Over the last few weeks, the US Mint used tried-and-true marketing techniques to generate interest in their American Eagle Silver coins – limited time offer, limited quantities, etc. Last Thursday, October 27, the US Mint offered their 25th anniversary American Eagle Silver Coin Set of five coins. Remembering five years ago, their 20th anniversary set with three American Eagle Silver coins was also a popular set.
Those marketing techniques worked. A buying frenzy started on the US Mint’s web site as soon as the five-coin sets became available. Some buyers enjoyed success; others watched a blank browser screen for their order never to be accepted.
In their resulting frustration, some people believe the US Mint favors coin dealers when they offer these limited-availability sets.
That’s just not true.
Many coin dealers accessed the US Mint’s ordering site beginning at noon when the American Eagle Silver Coin five-coin sets first became available.
They weren’t successful either. The coin dealer bulletin boards were full of story after story of failed orders.
Now, perhaps people think the US Mint plays favorites with coin dealers because the bullion American Eagle silver coins are only available through coin dealers. But, even then, not all coin dealers have access to those bullion coins. And no, the US Mint does not favor the coin dealers who do order the bullion coins for these types of special American Eagle sets.
In the case of the American Eagle 25th anniversary set where some individuals and coin dealers were successful and some were not, the US Mint’s real favoritism may be to internet browsers.
This speculation is the result of an accidental experiment.
After three hours of trying to place an order for the American Eagles on two separate computers running Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, neither system had passed the blank “working” screen. A technical, but non-numismatic, friend agreed to help by using two of his computers to access the US Mint’s ordering system.
Like the previous two three-hour computers, one of his computers used Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. Another used Google’s Chrome internet browser. His Microsoft IE got stuck, but the Google Chrome gained access immediately.
Now, does this mean the Chrome browser performed better? Or, does it mean the Chrome session just happened to hit a split-second opportunity into the US Mint’s ordering system?
Perhaps it’s a mix of the two. The accidental experiment was interesting but not sufficient to draw conclusions.
If you tried to order the new five-coin sets and were not successful, you are by no means alone. Many people including coin dealers are frustrated with the US Mint’s ordering system.
With today’s technology, we think about how easy it is to order from companies, like Amazon, from the comfort of our homes. We get frustrated when the ordering process is just not that easy on the US Mint’s web site.
But, as one coin dealer commented, “Why should the US Mint beef up their ordering system for one or two big days per years?”
The frustrated answer is that technology is cheap these days, relatively speaking. The US Mint should be able to increase their capabilities just prior to their big ordering days and decrease the technology back to normal levels afterwards. Making the buying process easier makes for a happier customer base and an increase in overall sales.
The technology to do that exists and has existed for several years. It’s not free, but it’s not that expensive either.
On the other hand, the US Mint is part of the US Government. The US Government has a myriad of rules and policies for purchasing anything including technology.
When you think about all of the administrative hoops the US Mint would have to jump through or go around to increase their capabilities for a couple of peak buying days, you can begin to understand why they don’t.
Yes, we are their customer, and they should make it easy for us. But, through our tax dollars, we also pay their wages, buy their equipment and procure their utilities.
From a taxpayer’s point of view, an increase in technology for their ordering site would include additional employees and time, more computing servers for the ordering system and increased telecommunications channels – at a minimum.
How much would all of that cost? For a corporation, it could be in the low six digits. For the government, it would probably be upper six digits, if not over a million dollars.
When you put it like that, a taxpayer can tolerate a little frustration!
Were coin dealers favored by the US Mint?
No, absolutely not.
Were internet browsers favored by the US Mint’s technology?
That’s not known, but it sure raises a good question.
Before the next big US Mint marketing blitz, it would be a good idea to add Google’s Chrome and Mozilla’s Firefox browsers to your computer.
It could mean the difference between success and failure.
Recently, someone solicited our opinion about a specific traveling gold and silver buying group that is advertising their activity in the north Georgia area.
Without actual experience with this traveling buying group, we cannot provide specific commentary about their actions. But, among the numismatic community, we’ve heard sad stories about traveling buyers for quite awhile.
