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What Is A First Strike Coin?

February 10, 2015 1 Comment

2015 1 oz Gold Eagle PCGS First Strike MS70

Coin grading companies such as PCGS and NGC have been labeling coins “First Strike” for a while now and we get many collectors asking us what this designation means. There’s a lot of funny information out there and in this article we’re going to dispel the rumors and get right to what exactly the “First Strike” annotation means.

When I first started working in a coin shop, the prevailing thought at the time was that “First Strike” meant that these coins were stamped first at the U.S. Mint, with the first working die. In the case of American Silver Eagles, tens of millions of coins will be minted and stamped (44+ million in 2014) and over time the working dies that are used to stamp the coins will wear out and need to be replaced. The common thought was that “First Strike” coins were coins that were minted with the first die in use. That is now known to be incorrect.

The U.S. Mint does not have the capacity to keep track of which coins were produced with which dies. The U.S. Mint ramps up production of coins months prior to a release and does not keep track of the order in which the coins were minted. Millions of coins are produced in anticipation of the release date, so the Mint will have all of these coins in their vaults waiting to sell them to the public. In 2005, and 2006, the U.S. Mint had over 50% of the year’s mintage already produced before the initial release date. And when they’re released, it’s a mad rush to ship out millions of coins to distributors.

Then What Exactly Does “First Strike” Mean?

Grading companies apply the “First Strike” designation to coins that were packaged for shipment from the U.S. Mint within 30 days of their official release. The key phrase here is “packaged for shipment” within the first 30 days of their release. This has nothing to do with the date the coin was struck, or which die it was struck with. It just means that the coins were boxes up and mailed within the first 30 days.

“First Strike” is more of a marketing tactic born out of coin collectors’ proclivity to seek out coins of special significance – with the strike date of a coin being the main, and most obvious trait. It is no wonder that this marketing tactic has been so successful and that collectors believe the “First Strike” designation means their coins were struck first, or at least early in production.

2015 Silver Eagle NGC MS70 Early Releases

Third party grading services have come under fire lately because of this misleading label with class action lawsuits filed to challenge this point. NGC was the first company to step up and suspend the “First Strike” designation from their labels. They have since replaced the “First Strike” designations with the “Early Releases” label. PCGS has not succumbed to the pressure and continues to label coins “First Strike.”

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  1. Pete K. says:

    Interesting and informative. Thanks for educating the masses.

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