February 13th, 2013 |
The United States Mint produced the first American Gold Eagles in 1986. Under the authorizing legislation, these coins were struck in a composition of 22 karat gold or 91.67% purity. At the time, other notable gold bullion coins contained the same purity. However, as the years went on, other world mints introduced bullion coins with greater fineness. In some instances these became more desirable for precious metals investors.
In 2006, the United States Mint introduced their answer to the question of bullion purity. The American Gold Buffalo was launched with a required composition of 24 karat gold or 99.99% fineness. The response from investors and collectors was immediate adulation. Sales were brisk in the opening days for the bullion coins and would surpass 300,000 by the end of the year. The proof version saw a similar level of success, with collectors ordering the coins heavily despite a high mark up to the intrinsic value.
The Gold Buffalo has now become a mainstay of the Mint’s stable of precious metals offerings. The one ounce bullion version has been released each year without fail and has typically sold 200,000 or more pieces per year. For each year, the Mint has also offered a one ounce proof version, which has experienced typically robust sales during the period of availability.
For a single year, the collectible line of offerings was vastly expanded by adding fractional weight coins and uncirculated versions bearing the “W” mint mark. The timing of the release unfortunately coincided with a severe economic downturn, which resulted in limited sales. As is often the case, these limited sales resulted in low mintages, which became desirable to collectors after the coins sold out. These 2008 Proof and Uncirculated Gold Buffalo coins are now viewed as important and expensive key dates to the ongoing series.
January 15th, 2013 |
The Capped Bust style obverse design was introduced for the half dollar denomination in 1807. The design featured a rendition of Liberty wearing a cap secured at the base with a ribbon which is inscribed “Liberty” and tresses falling to her shoulder. Her lower neck area is partially draped with a gown, secured by a broach at the shoulder. A pattern of seven and six stars appear to either side. The reverse features a heraldic style eagle with inscriptions surrounding.
Mintages were relatively high since the half dollar represented the largest silver denomination produced at the time, creating ample demand for production. Collectors generally seek to specialize by pursuing die varieties of the series. Since the stars and inscriptions were all applied by hand, multiple varieties exist for each date, many of these are rare and can command significant premiums.
Some of the more famous varieties include over dates whereby older dies were punched with new digits to reflect a different year. The underlying numbers are still visible and serve to identify the varieties. The 1817/4 over date can sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars for the few pieces that have been identified and preserved by collectors.
The steam power press was introduced starting in 1836, which resulted in a half dollar of smaller diameter, which was also slightly redesigned. Staring in this era of mass production, varieties became transitional in nature, such as when the edge was changed from lettered to reeded and for the final date of the series when a different reverse design was utilized on a small number of coins.
August 28th, 2012 |
Many collections have been formed by those drawn to the annual set offerings of the United States Mint. Traditionally, this has included one collection of uncirculated coins and another containing proof coins. These standardized products had been created after early years of sporadic production and varying formats offered prior.
The uncirculated coin set consisted of one (or two) examples of each coin struck for circulation during the year. Initially, these came packaged in cardboard holders and were priced at a modest premium to the actual face value. These coins were simply pulled from regular production runs at the mint facilities and put together as a complete set. Over time, the product would slightly evolve, with the number of coins reduced to a single example from each mint, and packaging changed to a soft plastic enclosure.
Proof coinage is produced under different circumstances from regular circulating coins, and as such there has always been demand and fascination for these pieces from collectors. Initially, the coins were struck and offered individually on a one-off basis to collectors. In later years, it also became possible to order a complete set containing one of each denomination. Starting in 1950, the proof coins could essentially only be ordered within these complete sets.
As the popularity of coin collecting grew, so did orders for the annual sets. Speculation may have also played a part, as some of the earliest sets began to rise in value due to the low mintages and higher demand. This culminated in 1964, when nearly 4 million sets were produced.
After a pause in production, the offering of these collector sets resumed in standardized format in 1968, and has continued ever since. There was only one brief interruption when federal budget concerns caused the elimination of the uncirculated sets in 1982 and 1983.
Besides providing an enjoyable pursuit and possible appreciation in value, collections of this sort also provide a wonderful glimpse of history.
April 13th, 2012 |
The slow decent of the usage of the half dollar denomination within circulation can be seen by the declining mintage figures for the latest series to bear the mantle. Launched in 1964, the Kennedy Half Dollar was originally struck in 90% silver. For the first year of release demand was high as members of the public wanted a memento to their fallen leader. The US Mint facilities at Philadelphia and Denver would strike more than 400 million coins on a combined basis.
Mintage of the denomination continued in the following years, but in a composition of 40% silver. The total mintage never reached the amount of the initial year, until 1971. At this time, the composition was switched to copper nickel clad and more coins were needed to replaced the silver versions which were being withdrawn from circulation. The mintage this year reached more than 450 million.
For the next few years, production levels subsided until 1976. Coins bearing this date feature a special bicentennial design and were actually struck during both 1975 and 1976. These coins reached a mintage of more than 500 million, which would prove the peak production for the entire series.