As noted in the links below, there are news reports and many angry comments across the web based on other people’s experiences.
BBB warns Treasure Hunter Roadshow could be pirates for your possessions�
CoinForum Topic: International Coin Collectors Association�
SCANDALOUS: Caveat Emptor at Antique Treasure Hunter’s Roadshow�
The Investigators: Gold Diggers
Of all the various reports about traveling gold and silver buyers in the consumer media, the best we’ve seen is by Jerry Jordan, managing editor of The Examiner in Beaumont TX. (We first linked to his main article on June 14, 2010 in Caution: Gold and Gold Buyers.)
His article of January 2010 asks the question, “Treasure hunters or gold diggers?“ Mr. Jordan teamed with a local Beaumont coin enthusiast, Mike Fuljenz, to research the traveling buyers’ promises. His experiences are detailed in the article.
Since that time, both Mr. Jordan and Mr. Fuljenz have won national awards for their efforts, which are ongoing, to bring attention to the less than stellar practices of the traveling buyers.
On the ANA’s web site, the American Numismatic Association cautions, “The ANA urges everyone to be wary of cold-call solicitations or mobile offices, set up in temporary locations such as motels, offering instant cash for gold and silver coins. Be patient, be informed and don’t let anyone pressure you into making impulsive decisions.” Following their advice, they provide a checklist for buying and selling gold and silver.
At our monthly coin show, we provide a venue with many experienced coin dealers who buy, sell and trade in coins, currency and precious metals. Some of these coin dealers have store front shops, some have online shops and others set up at various coin shows around the area while holding a different “day” job.
There are many differences between a coin show and what these traveling buyers do, but two are key. First, the coin dealers at a coin show offer coins, currency and bullion for sale to numismatists and investors visiting the show.
Another big difference between a coin show and the traveling buyers: each dealer is in competition with every other dealer in the room. Even though the dealers have varied specialties and interests, there is enough overlap to make each feel the pressure of competition.
That competition is perhaps the most important differentiator. Our dealers examine valuables and offer free, verbal appraisals — that are good during the show — for the items in which they are interested.
With all of the competition on the bourse, each dealer will make the best offer they can while maintaining the profit margin they need for their business. People can obtain several appraisals — all in one place — and decide if they want to sell at the show or keep their collectibles for another opportunity later.
Based on the news reports and the commentary around the internet, traveling gold and silver buyers prey upon the uninformed and the desperate.
The saying “the best defense is a good offense” applies when you go to sell your valuables. Make sure you learn as much as you can about your treasures and take the time to obtain quotes from multiple sources. Do your homework and don’t let anyone pressure you into selling before you are ready.
Sit back, and let me tell you a tale. The story is fiction to protect the innocent and the not-so-innocent, but the core elements of the story quite frequently happen in coin shops around the country.
Ralph is working behind the front counter in his coin shop when a customer presses the button requesting entry into the shop. Ralph pushes the switch releasing the lock and allows the customer to enter.
As the customer walks with a purposeful swagger toward the counter, Ralph says, “Good morning, what can I do for you today?”
George, the customer, pulls a coin from his front pocket, places it on the counter and belligerently replies, “I’ve researched this coin on the internet and found it is worth between $1000 and $1800. I want to sell the coin, but I won’t take less than $900 for it.”
Rather than respond to George’s aggressive tone, Ralph picks up the coin and looks at it, first with regular eyesight, then with a strong loupe. Ralph closely assesses both the obverse and reverse. Then he says, “OK, you’ve got me. I’ll pay you $900 for the coin.”
George takes the money and exits the store. He smiles and thinks, “I showed him. I did my research and got the price I wanted for my coin.”
Ralph waits until George leaves before he puts a big, happy smile on his face. You see, George didn’t do enough research to know that his coin was a rare variety and worth several thousand more dollars than the $1000 to $1800 range he determined his coin’s value to be.
