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Holiday Packaged Coin Sets are Often Overpriced

It's begun... again. At this time every single year, one day I'll walk to the mailbox, open it and wonder if I accidentally received the mail for the entire neighborhood. After months of average mail delivery, I discover I have been inundated with scores of catalogs. That will continue for almost two months.

It's the holiday season and I believe that no one told the catalog companies that we're still in a bit of an economic downturn. My first mail delivery netted 18 catalogs. Today, over a dozen more arrived. A few are from companies I've seen, but we've ordered from only a few of these companies. I'm guessing they share mailing lists.

Most of these catalogs offer tantalizing holiday items, which are described in a way that it almost impossible not to salivate and consider them as gifts for someone, if not yourself. I hand it to their writers for that. But just as my wife may be an "expert" when it comes to good deals on shoes and general fashion, I consider myself to know a thing or two about collectibles. And what I've found in the catalogs isn't all that encouraging.

For instance, in just one catalog, I found seven or eight solicitations (along with compelling color photos) for various "historic," "stunning," "beautiful" and "charming" coins (their words — not mine) in various types of display. The problem is the asking price for what you receive.

One offering was for a money clip that featured a vintage Kennedy half dollar attached to it. The kicker was that the coin is "layered in pure 24K gold." Although I don't know anyone who carries a money clip anymore, it's very nice. But the coin is a common "clad" variety (comprised of copper and nickel), and the gold layering is so microscopically thin on a small portion of the coin that it would probably take tens of thousands of them for the gold content to even begin to add up to anything noticeable. That Kennedy half dollar is available from most banks and any coin dealer for virtually the face value of 50 cents. The cost of the catalog money clip: $19.95.

Another "collection" in its own "display case" with a "certificate of authenticity" advertised "three centuries of American coinage." I get it. The set includes 25 coins minted in the 1800s, 1900s and after 2000. Upon closer inspection of the photo, the coins appeared to be extremely common examples that most coin dealers would have or be able to readily get. Don't get me wrong, the display was nice — all the coins inserted in round holes with some wording under them — but I was confused as to why the headline included the line, "Order this... today — in five years, you'll be glad you did!"

I don't think so.

I showed the ad to several dealers I know. Each said the displayed coins could be purchased for around $20. The catalog "gift" price — $99.99. From where I sit, that's a lot to pay for a display card.

There were more packages, including a World War II coin set and another with coins from the last 10 decades ranging in price from $39.99 to $199.99. All were very attractive, but from the standpoint of "bang for the buck," they didn't impress any of the dealers I spoke with.

The same day, I received a mailing from the U.S. Mint promoting the 2010 Proof Set. These are the ones the Mint produces every year; it includes one each of all the specially struck and highly polished coins issued the previous year. The 2010 set has all five "America the Beautiful" quarters, four of the Presidential Golden Dollar coins as well as coins we find in our pocket change.

Rarely do these sets turn out to have substantial future value over what you pay for them, but every now and then, one or two turn out to jump in value. I don't buy them for the prospect of high returns or future riches. But there's another angle.

For people who have experienced a special event in their life in a given year, the proof sets offer a nice memento. That's true for weddings, births, home purchases, etc. They can make for a nice holiday gift at a reasonable price. This year's set is priced at $31.95, plus a $4.95 shipping fee.

In a nutshell, I'm always skeptical of any prepackaged coin collection, since more often than not, you end up paying for the packaging. But when sentimentality comes into play, pretty much all bets are off. But it's the holidays. Economic downturn or not, you've got to splurge a little. Just be careful what you splurge on.

To find out more about Peter Rexford and to read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.


3 Responses »

  1. The U.S. proof sets are a complete rip off.I have many sets bought in the 70's and 80's that are worth barely more than face value,much less than what I paid for them. I stopped buying them when I noticed coin dealers selling them for less than I paid the U.S. Mint. Must be dealers were getting a better price than individuals. Once again the government sticking it to the little guy. Save your money and don't buy proof or mint sets

  2. Ultimately, some US Mint proof sets go up in value, some go down, but at least you are not instantly at a loss like some of the other products mentioned.

    • Of the approximatly 50 proof sets that I own not a one is worth more than the original price from the mint. If some sets do indeed go up in value I must have worse luck than I thought.The mint limited the number of sets that you were allowed to purchase,yet dealers were selling the same proof sets a year later for less money. In my opinion you would be better off burying your money in a hole than dealing with the U.S. mint