May 29, 2024

2009 Ultra High Relief Double Eagle Gold Coins

The US Mint recently wrapped up sales of the 2009 Ultra High Relief Double Eagle Gold Coin. The sales officially ended on December 31, 2009 and more recently some final details about total sales became available.

The coin was authorized directly by the United States Secretary of the Treasury back when it was Hank Paulson. The 2009 Ultra High Relief Gold Coin recreates the design from Augustus Saint Gaudens on a one ounce 24 karat gold coin issued in 2009.

The program seemed like it might run into problems since it was being launched amidst an ongoing scarcity of precious metals blanks, but for the most part, the offering went as planned.

The coins were originally offered for sale on January 22, 2009 and were priced at $1,189 each. The coins were limited to just one per household, but that didn’t stop collectors from ordering more than 40,000 coins in the opening five days of sales. A few coins from the initial orders shipped in early February, with a greater number shipping later in the month.

During the course of sales, the price of the coins at the US Mint slowly ratcheted upwards, as the price of gold rose. On November 25, 2009, the coins reached their highest offering price of $1,539 each. This represented a $350 increase from the initial price level. The last price in effect when sales ended was $1,489 per coin.

The ordering limit was also changed during the course of sales. After holding at just one per household for about six months, the limit was raised to ten coins per household in late July. This led to some increased buying activity as dealers established a position in the coins. The limit was raised again to twenty five coins and then removed completely.

The final sales total for the Ultra High Relief Double Eagle Gold Coin recently became available. During the course of the year, the US Mint sold 115,178 coins. This level of sales was achieved during a year when Gold Eagle bullion coins were subject to rationing for more than six months on two separate occasions, collectible gold offerings were canceled, and fractional gold bullion coins were delayed until a brief window in December. Somehow there was a steady supply of blanks all year for this premium priced gold coin.

2009 Ultra High Relief Gold Double Eagles: US Mint Can’t Deliver Their Own Hype

Back in December, I examined the upcoming 2009 Ultra High Relief Double Eagle Gold Coin offering from the US Mint. I expressed the opinion that the US Mint would have problems handing demand for the new coin. Several months later, the US Mint has had problems with virtually every aspect of the product, from the inability to obtain gold blanks to the botched production of paperback books.

The Ultra High Relief Double Eagle recreates the original design for the 1907 Gold Double Eagle created by Augustus Saint Gaudens. Each coin contains one ounce of 24 karat gold and is struck on a specialized blank, which is 50% thicker than the blanks used for most one ounce gold bullion coins.

The US Mint began publicly touting the coin as early as March 2008, calling it a “recreated masterpiece” and the “nation’s most beautiful coin.” US Mint Director Edmund Moy has called it “one of the best coins ever made in the world throughout all of history” and likened owning the coin to owning a Monet.

Perhaps the current environment of limited gold blank supply was not the best time for the high profile launch of a flashy gold prestige coin.

Pricing and Availability

Sales of the Ultra High Relief Gold Coins began on January 22, 2009. The US Mint tried to head off the anticipated high demand by setting an ordering limit of only one coin per household. This ordering limit remains in place. Coins were initially priced at $1,189 per coin. This price has been raised three times in the subsequent months to its current level of $1,339 per coin. When sales began, the US Mint indicated that orders for the coin might take six to nine months to complete.

Many people attempted to get around the order limitation by enlisting the help of friends and family with unique household addresses. Coin dealers were also forced to try to find a way to circumvent the ordering limit. They offered a gauranteed premium to anyone willing to order the coins for them. Some customers felt that the price was set too high, but complaints were not widespread. Many were dismayed about the prospect of waiting six to nine months for their orders.

Limited Gold Blank Supply

Several days after the coins went on sale, Edmund Moy revealed that so far the US Mint had only able to obtain enough blanks to produce 29,000 coins. Customers had ordered approximately this number of coins during the first day of sales. To date more than 48,000 coins have been ordered.

The implication is that anyone who had ordered on the first day might receive their coins soon, but customers who placed their orders after the first day, might be in for a long wait. There has been no indication of whether the US Mint has been able to procure additional blanks beyond the first reported batch of 29,000.

Shipping Delays and Miscommunications

During the weeks that followed, US Mint customers began receiving a series of emails which provided a confusing array of estimated shipping dates. Some customers received four or five emails which included a different shipping date each time. These shipping dates often conflicted with the estimated shipping dates available in customer account screens. Some of the earlier dates came and went with no coins shipped.

