October 23, 2012
We are forty-seven years into the clad era and the dust is yet to settle. Even though there's a lot of action to be had, it seems the hobby as a whole can give the clad era one great big shrug of the shoulders. I maintain that our apathy is at least partly due to the low opinion that '50s- and '60s-era collectors held and still hold about clad coinage. Another factor, and one that can't be dismissed, is that design malaise has set in. The United States made great strides beautifying its coinage under Theodore Roosevelt. By the time Teddy's fifth cousin, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, was memorialized on the dime, America had come full circle. The modern era of coinage, I argue, is best described as the era in which we stopped idealizing notions of Liberty and began to valorize the image of Presidents.
Identifying denominational coinage with the busts of Lincoln, Jefferson, Roosevelt, Washington, and Kennedy creates the impression that these denominations "belong" to the figures they depict. Who would wish to evict the Great Emancipator, the author of the Declaration of Independence, FDR, or the martyred JFK from their homes on our money? The longevity of these series led to design malaise. This design malaise lulls us into the false assumption that the circulating coinage we use isn't going anywhere. Of course, this line of thinking is not factually correct. Despite soaring mintage numbers in recent years, the attrition rate for circulating coinage is high. Sadly, we in the numismatic community do not have the tools necessary to measure attrition rates with any precision and thus the malaise is perpetuated.
The Roosevelt dime, a series often relegated to the ranks of beginners' sets, is still chock full of interesting dates, conditional rarities, and full strike rarities. Fans of the (physically) smallest circulating denomination typically look to the series' 1946-1964 period to collect the last of the silver dimes, but there is ample enough reason to give the clad era some consideration. For starters, much of the Mint's output in the 60s and 70s was plagued by a lack of fineness and attractive gems well struck gems can prove elusive. Second, the FB or FT designation (depending upon your grading authority) is a rather recent development, so mainstream collectors were not necessarily hoarding these coins for future returns. While still a speculative pursuit, collectors looking for high grade fully struck coins still have a chance of putting together a world-class and potentially valuable set without spending a fortune if they employ patience and persistence.
Finally, it is my opinion that most people are looking at the wrong coin in the clad-era Roosevelt series as the coin's key. This will prove advantageous to those who consider what I have to say below.
So, let's take a look at a few notable Roosevelt issues during the clad era to see what desirables are hiding in plain sight.
A prime example of the modern low mintage/low value paradox can be found in the Roosevelt dime series. In 1996, the Mint celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Roosevelt Dime by including a dime minted at the West Point Mint. The West Point Mint had filled overflow orders for Philadelphia throughout the '70s and '80s (their circulating coinage output lacked a distinguishing mint mark) but the 1996-W dime would be the first "circulating" coin bearing the W mint mark.
Just under 1.5 million of these dimes were minted. All were included as an insert to the 1996 Uncirculated Set. This, unfortunately, is a number that is not likely to see massive attrition anytime soon, nor will dealer stock levels of this coin diminish to the point where there are more buyers than sellers, thus giving the coin the upward pricing pressures necessary for it to become a valuable collectible in raw form, and since most of the dimes were well struck and carefully handled by the mint, there are no conditional rarities until you get to MS-69.
Furthermore, the 1996-W dime is the most submitted (by a wide margin) of any of the clad Roosevelt dimes, save the rare and highly prized collectible 1982 "No P" variety. The quick overview of PCGS clad-era Roosevelt dime population totals is a great primer into the mentality of the mainstream coin market makers, as the 1996-W dime could not become the most submitted clad-era dime, by such a wide margin, without institutional dealers submitting the coin in bulk. This leads me to believe that the pricing levels of the coin are not necessarily organic to the coin based on its lack of accessibility, but simply profit taking on the part of the industry.
So, if the key to the series is not the 1.5 million-minted not-intended-for-circulation 1996-W commemorative dime, which coin is? I propose that it's probably one of the following candidates.
The first clad era dime I think of in terms of true opportunity is actually the 1975 Philly dime. Lost in the excitement of the 1975-1976 Bicentennial production run of quarters, half dollars, and dollar coins, the 1975 dime is a typical product of mid-1970s clad production. With a production run of 585,673,900, this is not the type of coin that casual passers-by would assume is scarce, and it's not. Most of the preserved population of this year, based on my experience, would grade MS-63 or MS-64. The strike tends to be mushy, and incomplete detail on the reverse is the norm (washed-out torches and the "-US" in PLURIBUS are not uncommon).
Since there's been little interest in this date, each BU roll should contain a few gems. Superb gems, specifically any fully-struck Full Torch piece in MS-66 requires access to many, many rolls to find. Recent auctions show MS-66 FT bringing $200+ per coin- but this is the result of too few people doing the legwork to pull these coins from the wild (there are 16 PCGS-holdered coins at this level as of the time of this writing). If you want to take a shot at finding your own high end piece from this date, I recommend rolls over mint sets.
Roll hoarders and coin dealers saved 1982 and 1983 mint output because of the discontinuation of Mint Sets for these two years. The most notable dime from this period is the rare, thought to be one die, "No-P" variety. The 1982 "No-P" was the result of a mint worker oversight when one of the working dies used to strike coinage was not punched with the Philly "P" mintmark. The oddity was discovered in late 1982, and according to PCGS' Jaime Hernandez, discovered to be distributed in parts of Ohio, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and also Boston, Massachussetts . The 1982 "No-P" is the most-submitted clad Roosevelt dime for grading outside of the 1996-W, but unlike the not intended for circulation novelty coin, the "No-P" is genuinely scarce and desirable from a numismatic standpoint. It's a coin I wholeheartedly recommend as it is a variety that has cross-over appeal for non-variety collectors.