Now, before you get angry at Ralph for “taking advantage” of George, think about this from a business perspective. At no time did George ask Ralph what his coin was worth. George declared the price he wanted for the coin, and Ralph agreed to pay.
Ralph, as a businessman, is not obligated to pay a higher price than a vendor places on his goods. In this case, George was a vendor selling his goods, a coin.
If you’re still miffed about George’s plight, put the shoe on the other foot for a minute. You visit a coin shop and see a coin you want at a really good price, a price much less than you expected to pay. Would you offer the dealer a higher amount of money or would you buy the coin at the price listed? Or, would you try to negotiate with the dealer to reduce his price even further? Be honest with yourself.
Now, let’s get back to the lesson to learn from George’s experience. He actually offers two lessons – one from a good practice and one from a bad habit.
George’s good practice includes research to determine the collectibles’ worth before attempting to sell them. But, George negates his research with the bad habit of thinking he learned and knows all he needs to know. He should have asked Ralph what amount he would offer to buy the coin. And, even if Ralph countered with, “What do you think it is worth,” George should have said, “I’ve done some research, but I’m interested in your offer.”
Coin dealers won’t offer to buy at market rates. They do have to make a profit. But, most coin dealers in their shops and at coin shows offer fair prices for rare coins. The research you do helps you make sure they offer fair prices.
Ralph and George are fictional characters, but many variations of this same story happen frequently. If you plan to sell, do your research beforehand, then ask the dealer what he will pay for the coin(s).
At the show Sunday, dealers displayed slabbed 1916D Mercury Dimes.
Interestingly, there’s a story going around coin circles about someone taking Mercury Dimes (not a 1916D, we hope) to a coin roadshow somewhere - one of those that advertizes for you to bring your gold and silver coins and jewelry to sell to them at their rented hotel rooms.
It seems this person with the Mercury Dimes was told that the dimes were not valuable since the “W” mint mark (for the US Mint location in West Point, New York) was not valid on Mercury Dimes. Well, it’s true that the West Point, New York mint did not mint coins during the Mercury Dimes era, 1916 through 1945.
In fact, the West Point location began as a storage facility for silver in 1937 and became known as the “Fort Knox of Silver.” It did mint cents from 1973 to 1986, but it did not become an official mint until 1988. Still a storage facility, today the West Point Mint strikes gold, silver and platinum coins for commemorative and bullion sales.
Oh, in 1996, the West Point Mint did mint a dime, but it was an uncirculated Roosevelt Dime for inclusion in that year’s mint set.
But, why would the hotel buyer claim the Mercury Dimes had “W” mint marks?
Well, today’s coinage generally has the mint mark located very prominently on the front, obverse, of the coin, primarily near the date. For the Mercury Dimes, the mint mark was placed on the reverse near the edge and just to the right of the “E” in “ONE.” Actually, the mint mark can be difficult to find without a loupe or magnifying glass.
For the Mercury Dime, the artist’s initials are easy to see on the obverse just to the right of Liberty’s neck. Of course, the initials are “AW” for Adolf A. Weinman. Lacking numismatic knowledge, the hotel buyer mistook the artist’s initials for a mint mark. Though, we’re not sure what he thought about the “A” in the “AW.”
Most people who know and understand coins will not take coins they want to sell to a hotel buyer. Hotel buyers are much different from hotel coin shows. Coin shows have many different, knowledgeable dealers with a variety of interests who sell and buy at the show. Hotel buyers, on the other hand, represent a company or companies who only buy. They also only buy at rates where they can make a significant profit even after they pay their hotel, travel and business expenses.
If you plan to visit a hotel buyer to sell gold or silver coins or jewelry, make sure you research what you are selling such that you know an approximate worth and can readily accept or refuse their offer.
Plus, if you spend a little time on your education, the hotel buyer’s comment about the “W” mint mark on the Mercury Dimes would easily be recognized as nonsense.
Oh, by the way, if one (or more) of those Mercury Dimes was a 1916D, then you would want to sell to someone who understands the numismatic values not just the silver melt values. A low-end 1916D could be worth $1000, and a high end could be over $40,000.
