When it comes to modern U.S. coins, rarity as defined solely by a coin’s mintage usually matters less than the rarity of a particular coin relative to the other coins in its series. In addition, certain modern U.S. coins are always in demand even when they are not the lowest-mintage coins of their series – perhaps because they are unique or were the first of their type.
Within that group there is a small subset of coins that are also so low in mintage that they are unlikely to be overtaken by another coin in the same series that has yet to be released. This is typically because special circumstances surrounded their release such a planchet shortage.
These are arguably the five best examples of coins that will likely remain in demand indefinitely and in most cases may remain the key date coins within their respective series.
2008-W American Buffalo Gold $50 Burnished coin
The 2013-W American Buffalo Gold $50 Proof coin’s mintage was lower than that of the 2008-W coin, which had been the lowest in the Gold Buffalo series from 2006 to 2012, but that was then supplanted by the 2015-W as the lowest. Then, the 2018-W came in with a lower mintage than the 2015 piece. Yet demand is greater for the 2008 issue, even though it has mintage about 3,500 coins higher than the current lowest-mintage coin.
However, it is the other version of this Gold Buffalo – the burnished $50 uncirculated one – that is the real series key. At the time it was released the U.S. Mint was experiencing problems with the quality of planchets for the coin, and almost 60% were destroyed, which is why the mintage came in at a mere 9,074 coins.
That coin was one of four Buffalo gold coins issued in 2008 in Proof and burnished uncirculated, and the three fractional coins ($5, $10 and $25) also remain among the most demanded modern U.S. issues that continue to command strong premiums.
1995-W American Silver Eagle $1 Proof coin
The king of American Silver Eagles is the 1995-W Proof coin that was the first Proof produced at West Point and was not sold separately like other Proofs in the series. It was only available to those who purchased the 10th anniversary set that also included a 4-piece American Gold Eagle Proof set. The cost of the full set deterred many buyers from purchasing it, and as a result the coin has a mintage of 30,125 – not a low number for some series, but an amazingly low one in this series.
Prices realized for examples that graded Proof 70 reached a high in 2013 of $86,655 for a coin that was free to those who bought the 1995 set! However, since then, many more examples have been graded and received the top grade, which has pushed prices for 70 coins down. In April of this year one such coin sold for $9,600, while Proof 69 examples continue to bring about $3,000 each.
It should be noted that in 2019, the United States Mint releases a Silver Eagle with a mintage just 125 lower than the 1995-W, the 2019-S Enhanced Reverse Proof, which boasted as mintage of just 30,000 pieces, and which sold out from the Mint within minutes of its release!
2008-W American Platinum Eagle $50 Burnished coin
In 2008 platinum spot prices were extremely volatile, reaching $2,100 per ounce mid-year and dropping to $900 later. The Mint suspended sales when the spot price dropped sharply. In addition, at the time buyers could choose between bullion, Proof and burnished Platinum American Eagle coins. When sales resumed late in the year, only a small number of coins remained, and they sold out quickly, especially because they were then priced at less than half the original cost. More orders were received than the number of coins available, but the true rarity of the coin would not be known for some time.
The final audited sales number, which were not available until a year after sales closed, showed the $50, ½ ounce burnished platinum coin had a minuscule mintage of just 2,253 coins, which included 1,283 in 4-coin sets and 970 individual coins. That made the coin the lowest mintage modern coin ever issued, and the lowest mintage coin produced since 1915.
Unlike some low-mintage modern issues that see their demand and values decline over time, recent prices realized for this coin – the king of modern coins – have been trending higher than they were several years ago, reaching $2,040 in June for an MS70 example. It is also noteworthy that the collectors later learned that the Mint discontinued the platinum burnished series as well as any fractional platinum coins.
2015-W American Platinum Eagle $100 Proof coin
In 2015 the U.S. Mint had trouble obtaining platinum coin planchets, which resulted in only one platinum coin being issued that year – the $100, 1 oz Proof with an attractive neo-classical design by Joel Iskowitz called “Liberty Nurture Freedom”. It was the first of a two-coin set with the 2016 issue, which has a much higher mintage.
The 2015 coin sold out in minutes, and the final audited mintage came in 3,881, the lowest for any platinum proof coin and one of the lowest modern coins overall. As a result, the value of the coin quickly rose, reaching as much as $4,000 for 70-graded pieces, which today can be obtained for $3,000 or a little less.
The coin is similar in some ways to the 1995 Proof silver eagle in that, while uncertain, it is unlikely the Mint will in the future release a platinum coin with as low a mintage. In fact, at the time the Mint received many complaints from buyers who were unable to get their order through in time.
2000-W Library of Congress $10 uncirculated coin
To mark the 200th anniversary of the Library of Congress, a $10 bi-metallic commemorative coin made of an inner core of ¼ oz of platinum surrounded by a ring of ¼ oz of gold was issued. In addition, the coin has remained the only one of its type (bi-metallic), which seemed a fitting way to mark the start of a new millennium. It is unclear what besides the price of about $400 per coin, which was substantially higher than that of regular $5 gold commemoratives at the time, deterred collectors from buying the coin, which has a classic design that many people find appealing. The obverse by John Mercanti shows the hand of the goddess Minerva holding the torch of learning before the dome of the library’s Jefferson building, while the reverse by Thomas Rogers features the library’s logo.
Sales of the Proof version were 27,455, but only 7,261 of the uncirculated pieces were sold. That gave the BU coin the status of the lowest-mintage commemorative for many years, and prices reached $4,000 during the first decade after its’ release and over $5,000 for 70 examples. Today the coin remains very popular, but prices have come down substantially – perhaps in part because several commemorative coins issued in recent years have lower mintages. Nevertheless, the Library of Congress coin is likely to remain in demand indefinitely.
R.S. Yeoman, A Guide Book of U.S. Coins 2020 (Whitman, 2019)
Scott Schechter and Jeff Garrett, The 100 Greatest Modern U.S. Coins, 3rd edition (Whitman, 2014)
John Maben and Eric Jordan, The Top 50 Most Popular Modern Coins (Krause, 2012)
Edmund C. Moy, American Gold and Platinum Eagles (Whitman, 2014)