How Much Would You Pay For A Half Dollar?

Mark Knoller is a White House Correspondent for CBS News.
Bob & Ray, the legendary comedy team, would always crack me up when they'd announce that their radio show was brought to you by "the United States Mint – makers of money. Get some soon!"

The idea of "buying" money from the Mint is pretty amusing.

But you should know that the Mint does, in fact, sell money.

I got an e-mail from the Mint early this morning that amounted to an ad for money.

It's selling rolls and bags of John F. Kennedy half-dollars – at a considerable mark-up.

If you're willing to pay $32.95 for $20-dollars worth of uncirculated fifty-cent pieces, you're their kind of customer.

Want more? The mint will happily sell you a $100 bag of Kennedy halves for $130.95. That means you'll be paying 65-cents for each half-dollar. But you do get your choice of mint mark – either "P" for Philadelphia or "D" for Denver.

If you're a coin collector, it may be worth it to get a mint-sewn bag of shiny, uncirculated coins, or a couple of rolls of coins in a U.S. Mint wrapper.

But if you know someone at your local bank, you can probably get some new coins at face value.

If you go to the U.S. Mint website, you'll see they'll sell you all of their coins – if you're willing to pay the premium.

A $25-roll of Sacagawea "Golden Dollars" goes for $35.95. That's $1.44 for each dollar coin. If you're willing to buy a 250-coin bag of the dollars, you can get 'em for $1.28 each. It's still a pretty hefty mark-up.

But that's nothing compared to the price the Mint charges for its bullion coins. Its American Eagle one-ounce platium proof coin has a face value of $100, but sells for $1500 – due to the value of the platinum.

For hard-core numismatists, the Mint even sells the dies used to stamp the image onto blank coins. A die used to make the 2003 Alabama quarters can be purchased for $34.95.

But don't think that will let you stamp out all the coins you want. The Mint makes it very clear that "the striking surface image has been completely removed" from the die. Pity.

I should in fairness mention that I'm a numismatist and still buy "proof sets" from the Mint most years. A "proof set" is composed of specially-minted, extra-lustrous examples of each coin produced by the Mint in a given year. If you're a coin collector, they're something to behold. And sometimes the value of proof sets will soar over the years.

Selling money at a premium is a pretty good business for the government. In 2004, U.S. Mint Director Henrietta Fore told a Congressional Committe that half-way through the 50 State Quarter program, special sales of the coins had generated more than $4-billion for the U.S. treasury.

The Mint estimates that more than 130 million Americans are coin collectors.

Perhaps more. After all, we all collect money in one way or another.

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    Mark Knoller is a CBS News White House correspondent.