This is the first of its kind: a high relief proof gold Kennedy half dollar, struck in commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the John F. Kennedy half dollar and contains ¾ oz. of 24kt gold.
Since its very inception some 50 years ago, the Kennedy half dollar remains for many a valued and cherished keepsake. Yet, the passion generated by the inaugural release of the silver Kennedy half dollar—on March 24, 1964—pales to the frenetic chaos which greeted the inaugural release of the 50th Anniversary gold Kennedy half dollar proof coin last week.
Although the coins were released at the U.S. Mint locations in Philadelphia, Denver and San Francisco, as well as Washington, D.C. and online via the Mint’s website, the coins released Aug. 5-6 at the American Numismatic Association’s World’s Fair of Money at the Donald E Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont, Ill., have gotten the lion’s share of media attention.
And while I didn’t plan it, I had a front row seat to observe this mayhem the release of this coin caused.
I arrived in Chicago for the event early in the evening on Aug. 5 and went immediately to my hotel, which was right across the street from the convention center. The next morning while preparing for a 5:15 a.m. treadmill run on the hotel’s gym, I looked out at the panoramic view of the city, which was still dark but punctuated with streetlights and building lighting. I noticed a police cruiser with flashing blue lights and a small group of spectators along front façade of the convention center some 10 floors below me. I really didn’t think anything more of it at that point as I thought perhaps it may have been an accident and a small crowd of those involved gathered around so I continued my work out.
Then about a half-hour later I noticed that there were even more people clustered around down building, and there where now a couple of cruisers. It then dawned on me that this crowd wasn’t there because of an accident, nor where they dealers waiting to get into the convention center to set up for the show. This large throng was waiting to secure gold Kennedy half dollars!
I bolted down to my room, grabbed my camera and raced back and took some photos of this animated assembly. I then made my way over to the hall to set up at my table, I overheard an ANA official tell the lengthy crowd still milling about by the convention center entrance that there were no more Kennedy half dollars available that day and that they would have to come back tomorrow.
I asked an ANA representative—one who wishes to remain anonymous—what was happening. He told me that there had been no protocol set up the first day of sales other than the one-coin-per-person rule. It seems that while credentialed collectors and dealers were lining up peacefully prior to the first day of scheduled Kennedy half sales other people, line crashers, who were being paid by certain dealers, were being bused in mostly after midnight to infiltrate the existing line. These “scabs” also initiated some mild altercations and other commotion, which necessitated the police to have the line reformed, thus cancelling out some places in line by those who had already been patiently waiting! The next morning, those “insiders” were the first 500 in line to secure tickets for the first phase release of the Kennedy half-dollar at $1,240 per coin.
The line of people waiting in line to attempt to get a gold Kennedy half dollar on Aug. 6 around 9:45 a.m. There was no barricade at this time, although one would be put up later.
Mint and ANA representatives were quick to discover that many of the people in line were obviously not collectors but were being paid to secure a spot for someone else, and if they got a ticket, it would be handed over for that dealer or collector to purchase. This process was quickly stymied and the ANA made certain that beginning with the second day, Aug. 6, that before given a ticket, the individuals in line would have to provide proper ANA credentials and ID, which proved they were older than 18 years of age, as well as their own individual means of paying for the coins; either credit card or cash.
As I left the ANA World’s Fair of Money show the evening of the 6th around 6:30 p.m., a sardonic gathering of around a hundred had already formed, some armed with folding chairs, knapsacks and some with sleeping bags ready to dig in. At this point, wooden barricades had been set up along the perimeter and there were at least four Rosemont police officers present to ensure that the busloads of paid “collectors” and other hired muscle couldn’t charge across the street and disrupt and infiltrate the lines of those already in the queue (which unfortunately happened the previous two evenings). One Rosemont police officer I spoke with advised that he didn’t know what was going on; he was just called into duty and was told that at least six more officers would be called on before midnight.
Those who lined up—while for the most part may have been considered orderly, were certainly not your typical ANA member nor typical coin collector. Instead, the majority of humanity that lined up overnight resembled a collection of castoffs of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, World Series ticket scalpers and a mix of homeless and destitute people from Third World nations. In the morning, after their all-night vigil, the crowd ascended on the convention center like locust, leaving empty water bottles, sleeping bags, pizza boxes, folding chairs and other trash in their wake.
Really! I mean this is the ANA World’s Fair of Money—the premier show of numismatic nation. There were major auctions going on inside the convention Center. Millions of dollars’ worth of elite, numismatic rarities, educational exhibits and the most astute and finest numismatists in the world were on hand. What did the U.S. Mint and ANA really think was going to happen here?
It is amazing that, in spite of the multitude of advance notice on the various electronic coin exchanges describing dealer plans of paying individuals to muscle in at the ANA to monopolize and control the market, that the only countermeasure that the U.S. Mint responded with was to reduce the coins-per-person limit from two to one for the 500 coins scheduled to be released each day during the World’s Fair of Money.
