By Christopher Sahar
As I learn more about numismatics and valuation, the more fascinating I find the phenomena of “Not Intended For Circulation” (NIFC) coinage. At many government mints, it appears NIFC coins are offered in greater abundance than circulating coinage. At the U.S. Mint, the only products that are found in circulation are the “P” and “D” quarters in the uncirculated America the Beautiful quarter set, rolls and bags of “P” and “D” America the Beautiful quarters and the cent, nickel, dime and quarters found in the uncirculated coin sets offered yearly.
Found in these sets are the Kennedy half dollars and Native American golden dollar coins that are relics of former circulating coinage, whose presence in everyday change is intermittent or extremely infrequent. There have been many years where the mintages of bullion and proof American silver Eagles available exceed the mintages of Kennedys and Native American coins and match those of some early and mid-20th century circulating silver coins. It has one asking, if the U.S. Mint were to raise the American silver Eagles’ face value from $1 to $25, would it be used in daily commerce occasionally? Judging from the Kennedy half dollars of the 2000s received from bank tellers and Native American dollar coins from vending machines (in one case a nice fresh 2019-P), NIFC coins have served this purpose.
I wonder if it would be an advantage for us collectors to be a little less possessive of our NIFC coins – at least the clad ones. For one, I think it would increase the chance of their long-term value increasing over a wider variety of grades. It is easy in our quest for the best quality to forget that the use of a coin is a significant factor in its value. Of course, condition, mintage and demand are the main ones. Yet, if the majority of coins each year were to be, as with American silver Eagle proofs of the past several years, in the MS-68 to -70 range, then how much room would there be for the long-term value to increase except purely from metal value? And, secondly, a fortuitous low mintage that is occasionally driven by adept marketing and fear?
For clad NIFC coins the situation is worse even if the population of coins grade in a larger spectrum of Mint State. All one needs to do is check the 2020 Blue Book Handbook of U.S. Coins to see that Kennedy half dollars from 2000 onward valued in MS-63 condition remain at a steady 65 cents. The publisher of Greysheet CDN values these Kennedys a little higher at its online retail price guide – about $1.50 at MS-63 for all years 2000 to present, and most years from 1971 to 1999. Note that only the 1982 and 1983 increase in value substantially at grades below MS-63. One possible reason is the U.S. Mint did not produce in those years uncirculated coin sets. Mint State coins geared for collectors to hold onto and not use could be procured only at Philadelphia and Denver Mint shops or private dealers (and no online store to order from as we have today). In fact, finding high quality coinage in pocket change from 1982 and 1983 is difficult since the U.S. Mint reduced the population of uncirculated coins for all denominations to save money during a particularly severe but short recession. Further evidence is found today with online dealers’ prices of Kennedy half-dollar uncirculated rolls. Although the price does increase, the further in the past one goes, 1982 and 1983 rolls continue to stand out with values ranging from $75-$140 per roll – quite impressive for clad coinage. So, I ask, why don’t collectors open a roll or two more often to let go of the lower grade coins into the wild?
What I suggest mainly applies to clad coins that are either NIFC coins that had been circulating or uncirculated strikes of circulating coins but NOT put into circulation such as the uncirculated America the Beautiful quarters from the San Francisco mint. If silver prices were to be regulated again as they were before the end of the 1960s, I would suggest doing the same. Even now, the quantity of bullion silver American Eagles bought in the millions makes it a strong candidate for some modest circulation use. Of course, adjustments would be needed. The face value would have to be increased to $25 as postulated earlier or the face value set higher than $1 but not as high as $25, and the silver composition reduced. One potential benefit is it may weaken the trend of collectors resubmitting ASEs of the past 5-10 years to grading agencies to attain a MS-70 grade since it is the only grade that will earn some premium over its bullion value in the secondary market. However, this is unlikely to happen, and who knows what may occur in the long-run − maybe those ASEs grading below MS-68 will one day earn a nice premium due to their very scarcity!
I have begun to release some coins from my NIFC rolls of American Innovation dollars into the wild but not before setting a few aside to sell and/or have for my own collection. I mean, there is a reason why the hobby is called coin “collecting.” For the remaining coins, they have been used to buy meals, train tickets, a book and tips (dollar coins are especially well-suited for this as there is no worry they will be blown away from a restaurant table). For some of the servers, cashiers and business owners I meet, I gently draw attention to the coin and design and they seem to enjoy the sight and discovery of a freshly minted coin. Yes, my profit from coin sales will lower and the process will be more time-consuming than if I had just sold the entire roll online for a year or two when the U.S. Mint stops selling them. But as a numismatist, I believe it is our responsibility to educate (albeit gently) those outside the hobby about what is taken for granted by many in society − that our coinage is more than transactional, it is a cultural and historical document, some of which worth keeping and much worth sharing. I hope my dollar coins are used or, someone smitten with one, propels them to discover numismatics and, possibly, enter into the hobby.
This “Viewpoint” was written by collector Christopher Sahar.
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