The late Jim Rohn said, ”Formal education will make you a living; self-education will make you a fortune.” In this case, a little self-education could “save” you a fortune.
It looks like gold is on the way up.
Today’s end of New York trading showed the per troy ounce price was slightly down from the Friday close. Friday was $1227.50 and today’s last entry was $1221.40.
But, over the weekend, dealers began increasing their offers to buy proof gold at $2000 per ounce. Different from bullion and from standard issue gold coins, proof gold with its mirror finish and lustrous design adds a premium above bullion prices. Most interesting is that this dealer to dealer pricing began increasing due to the after market activity.
For the general public, these increases in prices – both bullion and proof - will yield an increase in the “we buy gold” advertisements – on TV, on the radio, on billboards, in newspapers, on the internet, and where they think they will get the most results from their advertising dollars.
If you want to sell gold, either coins, jewelry or other scrap gold, please be careful. Asking several different buyers what they are paying is a good idea. Just because someone tells you they are the high buyer does not make it so.
Rather than stand on the soapbox, take a look at this excellent article from earlier this year. The Examiner in Southeast Texas researched the buyers and detailed their findings in: Treasure hunters or gold diggers?
The article is rather long, but if you need or plan to sell gold (or silver) in the near future, the time reading will be well-spent.
Another question from the show this weekend came from a novice to coin collecting, buying, selling and trading.
Why do coin dealers and collectors tell us not to clean our old coins?
Let’s say your old coins look dull and dirty, but their design shows clearly with very little wear on the either the head’s design, the tail’s design, the year or the rim. To the untrained eye, the coin doesn’t look pretty and shiny. But, to the numismatist, that old coin without very much wear may be a rare (read valuable) find in that condition.
If you’re selling an old collection, your best customers – the ones who will pay the most – are the coin dealers and numismatists. Numismatists look for coins as close as possible to their original state as when the coins left the Mint. This does not mean they need to be shiny, instead they need their original design clarity.
What happens when you clean coins? Whether you polish them with a brush or abrasive cleanser, you remove metal, thus part of the design clarity gets polished away.
“Oh, but,” you’re thinking, “what about those commercials on TV about dipping coins into liquid cleaner where they come out shiny?” Even dipping coins removes part of their exterior metal – that is the design – as well.
Now, what if your coins are not that nice. They’re both tarnished and worn. In that case, their value resides in their silver content not in their numismatic value. Whether cleaned or dirty, their value exists in their melt value for the silver.
You can save yourself the time and effort for cleaning them. It doesn’t help. Plus, if you are really industrious and clean them too much, the already worn coins may not weigh as much as expected. Therefore, you may not receive as much for the coins’ silver content.
Now, having a little fun…
Do you know how parents get frustrated with their children’s “why” questions and respond “because I said so?”
Similarly, the short answer to the “why shouldn’t I clean old coins” question is “because the numismatists said so!”
Closing on a serious note, do not clean your old coins. At best, you waste your time. At worst, you dramatically decrease their resale value from numismatic rare valuables to just melt (for silver) or to just pocket change (for clad coins).
Just remember, “ugly” is in the eyes of the beholder. It’s not important what you think is pretty, but it is important what the numismatist thinks.
But, the computer woes belong to the government – the Department of the Treasury to be exact.
Today’s post was going to comment about the dollar bill. As such, a trip to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing web sites for a down-loadable picture of a bill was in order.
After several attempts to access their web sites, a simple search returned several articles about the Department of the Treasury’s sites being down. It seems their third party host’s cloud computing architecture was hacked and four of the Department of the Treasury’s sites had to be taken offline. These sites include: bep.gov, bep.treas.gov, moneyfactory.gov and moneyfactory.com.
The hacked code redirected visitors to a site in the Ukraine with many malware programs that could infect the visitors’ systems. Be on the lookout for system problems if you visited one of those Treasury sites yesterday or this morning before they were taken offline.
You can learn more about the issue at these sites:
Investigations have traced other infections to this same Ukrainian site. They exploit weaknesses in common software such as Adobe Reader. Perhaps in the future when an alert for a new updated version arrives, we will be more apt to apply it quickly.
