Maybe we all have it wrong.
We so take for granted the level of craftsmanship and quality that is possible with the production of modern commemorative and bullion coins that we start to believe that if you've seen one, you've seen them all.
A recent thread on the PCGS forums brought to my attention a breathtaking proof 1983-S Los Angeles Olympics Discus Thrower dollar. Its onetime black and white mirrored surfaces long gone, replaced instead by a swirling galaxy of color.
Although I've never handled the coin, I can only imagine what it looks like in-hand, how the colors dance when the coin is rotated ever so slowly. I bet it's the kind of coin you can just sit back and enjoy.
It makes me think that, with time, many of the outstanding designs of the modern series will be looked at in a new light. And while none of the recent commemoratives are likely to prove scarce, the opportunity to enjoy beautifully toned coins may just be.
The biggest reasons for this are the way we collect and the advances in government and aftermarket packaging. Imagine how many blast white 1982-D Washington half dollars there'd be on the market today if the coins were issued in the Lexington half dollar wooden box. My guess is that there'd be far fewer.
And this brings us to the biggest hurdle facing a future of abundant, beautifully-toned commemoratives: the modern collector.
We've become so accustomed to perfection and near-perfection that we encapsulate it as soon as we can. Some coins spend all but a few weeks of their existence suspended in place, held by the nubby fingers of a gasket.
As a buyer, I tend to avoid most proof issues in the raw because they haze up so fast. That alone is ample reason to get the coins slabbed right away.
Yet, what about the coins that won't find their way to Newport Beach for five, ten, or even fifty years? What will they look like? Where are the numismatists building sets of coins and storing them in custom museum-quality velvet cases for generations? What kind of interest will those sets command?
It's an intriguing thing to ponder.
I see two distinct types of sets when it comes to this kind of material projected into the future. Blast white mint state and proof 69s and 70s (the majority of which are being created now) and a gradual attrition into the lower gem mint states, with some coins becoming dingy and undesirable, milky and spotted, or fogged and hazed. Meanwhile, other coins are turning into masterpieces - like that 1983-S.
The good news is that in such a future, you'll get to have your choice. Perfection at the top mint state grades, or the sublime as chance and nature make happen. Maybe by then, there'll be no doubt just how valuable a PR68DCAM toner will be.
Author's Note: In the last issue of the PCGS eZine, we made a mistake. We initially set out to write about the 1958 mint set, of which Mitch Spivack currently has the top rated registry set. However, early in the production of that article we opted instead to discuss the 1956 set. Unfortunately, we didn't change the opening paragraph of our story to mention that the number one set for 1956 belongs to Chris Kalnick, who has locked up that spot since 2005 – quite an impressive feat. We're sorry, Chris. We'll do better next time.