I’m the newest member of International Coins and Currency, a 25 year old English graduate student who knows more about phonology and etymology than coins. In all honesty, I could give you a better history on the word “numismatics” than I could tell you what the value of a coin is. I’ve quickly discovered that here at International Coins and Currency, it’s the history that truly draws me. The story behind each coin fascinates me.
January is a special month at International Coins and Currency, because the 2013 American Silver Eagle bullion coin is finally released by the United States Mint. The American Silver Eagle dollar isn’t released until about the middle of January, and we tend to get numerous questions as to why that coin isn’t released until later. I’ll address that, but I’ll also address some of the interesting pieces of history surrounding the coin, and some of the benefits that come with owning it.
The first American Silver Eagle coin was minted on October 29th, 1986 at the San Francisco mint by the Secretary of Treasury, James A. Baker III. The story is that as Baker reached for the electronic button on press number 105, he turned to his audience and said, “I don’t need a pick and a shovel to start the San Francisco Silver Rush of 1986.” Although mass production of the coin began in October, the coin wasn’t released for sale until November 24th, 1986. The initial inventories of the 1986 coins sold out “immediately due to the phenomenal demand.” The coins have obviously been popular, since they’ve proved Baker right about the San Francisco Silver Rush of 1986.
The obverse of the coin is an historical design titled “Walking Liberty,” created by Adolph A. Weinman. The original engraving, exactly 70 years prior to the Silver Eagle dollar, was originally used on the half dollar of the United States, from 1916 to 1947. The reverse was created in 1986 especially for this coin by John Mercanti. It depicts a heraldic eagle with a shield and thirteen five-pointed starts. The eagle on the back, grasping an olive branch in its right talon and arrows in its left, echoes the Great Seal of the United States. The thirteen stars represent the thirteen original colonies.
The motto on the banner that the eagle is holding on the reverse of the coin, “E Pluribus Unum,” is a Latin phrase. Some of the amazing language we have on our currency is taken for granted – and I’m just as guilty of that as the next guy. The phrase, translated from Latin, means “out of many, one,” or “one from many.” The saying is thought to refer to the fact that the United States formed a single, cohesive nation as the result of the thirteen smaller colonies joining together. Having come a long way since 1776, it still holds true for America, our language, and our culture. For example, we’re known as “the melting pot.” Our culture is not just based on one culture, but many coming together. Even our language, the most spoken language in the world, is heavily influenced by other languages not just in regards to globalization, but because of our country’s diversity.
One of the main questions we get here at International Coins and Currency is why isn’t the Silver Eagle available yet? Truly, we understand that it can be frustrating; many countries release their collectible and uncirculated coins for the new year at least by the beginning of January, sometimes even as early as late November or early December. The truth is, the Silver Eagle is also produced late the previous year, but isn’t released by the U.S. Mint until the start of January.
Here’s where the process gets complicated. The Mint only releases these coins to authorized dealers, and does not sell them directly to collectors. These “primary” dealers have very specific regulations to meet. For one, the primary dealers have to be able to purchase at least 25,000 coins in a single order.
If you consider all of this – packing and distribution from the United States Mint, and then sorting, packing, and distributing from primary dealers to be dispersed to secondary agencies, and then sorting, packing, and distributing from the secondary dealers to be distributed to individual buyers – it becomes a little more apparent why these coins take so much time to release. There’s a lot of time that goes into just that process. Consider this, as well: the Mint sends out their coins, in orders of 25,000 or more, in boxes of 500 coins (called “monster boxes”). This means that those primary distributors are going to get at least 50 of these “monster” boxes, which they have to unpack and then immediately repack in their smaller orders.
There’s a lot of labor that goes into this – especially since everyone in the industry wants to make sure that their customers get what they want, and what they need – whether it’s an individual buying a single coin, a secondary agency buying a smaller wholesale quantity, or a primary distributor buying at least 25,000 – everyone wants their customers to be happy. (It is truly a labor of love!)
There’s another question we get frequently in regards to these coins – why are they so darn expensive? Why aren’t we simply charging the price of silver for these coins?
When the United States Mint releases their coins, they charge a premium to the primary distributors to cover the minting process and the distribution costs. In addition, the primary distributors have to charge a small premium for their costs, and then we have to charge a small premium as well.
There are also a few other reasons, besides the premiums, that these coins cost more than the cost of silver. One factor making these bullion coins desirable is that they can be used as investments. Only bullion coins are allowed in Individual Retirement Account investments (IRAs). Here’s a fun fact: When the global recession hit us in 2008, the demand from investors for bullion coins as “a hedge against inflation and economic downturn surged.” Also keep in mind that the legal face value of these silver dollars is exactly that – a dollar. Their intrinsic value, however, is much more significant. So don’t get desperate and use it to buy a pack of Rolos!
Just to add to the already incredible benefits of this coin, it is also considered the world’s best-selling silver coin. And we just received them yesterday, and they are available on our website, so check them out, here.
Amanda Paulger-Foran, for Iccoin.com
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