These are the times that try collectors’ souls. Congress, despite all of its faults, has passed some pretty good coin legislation in the recent past, creating several series of circulating commemoratives. The state quarter program was wildly successful, creating millions of new collectors. Based on this success, along came the Presidential dollar series, the Native American dollar series, the catch-up DC/Territories quarter series and the Lincoln Bicentennial cent series. It is these last two that are trying our souls.
The Federal Reserve System, our nation’s central bank, is in charge of distributing these coins. However, with the current economic downturn decreasing the demand for new coinage, the Fed is not ordering these coins, because the needs of commerce are already satisfied. Well, how about the needs of all these millions of collectors who want the coins? What about the will of Congress who mandated circulating commemoratives available at face value? They are being totally ignored. The Fed should know from the statehood quarters experience that these commems will be instantly snapped up, never to see commercial use again, creating a nice profit for the national coffers. But obviously they have ignored this lesson of recent history.
As a result, it is virtually impossible to pick up the new quarters and cents from the local bank. We were fortunate in southern New Hamphire because the D.C. quarters showed up in quantity in Boston, and the Puerto Rico quarters came here. Frustratingly, there is no guarantee that any of the other territories will be seen here or anywhere else. Recent reports in the numismatic press say that orders for Guam, U.S.Virgin Islands, American Samoa and the Northern Marianas Islands will be minuscule, so small that there may be less than one coin per new collector. If this trend continues, the National Parks quarter series starting next year is doomed to failure.
It is even worse with the Lincoln Bicentennial cents. We have reports of isolated circulation finds, but it seems that nobody has been able to get them from the local bank in any decent quantity. I have alerted all the banks in my area to be on the lookout since they will just show up in a regular shipment with no fanfare, if and when they do show up.
And what of collector organizations that use these coins in their fund-raising programs? At Central States, I received a wonderful wood encasement from the Elgin Ill., Coin Club featuring the Log Cabin cent. The club had to pay $6 per roll for the coins, which cuts into the funds raised by the program. Encased Collectors International is offering encasements of the 2009 cents and quarters for a higher-than-normal cost with a limit of one per member. These are just more examples of how the needs of collectors are not being met by our public institutions.
What is truly ironic about this whole situation is that the coins nobody wants are readily available at face value in unlimited quantities. Those are the dollar coins, in the Native American and Presidential series. Just send the Mint some money and you get the exact amount back in dollars with free shipping. The Mint says it does it this way because there are no other distribution channels so they have to fill the slack. Since the “normal” distribution system is now disrupted, why can’t they do that with the rest of the 2009 circulating commems?
Bob Fritsch is a collector from New Hampshire.
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