Even if Canada's hockey team wins gold, Olympic coins not a worthwhile investment

Olympic canadian hockey team Martin BrodeurThe quarter-page ad in the New York Times caught my eye: "Final Year Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games Silver Dollar Just Released!"

For as low as $24.95, I could have a silver dollar from Canada -- with a hockey player on it. Since I couldn't make it to Vancouver, it looked like an Olympic souvenir worth having. Or was it?
You'd think that a silver dollar would cost just that -- a dollar, even at current exchange rates. Why would anyone pay $24.95 for a silver dollar? I could buy a Loonie, Canada's dollar coin, for, oh, about $1.

But an Olympic souvenir like this is a "HUGE buying opportunity!" the ad shouted. Not really, I discovered after reading the fine print and talking with some Olympic coin collectors and sellers.

The Olympic coins are "manufactured/hyped collectibles," said collector Pablo Solomon, an artist who was taught by his parents how to find good collectibles and sell them for a profit.

"They are such poor quality and produced in such mass numbers that the only way that they would go up in value is if the factory burned down and melted all but about 10 coins and no more were produced," Solomon wrote in an e-mail.

Getting a famous Olympic star to sign the coin, and have your picture taken with the star signing the coin, might make it worth the original price in about 50 years, he said. A better investment is to buy a solid silver American coin from a reputable dealer for the $25 and it will go up over the years, he said.

And, to get the Vancouver Olympic coin for $24.95, the seller requires buying 100 coins, which adds up to $2,495 before shipping and handling are added. Buying one coin is $27.95.

The ad pushes it as an investment, saying that the first Olympic Games commemorative coin was issued by Finland in 1951 at a cost of about $13. It's now worth as much as $674, the ad says.

The ad's misleading, according to Dan Lynch, owner of San Jose Coin Shop for more than 35 years. The coin was made in 1951 and only 19,000 were struck, Lynch told WalletPop in an e-mail. There was no mass offering of the coins internationally. To assume that the Vancouver Olympic coin will go up so much in value is misleading.

Hundreds of other Olympic coins from dozens of countries were made in massive quantities and offered all over the world, and now sell for a fraction of their issue prices today, said Lynch, who sells the 1968 Mexico Olympic 25 peso coin for $10.

Canada has produced massive quantities of commemmorative Olympic coins that won't hold their value, he said.

As with many collectibles, the value of Olympic coins comes down to scarcity and demand, said Albert Fong, a coin collector in San Francisco. The Vancouver Olympic coins will likely stay affordable for a long time because so many are being minted, making them more suitable to enjoy collecting instead of as investments, Fong wrote in an e-mail exchange.

As an investment, I'll stick with the Loonie.

Aaron Crowe is a freelance journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area.
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