Case in point: in the March 10, 2008 issue of Coin World magazine, there is a cover story about a major coin dealer, David Hendrickson of SilverTowne, who says he has melted down thousands of gold coins for their bullion content. Here is the estimated number and types of coins he had melted down as of when the article was written (about 3 weeks ago):
- Between 5,000 to 7,000 First Spouse gold coins, both Proof and Uncirculated types combined, of Martha Washington and Louisa Adams.
- An undetermined number of First Spouse gold coins of Thomas Jefferson and Dolley Madison types
- Between 2,000 to 3,000 S.F. Old Mint Commemorative gold coins, both Proof and Uncirculated types combined.
- Between 5,000 to 7,000 Jamestown 400th Anniversary gold coins, both Proof and Uncirculated types combined.
Silver coins might be faring a little bit better; the dealers I spoke to said that mostly what's being melted down right now in silver is the "junk" like sterling silver Franklin Mint medals and ingots, and other non-official silver such as SilverTowne bars and rounds. (This tidbit came from a non-SilverTowne source.) Another type of Mint-issued coin that is going into the melting pot by the tens of thousands is the low-grade U.S. silver that trades in bags at bullion value.
Personally, I am appalled at this mass melting of U.S. coinage. Perhaps this is an attitude found more commonly among the collectors of ancient coins than the modern coin collectors, but I see coin collectors and dealers as stewards of our national heritage. These coins can never be replaced, and coin collectors have a duty to conserve and protect this heritage to pass down to future generations. After all, we can't take them with us when we die, so melting them for bullion is just selfish and antisocial.
On the other side of the coin, however, are the folks who believe that if you pay for the coin, you own it. It's yours to do whatever you want with it, even destroy it by tossing it into the melting pot. Some folks nearer to the middle ground on this issue wouldn't personally melt their own coins (or sell them knowing for sure that was going to happen) but they don't mind people doing it because it makes their own coins rarer and more valuable in the long run.
What do you think? Are these coin-melting dealers selfish, money-grubbing scoundrels who should be ashamed of themselves, or are they fully within their rights to melt away to their heart's content? Why do you feel this way? Please share your opinion via the "comments" link below, and next week we'll have a look at what people have to say.
Update: Read the follow-up article to melting coins for profit.