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Where is First Spouse Sales Bottom?
March 03, 2009

The ninth in the 40 or so First Spouse half-ounce gold coins with a $10 face value will go on sale Thursday at noon at the U.S. Mint's Web site.

This is the first coin of the third year in the series. Issued at a rate of four coins per year, counting this year, there are eight years or so to go.

Will the downtrend in sales continue? I would expect so. The question is simply by how many.

I was looking at the trend line this morning for the proofs. The first three, Washington, Adams and Jefferson, sold out 20,000 proofs. The Madison coin sold 18,355 followed by Monroe, 7,910; Adams, 5,720; Jackson, 6,112, and Van Buren, 5,011.

Except for the hopeful uptick that occurred in the Jackson total, it is obvious that sales are heading almost straight down.

Where is the bottom? Approximately how many people are so committed to buying these coins that the sales totals can fall no lower?

I don't really know, but perhaps history is a guide. It is interesting just how similar these totals are to the mintages of the gold commemorative coins of the early 20th century.

The 1903 Louisiana Purchase $1 gold commems had mintages of 17,500 each for the Jefferson and McKinley designs.

The 1904 and 1905 Lewis and Clark dollars had mintages of 10,025 and 10,041, respectively.

The 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition gold dollar and gold $2.50 had mintages of 15,000 and 6,749, respectively.

The 1916 and 1917 McKinley gold dollars had mintages of 15,000 and 5,000, respectively.

The Grant Memorial dollar of 1922 had mintages of 5,016 and 5,000 of the star and no star designs, respectively.

In 1926 there was a spike higher for the gold $2.50 for the 150th anniversary of American Independence. The mintage totaled 46,019.

Despite the fact that the population now is about three times what it was at the beginning of the 20th century, and the coin collecting population is many multiples greater than that, it is interesting that collectors are buying these coins at roughly the same rate as their great-grandfathers a century ago.

Perhaps that means the floor for the First Spouse coins is around 5,000 pieces, too, and there might be hope for a sales spike higher when we get to truly popular Presidents who are still remembered by this generation of hobbyists.

But it will be a very long wait until we get to the issues for the wives of Franklin Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan to test this hypothesis.

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About the Author
David C. Harper has been a coin collector since 1963. He joined the Krause Publications editorial staff in 1978 and is currently editor of Numismatic News and World Coin News. He also edits two books annually, North American Coins & Prices and Coin Digest. He is the author of the Class of '63 column that runs each week in Numismatic News. His first bylined numismatic article appeared in the June 1971 issue of Coins Magazine and his various Krause Publications assignments included a stint as editor of the magazine 1980-1983. Harper received a bachelor of science degree from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh in 1977. He had a double major of journalism and economics.

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