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Where do they go from here?
August 31, 2007

Three up, three down. I feel like a baseball announcer. The Jefferson First Spouse half-ounce gold pieces that depict the Liberty Head design of the 1800-1808 half cent sold out in around two and a half hours yesterday.

This was the third offering in the series. Collectors snapped up 20,000 proofs at $429.95 each and 20,000 uncirculateds at $410.95.

The race to put them on eBay has begun.

Buyers seemed to have turned the purchase process into a competitive sport, trading tips online as to how to game the system. Profit, of course, is the underlying motive, but there have been enough studies of individual behavior during auctions that I have to ask the question whether at least some of the buyers have completely lost sight of the basic question: does anybody really collect these?

It is a game to buy them. It is a game to send them in to a grading service to get an MS-70 or Proof-70 grade attached. It is a game to describe them in terms that will most appeal to what seem to me to be unsophisticated potential buyers.

However, all games end. Prices for the Martha Washington coins and the Abigail Adams coins are in decline. I had an e-mail this week asking what was going on with MS-70 Marthas, meaning why are prices falling?

Perhaps holders of these coins are starting to feel like owners of subprime mortgages. Owning them may pay off over time, but then again, discretion is the better part of valor.

Every buyer should examine the gold American Eagle series. Most of the coins trade basically as bullion pieces. The proof pieces have flatlined with a few notable exemptions. The same is likely to happen to the First Spouse coins.

Gold coins that do not rise in value tie up a lot of money. Investors and other profit seekers are not emotionally tied to the process of actually assembling a set and being proud of owning it.

It will be interesting to watch what happens to prices on eBay. There is enough of a shipping delay from the U.S. Mint that the coins may not gain much traction. Both have projected delivery dates in October. We'll see.

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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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