outside the lines

  • The United States has offered gold and silver bullion coins since 1986. The highly successful American Eagle programs allowed the public to have a government sanctioned vehicle for the investment in precious metals. Gold coins were sold in one ounce and several fractional ounce sizes. Silver coins were sold in one ounce sizes. A decade after the program began it was expanded to include platinum, which is more of an industrial metal than classic precious metal.

    The American Platinum Eagle made its debut in 1997. Similar to the gold bullion coins, it was offered in one ounce and several fractional ounce sizes. This accomodated different levels of investment. In the inaugural year for the fledgling series, the US Mint marked 73,350 ounces of platinum sales. At the time the price of platinum was under $400 per ounce.

    As the years went on, platinum entered a series of year over year gains, which brought the metal to heights few would have expected. Sales of platinum bullion peaked early in the series in the year 1998 at 175,650 ounces. These high sales were experienced basically at the beginning of platinum’s run which would bring the metal over $2,000.

    In the ensuing years, the price of the metal kept rising, as the number of Platinum Eagles kept falling. When platinum was hitting its peak in the year 2007, sales had fallen to a mere 9,050 ounces for the entire year. During 2008, platinum reached a brand new high and then collapsed. The falling price brought some speculation back up to the plate and saw sales of 33,700 ounces.

    How will platinum prices and sales do in the coming years? The unusual volatility impacted the supply of bullion blanks needed to strike the coins. This necessitated the delay of production for the coins, which are still on hiatus half way through 2009.

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  • The latest attempt for the United States Mint to produce a series of dollar coins that actually circulate began in 2007. The previous attempts had included a large sized clad dollar coin with the Ike Dollar from 1971 to 1978, a small sized dollar featuring Susie B. from 1979 to 1981, and a small sized golden dollar featured Sacagawea from 2000, that still prattles on.

    The 2007 attempt was designed after the State Quarter series and provided for rotating designs, which would make the coins more collectible and more exciting. The series known as Presidential Dollars, featured each of the Presidents in the order that they served the country. Starting from George Washington, the series for 2007 was rounded out with John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison.

    The composition of the dollar coins was the unique alloy developed for the prior Sacagawea Dollars. This consisted of a mixture of 88.5% copper, 6% zinc, 3.5% manganese, and 2% nickel. This is configured as a core of pure copper, with a manganese brass outer layer. The color is golden, but the coins don’t seem to weather circulation very well, often becoming discolored from fingerprints alone.

    To coincide the the series of the Presidents, a separate bullion program was also enstated to honor their wives. This series of First Spouse Coins was done in pure (24 karat) gold. Each First Lady would have her own uniquely designed coin, featuring her likeness and something representative of her life or influence. For 2007, the honorees included Martha Washington, Abigail Adams, and Dolley Madison.

    These series both have a long way to go, towards honoring all of the Presidents and spouses. So far, it has ranged towards the mid-19th century with the latest releases for John Tyler and his first and second wives, Letitia Tyler and Julia Tyler.

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