August 17, 2022

America the Beautiful Silver Bullion Coins on Hold

The America the Beautiful Silver Bullion Coins should have been released on December 6, 2010, but instead the program has been delayed by the United States Mint. The delay was prompted by widespread complaints about secondary market prices, which had risen to more than two times the value of the 5 ounces of silver content.

As a bullion product, the coins were to be distributed through the US Mint’s network of authorized purchasers. A small group of primary distributors would be allowed to purchase the coins directly from the Mint at a price based on the market value of the silver content plus a premium of $9.75 per coin. Because of the expected high demand for the coins and the limited mintage available, the Mint urged the primary distributors to keep prices reasonable.

At least one primary distributor began offering the coins for sale at a premium of around $130 per coin over the market value of the silver content. Other bullion and coin dealers further down the distribution chain began offering the coins for even higher prices. The situation ultimately led to a flood of complaints, which caused the US Mint to halt deliveries to primary distributors while they determined the best course of action.

Based on a statement provided by the US Mint, they are currently, “evaluating these reports and collecting information in order to assess the appropriate course of action to make certain that our customers are best served in the distribution of the coins, and to ensure the widest possible availability, accessibility and affordability of these coins.”

The situation stems from the fact that each of the five 2010 America the Beautiful Silver Bullion Coins will have production of only 33,000 units each. The low mintage and high demand for the coins make them more akin to modern rarities than bullion coins. The other bullion coins distributed through authorized purchasers are produced in large quantities to ensure that they are priced and treated like commodities.

In order to accomplish their goals of “availability, accessibility, and affordability,” the natural course of action for the US Mint would be to distribute the coins directly to the public. The US Mint has sold low mintage numismatic products to the public in the past. They have imposed ordering limits or other procedures deemed necessary to achieve fair and widespread distribution.

Unfortunately, this option does not seem to be allowed under the law authorizing the bullion series, which calls for the coins to be distributed through the authorized purchaser network.

Other seemingly logical options such as selling the 2010 releases into the following year or completely scrapping the program for 2010 are also not possible under law. The Mint is required to strike and make the coins available for sale. The bullion coins may only be available for sale during the year in which the corresponding circulating quarter dollars are issued.

Keeping in mind the legal requirements, what options does the US Mint really have for the America the Beautiful Silver Bullion Coins?

  1. Distribute existing production through AP’s and require them to keep prices at a “reasonable” level set by the US Mint. The problem with this option is that the US Mint can only impose such pricing requirements at the primary distributor level. Most primary distributors don’t sell directly to the public, but resell to other bullion dealers. The retail prices would simply be marked up at the next level before reaching the consumer.
  2. Distribute the existing production through the National Park Service. The authorizing legislation allows the NPS to purchase the bullion coins directly from the Mint for resale to the public. Currently the NPS uses partner organizations or concessioners operating under contract to sell products at National Parks. Potentially, the NPS could create pricing and distribution guidelines for their concessioners to follow when offering the coins for sale. The US Mint could assist the NPS in formulating these guidelines.
  3. Increase the premiums charged to primary distributors to a higher level. It seems possible that the US Mint may have underestimated the costs of production anyway. One long time coin dealer stated that their calculations were likely based on much higher production levels, which would have allocated fixed costs over a greater number of units. The US Mint could recalculate the premium charged to primary distributors based on the actual limited production. This would prevent primary distributors from absorbing additional premiums, which were really just attributable to misallocated costs borne by the Mint.
  4. Increase the number of 2010 ATB Silver Bullion Coin minted to a level appropriate for a bullion product. The Secretary of the Treasury has discretion to establish the number of bullion coins available, so the number authorized could certainly be increased. However, with a complicated manufacturing process and less than one month to go, additional production is probably not be possible. Presumably, the low production level announced was the maximum number that the US Mint could reasonably produce before year end.
  5. Seek a change to the legal requirements for the coins. This would require some very prompt action from Congress, which seems unlikely. At mid year or earlier, the US Mint had asked for modifications to some of the more troublesome specifications for the 5 ounce bullion series. The bill containing these fixes (and a questionable modification to the Gold and Silver Eagle laws) was only recently passed in the House and Senate.

When the US Mint announced the halt of the America the Beautiful Silver Bullion Coin Program, I hope they realized that an easy solution was not apparent. Whatever choice they make to address the issues created by this year’s coins will likely upset someone. Even though they haven’t been issued yet, the coins have already been sold and resold on the secondary market based on a certain production and rarity perception.

Comments

  1. As much as I’d like to have a coin there’s no way in God’s green Earth I’ll pay the premiums they’re asking. Come on. I’ve seen one sight where you end up paying $47 an ounce. Not wise.

  2. I’d love to see them take option #2 and restrict the distribution channels to the National Parks.
    Only one of the coin types would be available at any particular park.
    One coin per park per customer per year.
    Max 5 per year from the parks to any single SSN.
    You want all 5?
    Next year you’d need to visit 5 parks.
    Or get creative.
    You take your entire family of 5 to the park and get 5,
    then trade amongst your extended family.

  3. They could set a mail order system with the NPS and limit the purchase to 1 per household. Perhaps the fairest access of all for all.

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