The United States Mint will re-launch the five ounce America the Beautiful Silver Bullion Coins™ on Friday, December 10, 2010. That is four days after the agency halted their release following price complaints from consumers who argued the $120 to $160 per coin premiums advertised in the market amounted to price gouging.
In an attempt to address the complaints, US Mint resellers must now follow new terms and conditions if they choose to participate in the America the Beautiful Silver Bullion Coins Program. (See program information.)
As background, the US Mint does not offer investment-grade bullion products directly to the public but instead uses a network of Authorized Purchasers who buy in quantity and then resell almost at cost. The AP network through the years has been responsible for bringing many millions of American Eagle bullion coins inexpensively into the secondary market — more than 33 million in 2010 alone just for the bullion Silver Eagles.
However, the debuting America the Beautiful Silver Coins are only available in very limited mintages — 33,000 per each of the five 2010 coins. Those low levels combined with pent-up demand and eager pre-sellers lifted opening prices to well above the $9.75 per coin premium the AP’s must pay.
Perception, and perhaps reality, was that at least one AP was responsible for directly offering the .999 fine silver coins to the public for substantially more than what their costs were, or would be. Minimally, that is against the spirit of the agreement Authorized Purchasers sign with the US Mint to become resellers. More to the point recently, the Mint pre-warned against such action in a memo to its AP network on December 1, 2010:
Because the United States Mint was only able to produce and make available a limited quantity of each these silver bullion coins in the relatively short period since the authorizing legislation was approved, we anticipate that demand for these coins will be significant.
Accordingly, as Authorized Purchasers of the United States Mint, we want to remind you of your commitment, under your Authorized Purchaser Agreement, "to maintain buy/sell premiums for the United States gold and silver bullion coins with as narrow a spread between buy and sell prices as prudent business judgment permits. These premiums are to be competitive with those charged for other bullion coins, considering prevailing market conditions."
Although the United States Mint has no control over the fair market value of these coins once they reach the secondary market, we anticipate that our Authorized Purchasers will carry out the United States Mint’s objective to market these silver bullion coins in a manner which ensures that that they will be available, accessible, and affordable to all members of the public.
When America the Beautiful Silver Bullion Coin price complaints started flowing to the Mint on Monday, it quickly halted all releases in order to "assess the appropriate course of action" and to "ensure the widest possible availability, accessibility and affordability" of the coins. Late Thursday afternoon, the US Mint notified its Authorized Purchasers of new requirements to follow in reselling the silver pieces.
The United States Mint has established the following terms and conditions that are a pre-requisite to participate in the purchase and distribution of the coins:
Authorized Purchasers shall make available for sale to the public all 2010 America the Beautiful Silver Bullion Coins that they acquire. The intention of this condition is to ensure that all 2010 America the Beautiful Silver Bullion Coins minted and issued by the United States Mint are sold to the public.
Authorized Purchasers may charge to their customers a price no higher than ten percent above the price at which the Authorized Purchasers acquire 2010 America the Beautiful Silver Bullion Coins from the United States Mint. Authorized Purchasers may charge their customers a reasonable shipping and handling fee; however, Authorized Purchasers may not charge any other fee, premium, or other expense to their customers to circumvent this ten-percent markup limitation. The intention of this condition is to ensure that members of the public can obtain these coins at a reasonable and affordable purchase price.
Authorized Purchasers must establish and enforce an order limit of one coin of each design for each household. A household is defined as all persons of a family, or living as a family, at a single mailing address. The intention of this condition is to ensure the broadest and fairest public accessibility to 2010 America the Beautiful Silver Bullion Coins, which are limited-mintage United States Mint products.
Authorized Purchasers may not sell, either directly or indirectly, 2010 America the Beautiful Silver Bullion Coins to their officers or employees. The intention of this condition is to ensure that 2010 America the Beautiful Silver Bullion Coins are available to the public and that Authorized Purchaser officers and employees do not have an unfair advantage over members of the public.
Interestingly, most Mint AP’s do not directly sell bullion coins directly to consumers. They instead offer them to coin dealers and sellers of precious metals. As such, these AP’s do not have a system in place to engage in standard retail activity with the public. They may, therefore, choose not to order any of the coins from the Mint since it would not be feasible for them to comply with requirement #3.
Ironically, this could actually benefit at least one of the AP’s many collectors accused of price gouging. If the Mint’s entire supply of America the Beautiful Silver Bullion Coins is not ordered through the 11 AP members, the excess will be made available on December 20, 2010, to those AP’s who want them.
There are new safeguards, however. According to the terms of the Mint’s agreement, Authorized Purchasers who receive receipt of an America the Beautiful Silver Bullion Coin order are bound by the new conditions. When that happens, the US Mint will have:
"The right to examine and audit all of the Authorized Purchaser’s books, records, documents, and other data to ensure that they have complied with the terms and conditions herein.
The Mint adds that:
"Violation of any one of the above outlined terms and conditions may be grounds for suspension or permanent removal from the United States Mint’s Authorized Purchaser distribution network.
The America the Beautiful Silver Bullion Coins share the same obverse and reverse design as the circulating America the Beautiful Quarters. Both series will honor a total of 56 national parks or other national sites in each state, U.S. Territory and the District of Columbia between 2010 and 2021. Sites honored in 2010 include (see an interactive map of all silver coin site locations):
- 2010 Hot Springs Silver Bullion Coin, representing Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas
- 2010 Yellowstone Silver Bullion Coin, representing Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming
- 2010 Yosemite Silver Bullion Coin, representing Yosemite National Park in California
- 2010 Grand Canyon Silver Bullion Coin, representing Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona
- 2010 Mount Hood Silver Bullion Coin, representing Mount Hood National Forest in Oregon
In addition to the above bullion coins, the US Mint will also release collector versions beginning in the first quarter of 2011. These will be sold directly by the Mint to the public. Unlike the bullion versions, the America the Beautiful 5 ounce Uncirculated Coins will have a collector uncirculated finish and a slightly lower mintage of 27,000 units for each of the five. For more background, read the release details provided by the Mint on December 1, 2010.