Frustrated, the gentleman in the first article leads off his commentary with, “As a consumer and a taxpayer, it’s assumed that government websites are the most secure in the nation. After all, if hackers can gain access and plant malware for viewers to download, then the nation really isn’t that all secure on the cyber frontier, right? Unfortunately, that’s apparently what has happened to three websites belonging to the U.S. Department of the Treasury. How safe and secure do you feel now?”
I can answer his question – “not safe at all.”
We as individuals, small businesses, corporations and governments depend heavily on our computers and the corresponding computing networks to go about our daily lives. And, computers do so many things that we don’t even think about anymore.
Our vehicles depend on computers. The power grid would quit operating without computers. Our telephone systems – landline and wireless – would cease to operate without computers. Our banking systems do most of their transactions via computers. And, the list goes on and on and on…
Even those of us whose formative years were prior to the prevalence of computers would have a difficult time adjusting to crippled systems or no computers at all. But, the younger folks who have always used computers would encounter a severe withdrawal without their systems.
It’s disturbing to be so dependent on a technology that can be attacked remotely from anywhere around the world.
It’s amazing what you find on the web when you’re not really looking for it.
Did you know the Department of the Treasury’s Office of the Curator maintains web pages for the buildings of the US Mint?
They include pictures and historical information for the buildings associated with the currently operating mints of Denver, Philadelphia and San Francisco. They have not added pictures and building information for the newest operating mint at West Point, New York yet.
They also include details about mints no longer in operation: Carson City, Nevada and New Orleans, Louisiana. Missing from their web pages are the pictures and details for the Dahlonega, Georgia and Charlotte, North Carolina mints.
The southern mints began for two primary reasons. First, the Philadelphia mint had difficulty keeping up with the needs at the time especially the influx of gold. Second, carrying gold from the south to Philadelphia became very hazardous to the men transporting the raw material.
The southern mints were initiated by the Act of 1835 approved by Andrew Jackson. The three mints began coin output by late 1838. Both Dahlonega and Charlotte only minted gold coins. New Orleans minted both gold and silver coinage.
The three mints were seized by the Confederacy in 1861 and with only sporadic operation afterwards they were eventually shut down.
After the Civil War, only the New Orleans mint resumed minting coins. The Charlotte mint became an Assay Office but was never again a working mint. The Dahlonega location was not reopened as a Department of Treasury location.
The Office of the Curator may find it difficult to obtain details for the Dahlonega and Charlotte mints. However, the State of Georgia archives contain some early Dahlonega mint photographs as we showed in an earlier blog post. But, since the original Dahlonega mint building burned, the historical architectural information may be lost.
Regardless, enjoy a brief historical trip through the mints which is both educational and interesting. And, for obvious security reasons, the building information does not provide any significant details about the current buildings.
Computers – and their software – you’ve got to love and hate them at the same time.
Last week’s challenges included being hit by the McAfee issue on one computer. Luckily, we have access to more than one computer, and the others were not damaged by their “false positive” on a critical Windows operating system file. When McAfee deleted the critical file, the system was crippled.
But, we were able to research the problem on a second computer and fix the faulted machine. However, this took time. The first few hours were spent trying to fix an unknown problem on the damaged system. Too many blue screens in the past made us think this was an operating system crash. Only later did we learn that McAfee’s “protection” had severely impacted the system by erasing an important file.
Even more of an issue, the “fixes” noted on the internet required you to have internet access to identify the solutions to the problem. Unfortunately, removing the critical file also removed the ability to access the internet from the damaged system.
We were fortunate to have another computer, not damaged by the McAfee file removal, that provided the ability to research the problem and identify the appropriate steps for repairing the system.
If that wasn’t character building enough, over the weekend, the weather impacted the cable modem on another computer. That took out a second system. Again, we were fortunate to have a separate computer with wireless access to the internet allowing us to research the problem and the suggested solutions.
Various steps were taken to recover the cable modem and repair the various files. Still no internet access.
