On the surface, the term sell-out seems somewhat unambiguous.
I mean either you have something or you sold it all, right. Well yes and no. The Royal Canadian Mint retails coins to collectors and wholesales them to dealers and distributors around the world.
That means every time a coin is planned, the mintage is sort of divided up, so much for each market, and so many for direct sales. Admittedly that’s a somewhat simplified version, but you get the idea.
There is an advantage for collectors, when a coin is launched it isn’t as if the dealers can phone up and order everything in stock. Dealers ask for what they want, and then see what they get. In some cases they don’t get what they hoped for because demand is high enough that there aren’t enough coins.
Of course, it also means that collectors have to compete for only part of the mintage, since the other part is set aside for wholesale orders.
This is important when you see a notice from the Royal Canadian Mint meaning that an item is sold-out. That means that the RCM has sold all the coins it has allocated for direct sales. Most of the time, it also means that dealer orders have taken up the allocation for wholesale orders. The coin may still be available from some dealers at original price, while others have already moved into the secondary market price, which could be higher or lower.
Now that I have explained the whole matter and you think it makes sense, there is another development.
Few Canadians realize that one of the largest coin retailers in this country is none other than Canada Post. A portion of that allocation for wholesale orders is sent directly to Canada Post, where it is shipped to selected postal outlets. Once there, the coins sit until they are sold, there is no mechanism to return them.
In the case of unpopular coins, they may even be discounted eventually. In the case of popular coins, once the issue sells out, savvy collectors and dealers start calling postal outlets looking for coins.
Invariably they miss a few. There is no master list of postal outlets that sell coins, or what coins are in inventory. In many cases these coins end up doled out one at a time to philatelic counters in the back of drug stores, then sit there.
It creates a situation where a coin, such as the recent Superman issue, can be classed as sold out at the RCM, still be offered for sale at different prices by dealers, and still have examples sitting at the back of a revenue post office, still waiting for a home.
If you want a sold-out coin, take a few minutes and check your local postal outlets, you may just find a bargain. If not, you will feel better paying a premium, knowing they are genuinely tough to find.