Hubert and I have been doing some thinking lately about Sacagawea dollar proofs, partly because we like the coin and partly because we find it curious that the decline in prices for the 2001-S Sacagawea proof has caught most print and internet price guides flat-footed.
When the first PR70DCAM 2001-S Sacs appeared nearly ten years ago, there was a steep, deep-pocketed competition for the first few coins certified by PCGS. This shot prices into the stratosphere and that fact, coupled with strong sales of proof sets due to the State Quarters program, meant that for a time dealers couldn't keep enough 2001 Proof Sets (Silver or Clad) in stock to meet demand.
But markets are fluid things, and market makers (in this case both dealers and private individuals) sought to get in on the action. PCGS saw an influx of more 2001-S Sacagawea dollars, and PR70DCAMs continued to make up about 6% of all 2001-S's submitted. Sure enough, the availability of the coin in a top pop grade soon meant that more than just the most affluent collectors could afford one. By 2012, the population of PR70DCAM had reached nearly 450 pieces and prices settled at about $100 for the once vaunted key-date coin.
With an overall mintage of 3.19 million coins, this was inevitable. And while there are a finite amount of possible PR70DCAM coins (typically this grade is comprised of coins struck very early in a die's life and without visible flaws at 5x magnification) in the pool of well-cared-for proof sets in Original Government Packaging, there is no shortage of the coins on the open market. Once demand in this series picks up, as it inevitably will down the road, we'll get to see how many additional "perfect" coins get pulled from the wild and preserved in PCGS holders.
That's not to say that we're down on the coin or the series. It's just that when we look at market activity, we find that the 2001-S has ceased to be the coin in the series that gets collectors excited. Instead it's the 2008-S.
While the ebbing of interest in the State Quarters program, which wrapped up in 2008, hurt the market for 2001 Proof Sets as collectors turned many of them back over to dealers who had too many to begin with, it paradoxically boosted the appeal of the 2008-S Sacagawea proof - a coin that is not only the last of the original Sacagawea eagle reverse-type coins, but also has the lowest mintage of the series. With a total of 2.16 million coins produced, the 2008-S Sac is not a rare coin, but it is the scarcest in PCGS PR70DCAM (lest you count the current 2012 issue, still in its grading infancy).
The 2001-S has declined considerably since 2008, the 2008-S, on the other hand, seems to be gaining on the once-thought key date.
The 2008-S Sacagawea dollar is holding its own after just four years in the secondary market, outperforming all other coins in the series, as well as the first three releases from the rotating-reverse Native American dollar series. We feel that 2001-S prices may still be inflated based on collector's following outdated biases in favor of the coin. While it may take a while for price guides to catch on, buyer behavior is signaling a clear shift in the series. That shift makes the 2008-S, not the 2001-S, the key to the Sacagawea Proof Series.