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The E-Sylum: Volume 25, Number 6, February 6, 2022, Article 18

'UNSEARCHED VAULT BAGS' AD REVIEW

Missouri Numismatic Society President Chris Sutter saw last week's item about the 'Unsearched Vault Bags' Consumer Warning, and kindly passed along a related article he wrote last July for the MNS's annual publication, the Missouri Journal of Numismatics. With permission, we're republishing the article here. Thanks! -Editor

  Coin Investment Offer
by C. Joseph Sutter

Walking Liberty Bank Rolls ad In the St. Louis Post Dispatch, the exclusive St. Louis newspaper, advertisements have been appearing over the past year offering coin investments. As a coin collector these ads seem to offer numismatic investments to the uninformed. They offer fantastic deals and claim that collectors and dealers will be attempting to purchase all the item quantities before the general public has a chance.

So what is the story behind these ads?

For this article, five ads covering five different items were reviewed. These ads appeared in the St. Louis Post Dispatch on December 15, 2020, January 20, 2021, January 26, 2021, April 08, 2021 and June 7, 2021. The ads were all headlined by ADVERTISMENT followed by, except for the last ad, SPECIAL ADVERTISMENT FEATURE. They offered, respectfully:

  • Bags of over 100 U.S. Gov't issued coins dating back to the 1800's, limit twenty
  • First Bank of the United States Jumbo Gold bars with the destination state stamped on it, no limit
  • Rolls of ten Morgan Silver Dollars labelled with State of Missouri RESTRICTED on the wrapper, limit four
  • Rolls of ten Missouri one ounce silver ingots, limit four
  • Bags of three pound (over 100) U.S. Gov't issued coins dating back to the 1800's, no limit.

Where are these ads from? Canton, Ohio. To be more precise: The Lincoln Treasury, Inc (ad 1) and the National Mint and Treasury (ads 3,4) are in Canton while the Federated Mint, LLC (ads 2,5) is in Massillon which is 8 miles from Canton.

Other interesting observations:

  • The bags in ads 1 and 5 look identical. Both ads state that after the bags were filled, my emphasis, the dates were never searched and the bags were sealed
  • The gold bars not only have Property of the First Bank of the United States stamped on them they also say EST. 1791 making you think the bars were created back then. They are also stamped Missouri which conflicts with the 1791 date since Missouri did not exist until 1821
  • The bars are stamped .999 Gold and state a full 20 ounces of 24 Karat Gold and valuable bullion copper. Since another part of the ad tells you these are mainly copper the offering firm would tell you that the ad is not misleading you into thinking more gold is present then actually is. I believe it is misleading.
  • All the offers are restricted to local residents: Missouri residents (ads 2,3,4) or selected zip codes (ads 1,5)
  • All the offers are time conditioned: two days or 48 hours. Note: since these are the same time frame the advertisers are probably seeing which of the references yields the best results
  • All offers have penalties if the deadline is missed: offer extended to beyond stated group and/or increased price.
  • None of the offers provide grades of the coins.
  • Browsing the offering firms websites:
    • National Mint and Treasury – website just has text from ad 3
    • the Federated Mint, LLC – due to coronavirus concerns their phone lines are closed. They are trying to ship previously received orders. It says this in June 2021 even though most businesses have moved on from this limitation.
    • The Lincoln Treasury, Inc – they do have an active website which features items similar to those offered in the ads.

So what about the price, is it a good one?

  • $49 per bag. The ad shows a 1908-S Indian Cent (value estimated in the ad at $90.00), a 1914-D Lincoln Cent (value estimated at $215.00) and a 1943-S Steel Lincoln Cent (value estimated at $6.00) but does not indicate the grade of these coins nor promise that one of these will be in the bag.
  • $49 per ounce or $980 for a brick, the basic sales unit. A Brick is four bars, each bar is five ounces. Each bar is five ounces of high demand bullion copper layered in 24 karat gold. With copper at $4.27 / ounce that's $85.40 for the twenty ounce Brick. Depending on the amount of gold in the layer, $980 seem high.
  • $59 per coin $590 per roll. Since each Morgan dollar contains .77344 ounces of silver and silver is under $30 per ounce and condition is not specified, $59 seems high.
  • $79 per coin $790 per roll. Similar to Morgan Dollar. While these coins are one ounce of .999 silver $79 seems high.
  • $980 per bag. In one part of the ad these coins are: silver, scarce collectible and non-circulating U.S. coins. When describing the coins they include bicentennial quarters, wheat cents and Buffalo nickels. The descriptions conflict. Seems high.

The words in the ads were chosen to instill confidence in the buyer if they are not read carefully and analyzed to determine their meaning. For example: stating that the coins in ads 1 and 5 were not searched after sealing them in the bags implies un-searched coins. A careful reading discovers that the coins could have been selected before placing them in the bag.

The ads also contain quotes from famous or at least famous sounding people to justify the value of the items. Ads 2 and 5 use Mary Ellen Withrow as a source. Who is Mary Ellen Withrow? She was the 40th Treasurer of the United States. Appointed by Bill Clinton she served from 1994 – 2001. She is ninety years old. The ads call her emeritus Treasurer which is a fancy way of saying she was formerly in the job. She is not quoted as to the value of the items, only about how they are offered. If you think she is recommending the purchase, she is not. She is telling you that a limited window of ordering exists.

Ad 3, for the Morgan Silver Dollars is representative of the potentially misleading word choices. The ad does not refer to Mary Ellen Withrow by name, instead she is retired Treasurer of the United States of America. She is quoted as saying In all my years as Treasurer I've only ever seen a handful of these rare Morgan Silver Dollars issued by the Gov't back in the 1880's. Since Morgan Dollars are easily available and can be found at numerous coin shows or retail locations by numerous dealers, her statement lacks credibility. The ad mentions the possibility of finding a 1892-S worth thousands of dollars in the unsearched rolls. It does state that there are never any guarantees. I agree with the ad on this point.

The ad refers to the rolls as Restricted because the coins are placed in a paper wrapper with the words RESTRICTED / FOR MISSOURI STATE RESIDENTS ONLY printed on them. I am not sure how restricted this really is. In fact any roll not purchased within the time window maybe be purchased by non-Missouri residents, for an increased amount of $136 / coin or $1,360 a roll.

While no grade for the Morgan Dollars is provided, ad 3 does mention the Official Red Book, A Guide Book of United States Coins and illustrates four specific coins: 1886-S, 1888-S, 1896-S and 1899-P. Looking at the 2021 addition of the book the values stated in the ad match the values for grades vf-20 through ms-60. The ad also states that all Morgan's are worth a minimum of $125. Of course they did not offer the 1881-S or 1882-S as examples.

The offering firm's websites do not inspire much confidence since one is basically shut down, another only has the one ad in it and the third offers a few similar type items. None of the websites provide information about the company or other pertinent information.

Are these good deals? I admit that I entered this research with a closed mind. I thought the ads were intending to sell overpriced numismatic items to unknowledgeable people. Since ad 3 say the rolls make amazing gifts for … children, parents, grandparents, friends or loved ones, it does not appear that the target market is collectors. No collector would think this is money well spent. Nothing in my research changed my mind. I believe the items are vastly over-priced and should be avoided.

Chris couldn't provide images of the specific ads reviewed, but he was able to send the above image from a February 4, 2022 Post-Dispatch ad featuring Walking Liberty Half Dollars. Thanks. -Editor

To read the complete journal issue on the Newman Numismatic Portal, see:
Missouri Journal of Numismatics, Missouri Numismatic Society (2021) (https://nnp.wustl.edu/library/book/606492)

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