Thursday, March 25, 2010

Looks like the eagle will have to wait a bit longer to come back to its landing place on pocket change. The U.S. Mint unveiled five new designs for quarters to be minted in 2010, this time honoring national parks and sites. The Mint's America the Beautiful Quarters Program will continue through 2021 and eventually release 56 coins, one for each state, the District of Columbia and the five U.S. territories.

"Like how the 50 State Quarter Program educated a generation of children on geography and state history," said U.S. Mint Director Ed Moy during the unveiling at the Newseum in Washington, "we hope that the America the Beautiful quarters will reconnect Americans to our country's national parks and sites."

US MINT - The Yellowstone National Park quarter features the Old Faithful geyser with a mature bull bison in the foreground. Slideshow

While the head of George Washington will remain on one side, as it has since 1932, the other side will carry majestic views of public lands belonging to all Americans in the order the sites were established. The first quarter, to be released April 19, will honor Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas. The Mint plans to make five quarters per year for about 10 weeks each. The Secretary of the Treasury can extend the program for another 10 years, or 56 coins, or Congress could pass legislation authorizing a new program. If not, Mr. Moy said, "the quarter reverse will revert back to the American eagle in 2022."

The Mint's state quarters program attracted about 147 million collectors to the hobby and garnered the Mint $4.1 billion in revenue and $3 billion in seigniorage, or money that the government was able to use instead of borrowing, according to the Mint. It costs between 7 and 8 cents to produce a quarter, meaning the government makes between 17 and 18 cents in profit per coin, according to David L. Ganz, a past president of the American Numismatic Association.

How many of each quarter the Mint decides to make depends on the demand of commerce in the nation, it said. The Mint issued 34.3 billion state quarters. That sheer volume is the reason these coins will probably not be good long-term investments, say experts.

"Coins that are common now will remain common in the future," said Scott Travers, author of "The Coin Collector's Survival Manual." "Coins that are scarce will become scarcer and rare. Coins that are rare will become rarer."

In the short term, however, the program promises to be a bonanza for collectors willing to engage in a bit of arbitrage. Mr. Travers suggests a strategy of sifting through fresh bank rolls of coins, sending only the best to get graded and sell immediately in the secondary market.

Coins such as these graded as perfect can be sold for hundreds of dollars a piece, said Mr. Travers. But it is important to note that a grading service such as PCGS has never assigned a perfect grade, a mint state 70, to one of the state quarters the Mint strikes for circulation.

"A Rhode Island quarter graded mint state 69 has a value of $4,000," said Mr. Travers. PCGS assigned the grade of MS-69 to three of them. A New York quarter graded MS-69 is valued at $2,150; PCGS assigned such a grade to 13 of them.

Separately, Mr. Moy said the mint would start producing one-ounce silver coins for collectors as soon as it satisfies demand from bullion investors, as it must by law. Demand has soared in recent years. In 1996, the Mint sold 3.6 million ounces of one ounce silver coins; in 2009, it sold 30.5 million ounces. "When this happens," Mr. Moy said, "we will make silver proof eagles."


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