After time spent in e-chats and on phone calls to customer service, someone at the cable vendor noticed that we had an internet outage in our area.
Hopefully, the cable modem will be operational soon.
But, these sagas illustrate how dependent we are on the internet. We use it for business and for research. These problems show how important it is to have alternative ways to access the internet when issues like this occur.
After many hours on computer repair duty, I certainly feel sympathy for those folks who only have one computer that is adversely impacted either by the McAfee Security problem or by the internet outages.
That sympathy is especially warranted for the computer problems of today. They require access to the internet to research and solve when inability to get to the internet is one of the fundamental problems.
This certainly sounds similar to the chicken and egg problem.
How do you get an egg without a chicken? Or, how do you get a chicken without an egg?
In our case, how do you get to the internet without software network connectivity? Or, how do you get software network connectivity without the solutions found on the internet?
Lessons learned. Diversify computer equipment, operating systems and internet access just like you diversify your numismatic collections and your investments!
Billboards, TV ads and signs pop-up everywhere saying, “We buy gold!”
Now, even Dave Ramsey – that bastion of financial peace – has added his voice and support in an advertisement touting one of the gold buyers.
Stop and think. People frequently look for the easy and fast way to make the biggest profit. If there are that many people “buying gold,” there must be some large profit margins in their business plans.
Roughly a year ago, Good Morning America performed a simple test to show viewers what a handful of gold buyers would pay.
Let’s look at the details.
Using expert resources and 14 karat gold, they built bags of jewelry worth $410 in gold for that time period. Their expert advised them an offer of $350 or roughly 85% of the gold value would be a good offer.
Remember, the gold buyer considers cost of doing business and profit to determine their offer for your gold, so expecting 100% of gold value is unrealistic.
They visited a local jeweler in addition to obtaining three mail in companies’ bids.
|Actual Offer||Percent of Good Offer||Percent of
|1 Mail In – 1st Offer||$ 206.00||58.9%||50.2%|
|1 Mail In – 2nd Offer||$ 275.00||78.6%||67.1%|
|2 Mail In||$ 89.71||25.6%||21.9%|
|3 Mail In – 1st Offer||$ 66.05||18.9%||16.1%|
|3 Mail In – 2nd Offer||$ 137.00||39.1%||33.4%|
Interestingly, they did not ask a coin and bullion dealer what they would offer for the same amount of jewelry.
But, look at the results. The local jeweler was close to the initial projected “good offer.” However, the three mail in companies were not close. The first company’s offer was dramatically different than the other two, but it still was much less than the projected offer.
You’ll note in the study, Good Morning America asked Jeff Aronson, the CEO of Cash4Gold, to comment on the low offers. He replied, “”That’s what that material was worth to me at that time. That’s what it was worth to me to process. I make no apologies for pricing, whatsoever. I’m a service business.”
That’s an interesting point. He’s a “service business” with a high profit margin. If you don’t like the deal, they return your gold.
As one commenter mentioned, the issue is not so much what these gold buyers pay. Instead, the problem is they portray themselves, if not directly, then indirectly, as paying top prices for gold.
As an excellent alternative, many coin and bullion dealers buy gold jewelry at up to 90% of gold’s current market value. (Take a look at this earlier post describing how jewelry’s gold value is determined.)
Mr. Aronson made another comment designed to scare people, “If all you care about is the net dollar, and you’re willing to go to the seedy part of town, and you’re willing to travel around … I want you to go there. I don’t want you to come to me. I want you to come to me for convenience and ease. That’s what I want you to come to me for. If not, I’m happy for you to go someplace else.”
Coin and bullion dealers have shops in well respected parts of town. Do you think it’s a smart business decision to have a coin and bullion shop in a seedy part of town? Security is always a concern for precious metals. Dealers are not going to compound that problem by setting up in a shady area.
Furthermore, you can find coin and bullion dealers at coin shows as well.
Perhaps your time is worth more and you want the convenience of mailing your gold. But, if you want the better prices, look to a coin and bullion dealer.