As you might expect, I have been getting a steady flow of phone calls, letters and emails from collectors irate over not getting 25th anniversary silver American Eagle sets.
As this is written, nearly a month has passed since the 100,000 sets sold out on the afternoon of Oct. 27. There has been no pause in the flow of complaints. Many of them will end up in the letters section.
The Mint has not only struck a nerve, it seems to have stomped on it. I tongue-in-cheek suggested on my daily online blog that the Mint sell only boring coins until it gets its new website capabilities in the second half of next year.
After reading or listening to the complaints of readers, I am ready to upgrade my advice from joke to all seriousness: the Mint should not sell any coins that are likely to provoke another backlash of this magnitude until the website is ready.
Some of the complainants have made good presentations. Others have done a little piling on to embellish their points. A caller I had this morning made a point about the 25th anniversary set I had not yet heard nor did I expect to hear.
Everybody knows that the five-coin set contains two coins that can only be obtained by getting an anniversary set: This is the reverse proof from Philadelphia and the “S” mint uncirculated from San Francisco. These two coins add value.
The other three coins can be purchased by other means. They are the proof and uncirculated “W” silver Eagles and just a standard silver bullion American Eagle.
It was the standard silver American Eagle without mintmark the phone caller wanted to talk about. He asked me if there was any other way that this bullion coin could be distinguished from any other bullion coin. I said there wasn’t.
He asked if the Mint had ever sold a standard issue bullion coin in a collector set before. I hesitated as I began to answer. The caller jumped in and said, “They haven’t. I called the Mint and asked.”
Boiling down his point, he continued, so what’s to stop anybody from taking a standard bullion coin and putting it in a plastic holder and then offering to sell it online as a 25th anniversary coin?
Nothing that I am aware of, I answered – and that is what had gotten this particular caller’s goat.
After I had hung up the phone I wondered why anyone would be looking to pay a premium for a coin that cannot be distinguished from any one of 38 million other 2011 silver American Eagles. I don’t know, but anything is possible in theory.
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This does give me the opportunity to repeat a point I have made before. Collectors are too in love with original holders and certificates. At root, values are determined by the coins. They will survive long after the holders are gone.
But collectors still want 50-year-old proofs in original packs even as the packs break down and inflict harm on the coins. I have some sets I am afraid to take out of the original packs. Why? I will not be able to sell them easily. This is irrational long term, I know, but it has been smart while I have owned them.