‘Beau­ti­ful’ quar­ters not worth risk in long run

The Washington Times Daily - - Life - PETER M. REX­FORD

Fifty years ago, John Glenn be­came the first Amer­i­can to or­bit the Earth in a space cap­sule. For those alive at the time, it seemed al­most sur­real — akin to the stuff in comic books and sci­ence-fic­tion nov­els.

On the news re­cently, they showed old footage of the launch and the Mer­cury cap­sule Mr. Glenn pi­loted. How fu­tur­is­tic and tech­ni­cal it ap­peared in 1962. But as the news re­porter noted, to­day there is more tech­nol­ogy in a Ford Fi­esta than in that old cap­sule.

That rev­e­la­tion un­der­scores how quickly tech­nol­ogy and even fads can change. Think about it — just 20 years ago, a wire­less cell­phone car­ried in a large over-the-shoul­der bag seemed so ad­vanced. To­day, it’s a joke. Our tol­er­ance for ob­so­lete tech­nol­ogy is fright­en­ingly short.

I thought of that re­cently when I stopped in a fast-food res­tau­rant. The prize in the “Kid’s Meal” was an LCD watch at­tached to a car­toon watch­band. Does any­one not re­call the hys­te­ria when LCD watches were in­tro­duced in the 1980s? Big bucks were paid for them and ev­ery­one wanted one. Now it’s an­ti­quated tech­nol­ogy rel­e­gated to kid­die-meal prizes.

I’ve writ­ten too many times about the Beanie Baby ma­nia of the 1990s. Ob­sessed grand­moth­ers and spec­u­la­tors paid hun­dreds and even thou­sands of dol­lars for the small, bean-stuffed toys. Now a few may bring $20 or $30 on on­line auc­tion sites. More of­ten than not, they’re sta­ples of garage sales, sell­ing for a buck or two apiece.

So how might this ap­ply to present day items — par­tic­u­larly col­lectibles that may or may not have value in the fu­ture? I know of no one with a work­ing crys­tal ball, but some ed­u­cated guesses can be made.

Over the past decade or so, the U.S. Mint re­leased the now fa­mous 50 state quar­ters and sub­se­quently, the “Amer­ica the Beau­ti­ful” na­tional parks quar­ters. Their pop­u­lar­ity is un­prece­dented. The coins even ac­com­plished the unimag­in­able — they got kids to think of some­thing other than com­puter games and tex­ting. Un­be­liev­able.

The quar­ters were fun and rel­a­tively easy to col­lect. They weren’t rare but were in­ter­est­ing. Many kids, and even adults, proudly have the en­tire col­lec­tion and con­tinue to col­lect the “Amer­ica the Beau­ti­ful” na­tional parks quar­ters. But this is where I have to won­der if we aren’t at a point of what will or won’t be of value in the fu­ture. Here’s why. In an at­tempt to cap­i­tal­ize on the con­tin­ued in­ter­est in the “Amer­ica the Beau­ti­ful” quar­ters as well as the ris­ing price of sil­ver, some­one in Washington had the idea to re­pro­duce them in a gi­ant for­mat con­tain­ing a full 5 ounces of sil­ver.

These sub­stan­tially over­sized “coins” are about the size of a bev­er­age glass coaster and weigh, nat­u­rally, 5 ounces. That’s a hefty amount of sil­ver, which is val­ued to­day at roughly $175. The most re­cent 5-ounce coin re­pro­duces the Chick­a­saw Na­tional Re­cre­ation Area in Ok­la­homa.

The thing is, the designs on many of the coins looks great when they are small enough to fit on a quar­ter. Once they are en­larged to al­most 3 inches in di­am­e­ter, how­ever, much of the de­tail is lost. The im­pres­sive en­grav­ings on the quar­ters lose a lot of their ap­peal. That’s true again with the Chick­a­saw over­sized coin, which looked re­ally good as a small quar­ter.

That hasn’t stopped buy­ers hop­ing for quick prof­its. The coins sell from the Mint for just over $200, so there isn’t much wig­gle room there for mak­ing money. The hope­d­for prof­its come if the buy­ers send in the coins for grad­ing and they come back as a MS (Mint State) 69 or MS-70. For those high-graded coins, some spec­u­la­tors will pay a hefty pre­mium of mul­ti­ple hun­dreds of dol­lars.

Here’s where I have pause. I just don’t see those mas­sive coins be­ing sought af­ter down the road. Sure, if sil­ver climbs to $50 an ounce, a lit­tle profit is pos­si­ble. But some peo­ple are pay­ing $500 and $600 apiece for those high-graded mod­ern coins. Again, I don’t have a func­tion­ing crys­tal ball, but if his­tory has taught us any­thing (think Beanie Ba­bies), the prob­a­bil­ity for con­tin­ued de­mand and high prices down the road is slim.

Of course, we won’t know for some years to come. I just wouldn’t take the risk. ‘Nuff said.

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