Mint needs a different approach to selling low-mintage sets

Published : 11/02/11
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The U.S. Mint’s approach to marketing products such at the 25th Anniversary set for the American Eagle silver dollar fits precisely the definition of insanity often attributed to Albert Einstein: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Mint officials continue to place keys to a popular series in a special collector set or launch new series with arbitrarily low mintages, offer them via a less-than-adequate website and telephone ordering system, pat themselves on the back for sellouts, and wonder why multitudes of the Mint’s customers are unhappy.

How many times have we seen this scenario? Remember the 2006 20th Anniversary sets for American Eagle gold and silver bullion coins? The 2006 American Buffalo .9999 fine gold coins? The 2007 First Spouse .9999 fine gold bullion coins? The 2010 America the Beautiful 5-ounce silver bullion coins? There are more, but this list is long enough to make the point.

While the Mint’s website leaves a lot to be desired and greatly contributes to the frustrations of customers trying to order during high-volume demand, it is not the real problem, which is rooted in mintage limits that invite speculation and gaming the system.

The American Eagle silver bullion coin is by far the most widely collected and popular coin the U.S. Mint has produced in the last 25 years. Many people collect the series and have accepted the fact that they may never have a complete set due to the Mint’s marketing gimmick in 1995. The coin produced to honor the 10th anniversary was only available in a Proof set of American Eagle gold coins, resulting in only 30,124 of the Proof 1995-W American Eagle 1-ounce silver coins being sold.

For the 20th anniversary, the Mint offered a three-coin set of silver American Eagles in Uncirculated, Proof and Reverse Proof finishes with a maximum mintage of 250,000 sets, which sold out — proving a large collector base exists for this series.

Yet, for the 25th anniversary, Mint officials devised a five-coin set containing one Proof 2011-W coin bearing the W Mint mark of the West Point Mint in New York, one Reverse Proof 2011-P coin struck at the Philadelphia Mint with the P Mint mark, one Uncirculated 2011-S coin struck with the S Mint mark of the San Francisco Mint, one Uncirculated 2011-W coin struck at the West Point Mint and one bullion coin struck without a Mint mark at the San Francisco Mint, identical to all of the other 2011 bullion coins.

The Reverse Proof and 2011-S coins are unique to the 25th Anniversary set. Despite evidence of a much greater collector base, Mint officials set a maximum mintage of 100,000 for the 25th Anniversary set, thereby making the two coins unique to the set among the lowest mintage American Eagle silver dollars.

Over and over again, speculators have proven they can get around the Mint’s limit of five sets per household, shutting out those who just want one set to make their collections complete.

Again, we borrow a quote from Einstein: “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”

The U.S. Mint needs a different approach, especially if it insists on continuing with limited mintages based on who knows what.

Two approaches are worth exploring: One is a lottery in which unlimited orders can be placed during a one-week period. All orders received would be placed in the lottery. An order limit per household per option could still be imposed. The second approach would be to open ordering for a specified time period, such as a week, and strike to fulfill every order. Under such a system no ordering limits would have to be imposed. ■

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