Trump dollar coins: A tarnished history

Monday, Sept. 28, 2020 | 2 a.m.

For the past three and a half years, the internet has been swamped with sites selling a variety of privately minted Donald Trump dollar coins that are promoted as valuable or rare collectibles, but for many investors, they likely will never pay off.

But with the presidential race against Democratic former Vice President Joe Biden heating up, the online Trump coin sellers hope to find a huge market in his Republican base.

“As in many cases, there are those who simply want to make a buck off of someone’s popularity,” said Chris Shands, owner of Archangel Coins in Las Vegas. “Some private operators mass-produce these items specifically to market them to Trump’s many supporters.”

And, Shands said, the Trump tokens, which have been marketed since Trump’s Jan. 20, 2017, inauguration, are nothing new. He says private minters have been marketing similar medallions of other presidents for at least the past two decades.

Shands, declining to declare his political position on the upcoming presidential election, questioned whether Trump is even aware of the sale of these coins. But Shands musingly added that he doubts that Trump, given his ego, would complain about seeing his face on U.S.-type money.

By a federal law passed in 1966 — and, to some extent, by a rarely broken tradition that began when George Washington refused to allow his image on the silver dollar coin — no living person can appear on U.S. money.

So Trump’s image cannot be put on any newly minted U.S. cash or change until he dies. The way some sellers get around the 1966 law — and also are allowed to declare that their product is legal tender — is to superimpose Trump’s colorized image on existing U.S. coins.

Among those used are the 2016 $1 Ronald Reagan gold-tone coin and the large 1970s non-silver Dwight Eisenhower dollar. The coins of the popular dead Republican leaders indeed were issued by the U.S. Mint, the government’s only official mint, and thus are legal tender.

Frankly, this process paves the way for inflated prices on low-value stock. For example, the Reagan and Ike dollars, without Trump embellishments, are common coins, generally worth just $1 each. But, one online seller of the Trump/Ike dollar is asking $12.95 per coin.

If a Trumper feels that a more than 1,200% markup is worth it to possess a small — and still relatively inexpensive — memento of his idol, so be it. For others, it’s frankly an old-fashioned case of caveat emptor (Latin for “let the buyer beware”).

(By the way, there are Biden coins too. But there are far fewer of them and, for the most part, they are marketed as inexpensive novelties, not as investments.)

Shands cautioned consumers that much of the Trump change out there has little value. Also, he said, the valuable stuff often carries such high sale premiums that it is doubtful it ever will be worth what consumers have been paying for it.

And make no mistake about it, there are Trump “monies” with value. So-called one-ounce silver rounds with the image of Trump engraved on them are legitimate bullion (precious metal coins with no dollar value or date assigned). And they can be good investments, again, if the price is right, Shands says.

For instance, one online bullion seller priced his one-ounce Trump rounds at $45.95 apiece. Although silver has been rising significantly since 2017, it only recently topped the $27-per-ounce plateau. (Trump’s mug does not add much numismatic value — at least no more than most other markings on silver rounds.)

That means an investor, in the up-and-down silver market, may have to hold on to that coin for years before recouping his initial investment, let alone make a profit.

To be fair, I found one seller online, a company called Money Metals Exchange, selling Trump silver rounds for a modest $35.23 for one coin and a terrific $27.25 … if you buy 501 silver coins. Total: $13,652.25. (Whew, that’s a lot of Donalds.)

Another entrepreneur was selling colorized “nude” first lady Melania Trump coins on eBay for $5 apiece. I’m serious. The nude appears to be a fake but this news is not. And yes, the product is in poor taste.

Shands has some other good advice when considering purchasing precious metals with a hope of making a profit.

“What you want to look for is ‘.999 pure silver’ with a weight of 31.1 grams,” he said. “What you don’t want to see in the ads are words like plated, clad or mils (the thickness of plating),” as those are red flags for coins that have little to no value.

All that said, there actually are a few Trump coins with extraordinarily high value, Shands said, noting that one is the 2017 one-ounce gold coin issued by Equatorial Guinea, valued at nearly $2,000 — $1,250 when it was released in 2017.

The problem with that coin — much like the high-priced silver rounds — is that it has sold at a whopping $3,000 a specimen. If you paid $1,750 more than gold was worth in 2017, you really should not expect to recoup your investment and turn a profit in the volatile gold market for decades at the least — forever at the most.

When all is said and done, if your goal is to make a profit off of Trump memorabilia, it might be a good idea to stay away from Trump’s money, specifically the coins with his picture on them.

Ed Koch is a former longtime Las Vegas Sun reporter.