The lucky first buyers: Nick Yadgarov, Callie Hohlfeld and Daniel Yadgarov of Los Angeles hold the first three 1964-2014 proof gold Kennedy half dollars sold at the ANA World’s Fair of Money. (Photo: Donn Pearlman)
A lottery system should have been set up for those attendees coming into the ANA. A ticket would be given to each properly credentialed collector and then, say at noontime, the lottery would take place. Instead, after the fiasco of the first three days, the U.S. Mint issued a release to all of us on the convention floor late in the afternoon on Aug. 7 which read: “Sales halted in Rosemont for new gold Kennedy coins.” Signs were then immediately posted on all of the outside doors of the convention Hall that read: “Kennedy gold sales discontinued.” On my way from the show on Thursday evening, many people who were just arriving to form another line were being turned away by police as the news had not spread that there’d be no further sales.
One couple that I spoke with, Mark and McKenzie, of greater Chicago, came along in hopes to secure one coin for his collection, as well as one coin to sell. This seemed to be a common refrain of most individuals whom I chatted with. Yet after two days coming up short of the golden ticket—the second day by only 18 places—they had hoped the third day would be the charm, only to find out that sales had been suspended. Mark, who described himself as a true collector, summed up what he saw:
“I’m totally disheartened with the situation coming here the other night and then came back again hoping to secure a coin. We came back here at six o’clock last night. When we were buying our credentials yesterday afternoon, there were groups of people already in line being paid by one guy (major national dealer)! “They were paying for them to essentially just stand in line. They were to get paid a minimum of $500 for each coin they secured.”
Scalping for space in line was also observed by Mark and McKenzie, they said, several individuals parading up and down the lines in front of the convention center at approximately 1 a.m., were offering to sell seats (in the 75 to 80 position) for $500 each. More than a handful of these coveted locations were sold at this price.
The first coin sold went to coin collector Nick Yadgarov from Los Angeles, who purchased it from the U.S. Mint for $1,240 on Tuesday at the ANA. This gold Kennedy was quite coveted and caused quite the media stir. It was later purchased by dealers David Hendrickson of SilverTowne, and Beverly Hills dealer Kevin Lipton for $5,000. These dealers are both market makers of modern U.S. coins and knew that they had a client who was anxious to acquire the first coin released at the ANA. The two dealers also offered the same $5,000 for the next three coins purchased at Rosemont—those by Nick’s girlfriend, his brother and his sister. For their efforts and appreciation, the dealers supplied each of the four with another random proof gold Kennedy, just not one of the first four! Those first four coins were immediately submitted to PCGS for “walk through” grading on site. Later that day the, first Kennedy coin submitted for grading at PCGS was assigned Proof 70, as well as designated the first coin sold at ANA on the label. This coin was then sold via Hendrickson and Lipton to one of their clients for $100,000! This is absolutely amazing and really without precedent for a new release issue. Now mind you, this was not the first gold Kennedy coin struck, this merely was the first coin sold in Rosemont.
Here is the first gold Kennedy half dollar purchased at ANA at Rosemont, Ill. It is graded by PCGS as PR70 and designated as the first coin sold in Chicago. It sold for $100,000.
I spoke to Hendrickson, who told me that he was offering $2,500 for any Chicago coin and he advised me that he had already accumulated several hundred of the gold Kennedy coins. He had them slabbed and was not selling any at the show but instead said a portion of his supply of NGC PF 70 gold Kennedys with the first day Chicago release designation on the label would be available that evening on his TV coin channel for the introductory price of $4,995. David also said that come the first of the week, there would be an adjustment and the prices would be elevated.
Although some will argue that the publicity is good for the hobby of coin collecting and stories like this will bring in more collectors. In my opinion, while it may be an example of free enterprise, most all of the news and media coverage generated from Rosemont represented greed and monopoly, certainly not what the ANA stands for. While not in the same vein as the infamous 1968 Democratic Presidential Convention in Chicago, the events that transpired the first week of August 2014 over the gold Kennedy half dollar in the greater Windy City must rank as one of the darker periods in numismatic history.
The World’s Fair of Money is supposed to be about the camaraderie of collectors, to educate youth about numismatics and to learn the history of coins, view great collections and explore the world of money through research and their great museum. The U.S. Mint, I am sure, has also learned a great lesson here. I certainly don’t wish to have numismatics reduced to a passing fad, such as over-produced and over promoted Beanie Babies and the like.
The good news for collectors is that they can still acquire a gold Kennedy half-dollar via the U.S. mint’s website at the issue price of $1,240. They just will not be eligible for the first day release or Chicago ANA release on a third-party grading label, if the collector so decides to have one graded.
Until next time, happy collecting!
Jim Bisognani has written extensively on U.S. coin market trends and values and was the market analyst and writer for a major pricing guide for many years. He currently resides in New England and frequently attends major coin shows and auctions.
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