Amidst the wave of emails, the first coin actually received in hand was reported February 9, 2009 at online social networking site Coin Network. After this first report, many assumed widespread shipping of the first 29,000 coins would follow. As the days passed, it became apparent that only a small number of coins had actually shipped. The rest were inexplicably delayed.

Shipping Problems and Website Security Issues

Following the arrival of the first coin, US Mint customers began to report shipping issues for other US Mint orders, as well as security issues that were impacting Ultra High Relief Double Eagle coin orders. The US Mint’s shipping contractor had reportedly been leaving packages filled with thousands of dollars of gold coins on customer doorsteps without signature or any other confirmation of delivery. The US Mint’s website had an easily exploited security flaw which caused some customers to have their orders canceled without authorization.

The US Mint disabled some of the functions of their website to prevent the further unauthorized cancellation of orders. They never broadly informed customers of the underlying problems or the potential resulting delays.

Production Problems for the Companion Book

The final and most recent problem in the Ultra High Relief saga relates to the Companion Book, which the US Mint produced to accompany the gold coin. Apparently, a production problem caused the book covers to warp or curl.

Today, the US Mint sent an email to all customers announcing that they would resume shipping of the Ultra High Relief coins, and the companion books would be shipped separately. The email did not mention the shipping problems, website security problems, possible gold blank limitations, and overlooked the fact that customers had never been informed of a shipping delay in the first place. Besides the series auto generated emails with inaccurate shipping dates, this was the first email sent to customers to explain why they haven’t received their coins.

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Can the US Mint Handle Demand for the Ultra High Relief Gold Double Eagle?

For much of the year, the United States Mint has been touting the upcoming recreation of what they have called the “nation’s most beautiful coin.” Augustus Saint Gaudens’ design for the Ultra High Relief Gold Double Eagle will be recreated as a one ounce 24 karat gold coin available for sale to the public.

The Mint’s intention to recreate the coin was first announced this March, followed by an official unveiling in July, and a well publicized first striking in November. The US Mint intends to strike the coins throughout 2009 in quantities necessary to meet public demand. So far, coin collectors have responded enthusiastically to the upcoming offering. With the recent main stream attention on gold, there will likely be interest from the broader public as well. Is the United States Mint prepared to handle the potentially significant demand for the new gold coin?

This year the US Mint, as well as most other world mints, have had continuous problems procuring sufficient gold blanks to meet the incredible demand for bullion coins. The US Mint in particular has been forced to suspend sales of some gold bullion offerings and continues to distribute coins though an allocation program since they are unable to meet the full demand.

Next year the US Mint will be at odds with itself as it struggles to meet growing demand for their regular bullion coins and new demand for a potentially hot collectible coin.

To estimate how much demand the new coin might generate, we can look at the US Mint’s 2006 release of the 24 karat American Buffalo Gold coin. Similar to next year’s offering, the coin design was taken from an old collector favorite, in this case the Buffalo Nickel. The coins were offered as one ounce bullion coins and one ounce collector proof coins. Sales of the coins began in late June 2006. In just over six months, the US Mint sold approximately 337,000 bullion coins and 252,000 proof coins for a total of 589,000 ounces worth of gold. Sales of the regular 2006 American Gold Eagle bullion coins totaled only 261,000 ounces.

Even if only the collectible versions of coins are considered, this represents a 50% increase in demand for gold coins. Since the US Mint has been unable to meet the full demand for regular gold bullion coins this year, the prospects that they can handle the additional demand for a popular collectible gold coin on top of already robust gold bullion coin demand seem remote.

Another aspect to consider is that the Ultra High Relief Gold Double Eagles are struck on specialized blanks. The coin will have a thickness of 4 millimeters which is more than 50% thicker than most one ounce gold bullion coins. So far the US Mint has been procuring these specialized blanks from Gold Corp., a wholly owned subsidiary of the Western Australian Government, who operate the competing Perth Mint. Notably, the Perth Mint recently announced that they would be forced to cease taking orders for precious metals until January 2009 due to “unprecedented demand.” So, not only will the US Mint need to procure a large amount highly specialized blanks from an already tight market, they will need to procure them from a competitor struggling to meet their own demand.

Taken together these factors do not bode well for a smooth release of this “recreated materpiece.” I envision a frustrating series back orders, delays, and eventual order limitations for the new coin. The US Mint intended the Ultra High Relief Gold Coin to be “a prestigous example of the highest level of artistic excellence in American coin design.” Instead they might just end up with another gold related headache.