In the field of modern American coins, an interesting phenomenon has developed. Ironically, coins that were extremely unpopular at the time of issue have evolved into highly desirable numismatic rarities. That is, coins that were largely shunned by the public upon release have become extremely valuable and sought-after. As paradoxical as this phenomenon sounds, it has repeated itself over and over again.
In the early and mid-1990s, bullion coins were largely out of favor. American Gold Eagle and Silver Eagle mintages were relatively low due to weak demand. Even collector-edition coins, like Proofs and special-edition Commemoratives, had a limited audience and were produced in limited quantities. The markets for numismatic and bullion coins were weak – and this softness was clearly reflected in mintage figures.
Fast forward to today. Despite having a melt value of just $600-$800, half ounce American Gold Eagles from the early to mid-1990s are trading for anywhere between $1250-$3000 per coin. The 1991 issue, with a mintage of just 24,100, now sells for 4x to 5x melt value! The 1996 Silver Eagle sells for $40-$60 uncertified and over $100 in MS69 condition due to its scarcity. These coins may have been in low demand 20 years ago, but they’re now treasured collectibles.
In more recent years, the U.S. Mint has issued a coinage series honoring America’s First Spouses. Each issue celebrated a different First Lady and was struck in one-half ounce of 24K gold. The first few issues were exceptionally popular, as these First Ladies were well-known. Names like Martha Washington and Abigail Adams are well-known to most Americans, and thus these issues sold best.
More obscure First Ladies, like Jane Pierce, saw lackluster sales. Whereas the first four Spouses saw mintages in the 17,000-20,000 range, just 4,775 specimens of the Jane Pierce coin were struck. The mintages ended up declining further later in the series. Editions like Ida McKinley had tiny mintages of fewer than 2,000 pieces!
The public may have rejected these obscure First Spouses at the time of issue, but now they are beginning to gain recognition as major rarities. Just as the 1991 Half-Ounce Gold Eagle has become rare and desirable due to its low mintage of 24,100 pieces, collectors are realizing that the low-mintage First Spouse coins are formidable rarities. They are beginning to appreciate in value in the secondary market, despite being largely ignored by collectors at the original U.S. Mint issue price.