On November 6 the U.S. Mint began selling the 25th coin in the popular America the Beautiful five-ounce silver coin series that began in 2010. This coin honors the Everglades National Park in Florida, which is largest subtropical wilderness in the U.S. and is also a world heritage site, international biosphere reserve, and major wetlands first established as a national site in 1934. The design features birds that are seen in the area, including a large image of an Anhinga with outstretched wings and a smaller image of a Roseate Spoonbill.
As collectors of this series know well this is the special numismatic version that has a “P” mintmark for Philadelphia and is created using a vapor or sandblasting treatment that gives the coins a unique matte finish. These coins are also issued in a bullion format that does not receive special handling when produced and which tends to have marks on it because of the very large three-inch diameter fields. The bullion Everglades coin began shipping the second week of November at MCM.
In theory, the bullion coins are aimed at those who stack bullion silver, while the collector coins are intended for coin collectors. But in reality many people who collect these coins buys examples of both types, and I know many collectors building complete sets of both versions. In fact, bullion investors typically are still unaware of the coins, or do not buy them because they tend to prefer coins like American Silver Eagles. As John Maben told Numismatic News in a recent interview: “Pure bullion investors who are adding precious metals to their portfolios don’t buy the ATB 5-ounce coins.” The ATB series, which with the Everglades coins is ending its fifth year, is now almost half way through its planned cycle of eleven years. Since it began in 2010 it has seen many fits and starts. When the coins were first proposed, many people scoffed at them as large hunks of silver than resembled hockey pucks more than coins.
Then, when the Mint began selling the coins to its network of authorized purchasers, pre-order prices spiked and buyers complained to the Mint. And the Mint responded with something it has never done, which is to require its sellers to charge only a small premium over melt and sell the coins directly to consumers. Prices soon began to spike to even higher levels for pre-orders. The coins were not actually available until several months into 2011, and by the time most people received their coin, they had plunged in value. This turned a lot of people off from the series.
In the years since then prices for the coins have fluctuated greatly as silver prices rose and then fell, and mintages have been changed many times in anticipation of demand levels. For 2014 the collector coins have a maximum mintage of 30,000 units, and the bullion coins a max of 35,000. However, sales of both versions are often ended before the max is reached. In fact, this year’s Arches National Park coin sold out of the bullion version with only 22,000 sold, making that coin the third lowest in the bullion series so far after the 2012 Hawaii Volcano and Denali National Park coins at 20,000 each.
This leads to another interesting aspect to the ATB series that sheds some light on how the modern coin market works. Certain issues of both versions have acquired substantial secondary market premiums, and that has helped to keep collectors interested in these coins. But it is not always the lowest-mintage coins that have done best. For example, in the bullion series the Acadia coin is worth much more than the Denali coin even though Acadia has a mintage 25% higher at 25,400. And the Volcano bullion coin is worth about twice as much as the Denali even though both have the same mintage.
The reason for this situation is that certain designs are more popular than others with collectors, and that higher demand pushed prices up. Similarly, the 2012 Mount Rushmore design, which is very popular because it is such a well-known site, carries a higher premium than coins from last year that had lower mintages.
The Everglades bullion coin has already sold 22,000 pieces to distributors, which is an unusually high number for a coin that has not even started shipping. That is likely due to a combination of one of the most popular designs, and lower silver prices, which make the bullion coins a great deal at current prices in the $100 range.
The numismatic versions this year were priced at $154.95, although for the first four issues of 2014 buyers were able to get a 10% discount if they had subscriptions to the series. But when the Mint launched a new retail site recently they ended the subscription discount, although other discounts will be coming later, according to what Mint officials told me. In the meantime, the collector version of the Everglades is priced at over twice its melt value, a higher premium than at any time in the series to date. Buyers are eager to see if prices will be reduced, and many are expected to hold off on buying for now.
Since these coins really appeal to collectors rather than bullion investors they are also collected in graded form. The bullion coins are very popular in graded examples because of the quality issues frequently encountered with those coins. In addition, the bullion coins have a brilliant finish that often is so reflective that it qualifies as either proof-like or deep mirror proof-like. DMPL 69 slabbed coins are impressive and are widely collected, as are graded collector versions, especially in SP 70 (specimen finish).
Bullion buyers should consider the fact that with the exception of the 2011 coins that had three issues with a mintage over 100,000 all the other bullion issues have mintages that are very low for bullion coins. Those mintages have served as a hedge against fluctuating silver values, and that provides a measure of value protection for bullion stackers that more common bullion coins do not. Moreover, the coins cost less than the cost of five one-ounce American Silver Eagles in most cases, especially during times like now when the Mint has depleted its stock of eagles, which pushes premiums for them up.
Finally, it is encouraging that the collector and buyer base for these coins continues to grow. That bodes well for future demand for the ATB coins. Being such a long series of coins there will always be certain issues that standout for one reason or another whether it is the fact that the buyer visited the park, likes the design, or feels the mintage makes it more desirable.
Overall, the ATB coins offer bullion buyers low-mintage collectible coins to diversify their silver portfolios, and the also offer buyers collector coins made to very high quality standards that are much less expensive than similar-sized large silver coins from other countries.
||Louis is an award-winning numismatic journalist and writer specializing on modern coins. He has been writing a weekly column for CoinWeek since May 2011 called “The Coin Analyst,” which focuses primarily on modern U.S. and world coins and developments at major world mints. In August 2015 he received the Numismatic Literary Guild’s award for Best Website Column for “The Coin Analyst.” He is also a contributor to several magazines, including Coin World, where he writes a bimonthly feature;The Numismatist, the American Numismatic Association’s monthly publication, where he writes a monthly column on modern world coins; and American Hard Assets. He began writing about coins in 2009. He is a founding member of the Modern Coin Forum hosted by ModernCoinMart and has written articles for MCM since 2014. He has collected classic and modern U.S. and world coins since he was about 10 and first joined the ANA in the 1970’s. He was previously a congressional relations specialist and policy analyst at the Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress and a syndicated columnist and news analyst on international politics and national security for a wide variety of publications. He has been writing professionally since the early 1980s.|