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Coin collector feels stuck on money-go-round
Distribution, pricing of state quarters questioned
By G. Jeffrey Aaron

As an avid coin collector for the past half-century, Corning's Tom Mayo has learned that uncirculated coins hold the most value.

He's also learning that it's getting harder to acquire the newer, shiny coins for his collection.

There was a time when Mayo could fill out his collection with the new coins he obtained from area banks -- the method he used to complete his 50 State Quarters Program collection. The program, launched 10 years ago at a rate of five coins per year, is a special series of quarters -- one for each state of the Union. Mayo has put together complete sets for his five grandchildren and himself.

"These are investments," Mayo said. "Some of the state quarters are worth 20 times the face value because there aren't any left."

This year, the U.S. Mint began striking the quarters that would make up the six-coin D.C. and U.S. territories collectors' set.

To his disappointment, Mayo discovered the banks aren't carrying the new quarters. He and other collectors have to order the coins from the mint or from clearing houses -- and they aren't cheap.

The U.S. Mint charges $37.90, including shipping costs, for a two-roll set of the new D.C. and U.S. territory quarters. The face value of the two rolls is $20.

The Littleton Coin Co. in New Hampshire, a major supplier of collectible coins, is advertising a 10-coin set of each new territory quarter -- five from the Denver mint and five from the Philadelphia mint -- for $16.95, including shipping. The face value: $2.50.

To say Mayo is angered and confused by the mark-ups is an understatement. He's taken his concerns to federal lawmakers, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and financial institutions within a 35-mile radius of Corning.

"I talked to the people I thought could help, and they were appalled. But after a couple of calls, I stopped hearing from them," he said.

Coins struck by the U.S. Mint are sent to Federal Reserve banks across the country, which then distribute them to banks in their regions. That's the way it worked with the statehood quarters, and as those rolled uncirculated coins were released over the span of a decade, Mayo paid face value at local banks.

But those banks have now told him they won't be getting any of the D.C. and U.S. territories quarters. And the reason he's heard most often is that the armored car companies that deliver cash and coins to banks charge banks extra if their coin orders include the special quarters.

However, a spokesman for Loomis Fargo & Co. in Houston said the company does not charge banks extra for delivering the commemorative quarters. A spokesperson for Brink's did not return calls seeking comment.

"Someone needs to ask the question 'why,' but no one will admit these coins are being manufactured for profit," Mayo said.

U.S. Mint spokeswoman Carolyn Fields said, "We are not hustling coins. The difference is the uncirculated coins are packaged in special wrappers for collectors, and that's why the coins through us are priced a little bit more."

Michael White, also from the U.S. Mint, said banks don't have the coins because a limited number were minted and banks' coin orders are lagging because the weakened economy has slowed their demand for coins in general.

"The banks have higher inventories, so they don't order as many quarters from the Federal Reserve banks and you have fewer new quarters going out there," he said.

Mayo finds it hard to accept those explanations, but he has resorted to buying the special quarters from online dealers.

"What is the difference between the 50 state quarter program and the U.S. territories program?" he asked. "For 10 years, I could get the state quarters at the bank, no problem. But all that has changed.

"In my opinion, the coins are minted in small quantities and the mint can make more money selling them to dealers."


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