The Kennedy Half Dollar mintage levels declined in the following years, never exceeding the 100 million mark at any particular mint. In 1987, the coins were struck in quantities of less than 3 million, since they were not needed for circulation but only struck for government issued mint sets.
Although this might have seemed like the beginning of the end, the US Mint continued to strike the half dollars for circulation in small quantities for more than a decade. The curtain finally closed in 2002, when production was once again restricted to government issued sets and special bags and rolls that were also sold at a premium. Since this time, no half dollars have been struck for release into general circulation.
June 21st, 2011 |
Charles E. Barber was the sixth chief engraver at the Philadelphia Mint. He had assumed his position in 1879, following the passing of his father, who had been the previous chief engraver. Charles Barber is credited with many circulating coin designs of his era, as well as commemorative coins, and a number of important patterns. For a period of 25 years, his designs dominated the smaller silver denominations.
When Barber took his position, the designs for the dime, quarter, and half dollar featured the same image of Seated Liberty, which had been in use for forty years. The public was expressing some dissatisfaction for these design and many wanted an update. In the following years there would be efforts to create new designs, although Barber’s intention always seemed to create the designs himself.
The Director of the Mint opened a public competition to solicit new designs and received about 300 drawing. A panel judging these drawings, which included Barber, did not find any satisfactory enough for use. The Director told Barber to prepare the new designs, which is what he had wanted all the time.
For all three denominations, a large head of Liberty appears, facing right. She wears a cap with a wreath composed of an olive branch including thirteen leaves. The word “United States of America” appeared above, with the date below. The Barber Dimes featured an agricultural wreath on the reverse, which was not very much different than the one found on the previous series. The words “One Dime” appeared within the wreath.
The Barber Quarters and Half Dollars featured a heraldic eagle on the reverse. This image was newly created and included thirteen stars above and the eagle held an olive branch and bundle of arrows. A ribbon in the eagle’s beak included the motto “E Pluribus Unum”. Additional inscriptions included “United States of America” above and the denomination “Quarter Dollar” or “Half Dollar” below.
The first of the new dimes, quarters, and half dollars were produced in 1892. The public’s response was rather tepid, as the designs lacked any unique artistry. After a period of twenty five years, once again there were calls for new designs. This time the results would be decidedly different.
April 4th, 2011 |
Even though the Buffalo Nickel is very popular with collectors today, apparently it was not viewed as such by official of the United States Treasury Department. At the time, the law provided that the designs of circulating coins would be eligible for redesign after a period of twenty five years. After exactly that duration, a competition was announced to create a new design for the five cent piece.
The stipulations for the design were that an authentic portrait of Thomas Jefferson was to appear on the reverse and a representation of Monticello would appear on the reverse. The prize for the winning design would be $1,000. A total of 390 different designs were judged by US Mint Director Nellie Taloe Ross and three sculptors. The winning design was by Felix O. Schlag.
His obverse design featured a left-facing bust of Thomas Jefferson, and the reverse featured an angled view of Monticello with some shrubbery and trees visible. The Fine Arts Commission did not approve of his reverse design and replaced it with a front view of the building without any trees. The lettering on the obverse was also changed from a stylized font to a more formal one.
The Jefferson Nickels would first be issued in 1938. Schlag obtained 150 brilliant proof examples of his work and put them into plaques that were numbered, autographed, and notarized. The plaque also included images of his original reverse design. He managed to sell surprisingly few of the special plaques, but gave a few away. Every now and then one of these original plaques will come onto the market and generated significant collector interest.
February 15th, 2011 |
When the authorizing legislation for the America the Beautiful Quarters Program was signed into law, many collectors were undecided about the prospects for the over-sized silver bullion coin program that would run concurrently. The idea for 5 troy ounce silver coins with a diameter of 3 inches was something that had not been attempted by the United States Mint or other world mints. It turned out to be a production challenge.
The US Mint was required to purchase a new coining press to mint the America the Beautiful Silver Bullion Coins. Once installed, they also have to test extensively until they could strike the wide diameter coins and apply the legislatively required edge lettering, without crumbling the edges. A source for the very specialized planchets also had to be arranged. All of the mentioned issues led to production delays.
When the coins finally entered production, it was anticipated that 100,000 of each design would be struck. This would make for a total of 500,000 America the Beautiful Silver Bullion Coins. While far below the levels of the US Mint’s other bullion products, it was expected that this amount would satisfy most of the demand from precious metals investors and collectors.
Just a few weeks before the launch, the US Mint indicated that only 35,000 of each design would be struck for bullion coins, resulting in 175,000 coins overall. At a fraction of the originally anticipated mintage, strong demand and pricing ensued. This would eventually result in special rules imposed for the distribution of the coins, which made it somewhat complicated for the average collector to purchase them.
What lies ahead for this unusual series of silver bullion coins? Will the early excitement fade when mintages of subsequent issues are higher? Or will this solidify the mystique behind the low mintages of the first five issues?