On a recent trip to upstate New York, I came across a full-page ad in the Finger Lakes Times saying that "the last restricted rolls" of...
On a recent trip to upstate New York, I came across a full-page ad in the Finger Lakes Times saying that “the last restricted rolls” of Empire State quarters would be sold in the next 48 hours.
The ad was built to look and read like a newspaper story, and I tore it out of the newspaper, figuring it might be fodder for Stupid Investment of the Week; when I returned home, my wife discussed the ad one morning over breakfast, before I moved it from the kitchen table to my office.
A short time later, my wife traveled to her parents’ home, and was asked by her dad to remove some valuables, basically a drawer with some old piggy banks and tins filled with a lifetime of pocket change presumed to be “worth something.” When she brought it home, there were years of interesting coins to look at, plus nine little blue velvet bags.
Inside those bags were the very same kinds of rolls of uncirculated New York state quarters, which judging from some accompanying paperwork had been purchased from a similar offer seven years ago.
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Each order was exactly as described by in the Finger Lakes Times ad, including a specially wrapped roll of 25 coins — the wrapper saying that they were restricted to New York residents only — plus the “free quarter” encased in plastic.
My wife said: “I’m betting this isn’t the smartest investment my parents ever made.”
In fact, it’s one of the dumbest ones, because the “special state quarter offers” — and they appear in many newspapers around the country, each with a local twist or angle — are a Stupid Investment of the Week.
Stupid Investment of the Week showcases the concerns and conditions that make an investment less than ideal for the average consumer, and is written in the hope that showcasing the faults in one situation will make them easier to recognize elsewhere. While obviously not a buy recommendation, the column is not meant to be an automatic sell signal; if someone bought modern state coins for the fun and hobby of collecting them, keeping them for the joy they bring is a good idea.
As an investment, however, the deal promoted in the ad is a loser.
To its credit, World Reserve Monetary Exchange’s ad — actually described as a “Universal Media Syndicate Special Advertisement Feature” — does not focus in on the investment value of the coins, instead discussing how the Lady Liberty quarter will not be minted again, and how proud New Yorkers may want to set aside some of these tokens as the firm “is offering up the last of its private horde … to New York state residents only.”
There is a small part of the ad, however, headlined “Value for state quarters soars,” and which discusses how the Tennessee quarter “has already increased in value an astonishing 1,100 percent.” Ohio and Louisiana quarters are also up more than 300 percent in value, according to the accompanying chart.
It sounds great, but the World Reserve phone representatives couldn’t tell me who was paying that much, and said only that the value of the quarters “might” go up (ignoring the more likely outcome, which is that they “might not”). I asked the phone reps to put me in touch with executives of the firm, but no one returned my calls.
In talking with coin dealers, and looking at value tables, the best price I found on perfect-condition Tennessee quarters was 75 cents, a far cry from the 1,100 percent gain, which would make the quarter worth about three bucks. The best value on New York quarters, minted in 2001, was 28 cents.
And those are prices that dealers sell coins for, not the price you’ll get taking your quarters to the open market.
Moreover, the entire idea of buying new quarters for monetary gain defies logic, even by the sometimes illogical standards of collectibles.
State quarters were minted in huge quantities; the special New York wrapper is just something the World Reserve slapped on them, not some special, valuable designation; in fact, some collectors pay more for “original bank-rolled coins,” and might look askance on the World Reserve’s rolls of 25 quarters (rather than the standard 40).
“It’s not collecting, it’s speculation,” says Jon Hanson, a rare coin dealer in Wellesley, Mass. “You are buying something because you’ve been told it has the possibility to be worth something, but millions have been made and they’re easy to come by. … Things like these coins become worth something because of the hype, and that hype doesn’t last forever. When the hype dies and the focus shifts, there’s no demand, and you’re left having paid too much.”
Indeed, what makes the special quarter offers so bad is the pricing. You get 25 quarters — face value of $6.25 — plus the special “free” one in its special case for $21.10.
Because I called in after the 48-hour period, operators told me I’d have to pay an extra two bucks. (So much for the horde of coins selling out in that hyped big weekend in late March.)
That price includes the shipping and handling charges, but it basically means that buyers are spending 88 cents for every 25-cent coin they purchase.
That means that with the best price currently listed by coin dealers for those Tennessee quarters — much more scarce and most quarters in any roll would fall below that standard of excellence — they’re still below break-even. And since the deal was on New York quarters — now fetching 28 cents in the best condition — investors start out deeply underwater.
Several numismatists noted that someone looking for uncirculated coins can frequently get them at their local bank, especially if they have a relationship with the manager and ask to be contacted when new coins arrive.
At that point, they can get uncirculated coins at face value.
In short, the best way to get an investment return off the “special” coins advertised in the newspaper ads is to unwrap them and invest the proceeds.
On their own, however, these “special” quarters have little more than sentimental value, and the chances that they recoup the price paid for them or keep pace with inflation are nil.
Chuck Jaffe is senior columnist for MarketWatch. He does not own or hold short positions in any securities covered by Stupid Investment of the Week. If you have a suggestion for Chuck Jaffe’s Stupid Investment of the Week or a comment about this week’s column, you can reach him at email@example.com or Box 70, Cohasset, MA 02025-0070.