‘Beautiful’ quarters not worth risk in long run
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.