventually exceeded new demand to own such coins. Today most of these coins, with a few exceptions, can be acquired for prices close (and sometimes even less) to what you would pay for the uncirculated bullion issues.
What numismatic “rarities” are being marketed today that will end up being passing fads that will lose value in the future?
Part of the challenge and fun of numismatics is to try to identify future winners and losers. No one person has the insight to be completely accurate. With that caution, I have a few items that I think may be selling at higher prices today than they could go for in the future:
• Commonly available ultra-high-grade certified coins. Obvious examples include most U.S. gold, silver and platinum Eagles. Since virtually all specimens, certified or not, survive in extremely high condition, meriting grades of MS-69 or -70, or Proof-69 or -70, future collectors will be able to acquire lovely specimens without having to pay a high premium for the certification. Note, however, that a number of the early-year issues of U.S. silver Eagle dollars were purchased by the general public, meaning they were often not preserved as carefully as later issues. That means that a number of early silver Eagles in high grade are quite scarce today and expensive.
• Certified “First Strike” or “Early Release” coins. In the past, there have been multiple issues where the earliest coins struck from a new die had the sharpest details or the frostiest cameo appearance. Coin-striking technology today has largely made it possible to produce high-quality pieces throughout the entire life of the die. While past proof coins with a cameo surface may be significantly scarcer than non-cameo coins, the truth today is that virtually all proofs exhibit a cameo surface. Future collectors looking for well-struck coins will have no difficulty finding such specimens.
• Special finishes of the same coins issued in normal uncirculated or proof strikes. Whether it be reverse proofs, enhanced special proofs, burnished uncirculated pieces and the like, there will be many future numismatists that will simply want to own a set of the standard strikes. The other finishes may look beautiful, but the market for them will be much smaller than the regular issues.
• “Instant rarities.” Just because a coin has what appears to be a really low mintage does not necessarily mean that collectors of the future will desperately want to own it. I can offer a real-life example. My company was contacted years ago by someone who owned 32 specimens of a gold coin with a mintage of 100. The country was obscure, meaning there was no established collector base for it. The design was mundane. We offered 99.5 percent of gold value to purchase these coins. The owner said our offer was the highest he had received, but he just couldn’t part with them at that level. Low mintage issues from nations with well-established collector bases (such as the U.S., Australia, China, and many European countries) have better prospects of being good long-term values. However, that also depends on how many products a mint produces. The Royal Canadian Mint now strikes more than 300 different coins each year. Several are marketed as being low-mintage rarities. If only a few of these were ever produced, they might hold higher value in the future. But, as was with the foreign proof set fad that began in the mid-1960s, I suspect most of these Canadian issues will not hold the prices at which they were originally marketed. How many collectors do you know who have committed to owning every single Canadian coin issue coming out every year?
• Autographed certified coin inserts. Unfortunately, most people who have any connection to designing or otherwise being related to numismatics just are not that desirable to autograph collectors. It may be interesting that it also happens to have the autograph of the coin’s designer, a former U.S. Mint Director and the like, but I doubt many of them will trade at a premium to coins that don’t have such autographs.
This is just a preliminary list. I’m sure that others could come up with their own candidates to add to this list. And, even though most such issues that I list will end up being a passing fad, there will doubtless be occasional exceptions. As I said, discerning future winners and losers is part of what makes numismatics challenging and fun.
This “Viewpoint” was written by Patrick A. Heller, communications officer of Liberty Coin Service in Lansing, Mich., author of Liberty’s Outlook, a monthly newsletter on rare coins and precious metals subjects, and writer for Numismatic News. He was the American Numismatic Association 2018 Glenn Smedley Memorial Service Award, 2017 Exemplary Service Award 2012 Harry Forman National Dealer of the Year Award and 2008 Presidential Award winner. He has also been honored by the Numismatic Literary Guild, Professional Numismatists Guild, Industry Council for Tangible Assets and the Michigan State Numismatic Society.
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