Friday, December 19, 2014

JFK coin seekers mob Philly mint

Gift-shop bags containing boxed gold JFK coins were collected in a box by one group´s private security force outside the mint on the afternoon of Aug. 5, 2014.
Gift-shop bags containing boxed gold JFK coins were collected in a box by one group's private security force outside the mint on the afternoon of Aug. 5, 2014.
Gift-shop bags containing boxed gold JFK coins were collected in a box by one group´s private security force outside the mint on the afternoon of Aug. 5, 2014. Gallery: JFK coin seekers mob Philly mint

It was a mob scene, though a somehwat orderly one, twice today at the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia.

Starting at noon, hundreds of people, almost all of them working for private coin dealers, were waiting to be let into the gift shop, 10 at a time, to purchase a 50th anniversary commemorative Kennedy half-dollar made of ".9999 fine, 24-karat gold," to quote the mint.

Before they reached the registers, though, each person found two men waiting to pass along a white envelope containing cash or credit cards worth $1,240, the cost of the coin, which weighs three-quarters of a troy ounce.

First in line was a vet in a wheelchair, Joe Grover of Kensington, who opened the box to show off the shiny coin for the media.

Outside, private security guards for one group were collecting the bagged coin boxes in a bigger box, before escorting the purchasers to a nearby hotel to get paid.

One overzealous fellow quizzing a reporter said, "Everyone's armed here, so keep that in mind." 

Grover was also first in the morning line, where the wait was for 500 golden tickets conferring the right return for the noontime sale. Mint officials started handing them out about 8:15 a.m., eventually turning about 200 people away.

But that was hardly the beginning.

Grover said he arrived 2:30 Monday afternoon, after a friend called about an easy way to make some cash.

Sharon Patriaco of Lakewood, N.J., also arrived Monday afternoon, and said the crowd grew to  hundreds" by 11 p.m. 

Grace Scarano of Olney, Md., was simply walking by late Monday afternoon, when the crowd caught her attention. She signed up, got her wristband, and wound up being one of the first to buy a coin, accompanied by her young son, Noah.  

"Four hundred dollars" seemed to be the going rate for taking part, judging from a quick survey this morning of a dozen people. $300 to $600 was mentioned as the range.

About 8 a.m., the pack of proxies, permitted back on mint property, began running up a ramp to form the official line for tickets. One of the organizers, Marc Scher, shouted a series of explanations and exhortations to behave. 

Spokesman Tim Grant said the scene this morning was like nothing he'd seen in his 30 years with the mint.

 

    A mint spokesman says similar crowds were reported in Denver, Washington and Illinois, where the coins were also being sold. 
    Purchases were limited to one per person. 

About 8:15 a.m., one by one people were finally let through.

Scher, who lives in Bucks County, said he organized one group for a friend, and used word of mouth to recruit participants. The group, said another member, was affiliated with the Argent Group of Wilmington, which features gold buillion on its website's home page.

The second group was working for a California dealer, according to young organizer who declined to be identified. They used the Facebook page for Heery Casting to spread the word about the gig.

One group, prior to the gift-shop session, was returning workers' driver's licenses, apparently collected in the morning then kept to ensure that people would return.  

The 500 limit was just for today, Grant explained, since the coins can be ordered online or by mail from the mint. 

First-day editions, however, are especially valuable, and the key is obtaining a dated receipt, so an authenticator can create a specially marked case, a young assistant for the second group explained.

Then there's the Kennedy mystique, coupled with reverence in the coin world for the design of the Kennedy half-dollar, making this 50th anniversary edition even more valuable to collectors.

Similar commemorative coins, with "2014" instead of "1964-2014," are also available in much cheaper silver sets.

Crowds were also reported at the Denver Mint, the U.S. Mint headquarters in Washington, and the World's Fair of Money in Rosemont, Ill,, the other locations where the coins were being sold. 

Contact staff writer Peter Mucha at 215-854-4342 or pmucha@phillynews.com.

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