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Recall Vote: Presidential Coin Set
By Alejandro J. Martinez

Presidents Day has a bitter side for coin collectors this year, thanks to a decision by the U.S. Mint late last year to discontinue presidential $1 coin Historical Signature Sets amid low sales.
Although the Mint will continue to produce the proof coins for the $1 presidential-coin series and the Bureau of Engraving and Printing will continue to sell all the president's portraits, collectors won't get it all in the fancy blue folder that includes the presidents' signatures.

According to the Mint, the George Washington set was the bestseller, with 16,443 sets sold. Then sales started to decline. Sets for Presidents Adams, Jefferson and Madison sold 9,284, 8,803 and 7,701 respectively. By the time the Mint got to James Monroe, John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren, sales were in the mid-3,000 range.

That is when the item was voted out of office, leaving the ninth and shortest-serving president, William Henry Harrison, with no set.

"The decision to pare back the number of products was based on customer feedback and the sales figures for the various products," says , acting public-affairs director for the Mint.

The Mint decided to take an "up and down" inventory of all its products and determined it was best to trim 121 coin products at the end of 2008. Those 200-something products that remain account for more than 95% of the Mint's products sold during October 2007 and September 2008, said the U.S. Mint.

Collectors and Mint customers alike will debate whether the low sales for the latter sets in the series was a fair representation of interest -- given the turmoil in the credit markets and the peak holiday-related shopping period of the year.

Each set in the series -- for as long as it lasted -- featured a folder that contained a proof version of a presidential dollar coin, along with the particular president's sketch from the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and his official signature, courtesy of the White House Historical Association, for $19.95 apiece.

"The signatures are not available to collectors at this time," says Mike Melton, administrator of the White House Historical Association.

The 2008 presidential sets are now in the process of being "detrashed." That's Mint-speak for destroyed, so the few sets that were sold are at least relatively rare.

A similar early-end disappointment happened in 2002 when the Mint partnered with Hallmark Cards Inc. to produce State Quarter Christmas ornaments. Some coin experts say it's another example of the Mint issuing products that aren't for serious collectors anyway.

The Historical Signature Sets "were not designed for the coin-collecting community, says , senior partner at Ganz & Hollinger in New York and a former president of the American Numismatic Association. "They were designed for the tchotchke market."

"The U.S. government is the world's largest coin dealer," says , author of "The Coin Collector's Survival Manual." He says the coins and products "are purely speculative in terms of investment potential. The Mint makes the Mint from these programs."

Still, the decision has left coin fans folding uncompleted collections, which will never get all the presidents. For collectors who had started buying the sets and are disappointed with the passing of the series, "it's more of an emotional loss than a financial one," Mr. Travers says.

Diehard coin collectors say the U.S. Mint must do its research better and hone its marketing skills.

"Collectors really don't want that wide of a spectrum," says , of Chicago, a coin collector for 34 years who bought a few of the sets. "For the amount of money it cost, it didn't strike me as very high quality," she says.

So how does the U.S. Mint respond to honoring only eight presidents?

The Mint's Mr. Hernandez says that through various other products, as well as educational initiatives, "the U.S. Mint continues to pay tribute to all the presidents."

Write to Alejandro J. Martinez at alejandro.martinez@wsj.com

 



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