Of all of the submitted "No-P" dimes, only 4% qualified as Full Band, which is par for the course for this date. Certified ratios from the general population of 1982-Ps show an artificially higher distribution of fully-struck pieces, but this is merely the result of highly selective submissions on the part of dealers and specialists trying to encapsulate higher quality coins.
As fascinating and coveted as the 1982 "No-P" is, fully-struck dimes from both mints from 1982 and 1983 are equally challenging to find. The good news for dime enthusiasts is that dealers and sellers tend not to hold this type of material in high regard, which means that a patient and determined collector can hunt through rolls and dealer stock for choice pieces with the potential for significant upside down the road. There is a no mint set premium for '82s and '83s, but this pricing model tends to affect the larger denomination coins more noticeably.
Because the mint issued hybrid proof/business strike quality Special Mint Sets in 1965 through 1967, the majority of certified dimes from this era are SMS releases. Business strike specimens of common date Roosevelt dimes are hardly on anybody's radar, not particularly searched out or traded in certified holders, and are therefore what I consider an "at risk" clad type coin. In terms of possible varieties alone, the Denver mint had to churn out over one billion 1964-D dimes as the silver era came to a close. The heavy workload led to scores of doubled dies and RPMs. Production in 1965 through 1967 continued at the same pace, but so far Variety Vista has only verified a handful of varieties, and only one, DDO FS-101 (FS-019), is listed in the Cherrypickers' Guide and attributed by PCGS and NGC. Who's to say dozens more aren't out there?
Ignored coins have a poor history of being preserved in sufficient numbers to satisfy demand once they become considered scarce. How many years will we go before collectors start to desire coins from the beginning of the clad era? The first three dimes released in the clad era may have been made in an effort to stop hoarding and loosen up the flow of coinage in circulation, but if it turns out that this effort was successful, then there may be fewer high quality dimes available from this period than we suspect.
The Mint's decision to strike satin finish coins for their annual mint sets didn't sit well with many collectors. While it's true that the matte finish 1994-P Jefferson nickel from the 1993/1994 Thomas Jefferson Coinage and Currency Set, and the 1998-S matte finish Kennedy half from the Kennedy Collector's Set, are liked by some as interesting one-year specimen coins, the decision to produce satin finish business strikes on a larger scale turned off collectors who felt that they did not satisfy the requirement of being an actual minted for circulation type coin. As such, these satin finish hybrid specimens created a new category of numismatic collectible, and one (according to some) that we have seen the last of (for now). Of course, all of this just makes actual circulation strikes from 2005-2010 that much more prone to attrition, and judging by the scant amount of material from these dates being certified by PCGS and NGC up to this point, it will take a matter of years to figure out what the prospects are for dimes from this period on the secondary market.
My guess is that in the long run, the mint's satin finish experiment will only add to collector confusion as new collectors enter the marketplace. Following the "low mintage/low value" paradox I outlined earlier, I feel that the equally low mintage satin finish coins will remain abundantly available and over-slabbed, while the business strike dimes will be harder to find in higher grades and much more desirable. As to which one will be the scarcest of the lot, I'm not sure. The 2009-D has the lowest mintage with just under 50 million, but with modern coins, it's anybody's guess.
Finally, we arrive to the coin I favor as being the key to the clad series: high quality, fully-struck Philadelphia dimes from 1969. With a mintage of 145,790,000, the 1969 is the lowest mintage clad dime. It is behind both 2009 issues, and like the 1975 dime, 1969s tend to come in MS-63 and MS-64, with MS-65s being on the upper end of typical production and MS-66s and above being scarce. PCGS has only attributed four coins to be Full Torch, while NGC has holdered fourteen. These figures are implausibly low, but the general mushiness of the date and normal attrition will place a hard limit on the possible number of high end Full Torch coins on the market. That mint sets containing 1969 dimes also include a 40% silver clad Kennedy half dollar raise the spectre of risk that many of these perceived "low value" sets will be broken apart and destroyed without regard to saving better preserved dimes.
Further adding to the mystique of the 1969 dime is the newly publicized reverse die variety (CONECA: RDV-002), which apparently uses the high relief proof reverse of 1968 on certain circulation strike dimes (the Philadelphia Mint would do the same thing three years later with the 1972 Eisenhower dollar reverse). How many of these RDVs got out into the wild? And as interest in the date is still relatively small, we may have to wait for a clear picture of things. For you thrill-seekers out there, this is a golden opportunity.
As we said before, we are forty-seven years into the clad era and much is still unknown. Nevertheless, by seriously diving into series like the Roosevelt dime, you are in some respects ahead of the curve. The low hanging fruit is still out there to be had at reasonable prices if one employs patience, common sense, and tenacity as one looks through countless rolls and loose pieces. Buying top pop coins with populations this low is a highly speculative matter. Those that typically bash moderns as being abundantly available are right insofar as we accept that the vast majority of what's being held back is MS-65 or poorer, that less than half are fully-struck, and that fewer still are problem free. The time comes for every series once viewed as common that collectors realize certain dates aren't as available as previously thought. It is inevitable that this will happen to the Roosevelt dime. Whether you are buying now for cheap or buying later when collector's turn their eye towards this great series is up to you.
Have at it and happy hunting!