U.S. Mint views collectors as cash cows to be milked at will

Published : 11/18/11
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The U.S. Mint has two goals. The first and primary goal is the production of circulating coinage to meet the demands of American commerce. The secondary goal is to produce coinage for collectors. The collector coins take up far less of the Mint’s time and resources, but they provide a very handsome profit for the Mint, and therefore, the wants and wellbeing of collectors should be of high concern to the Mint. Unfortunately Mint officials could care less what collectors want or how much they are taken advantage of.

A primary example of this fact was demonstrated with the recent release of the 2011 25th Anniversary American Eagle Silver Coin sets. It is common knowledge that silver American Eagles are one of the most collected modern coins. In 2006 the Mint released the 20th Anniversary set, with a mintage of two-and-a-half times the current sets, and it was a sellout, thus clearly demonstrating the interest level and size of the collector base for this series.

Knowing full well that the 25th Anniversary sets would go quickly, the Mint still allowed five sets per order. You didn’t need to be a rocket scientist to predict the outcome. The dealers and investors swarmed in like locust and the sets were sold out in four-and-a-half hours. I would estimate that they accounted for at least half of the sales of the 100,000 sets available.

This left a lot of silver American Eagle collectors out in the cold and at the mercy of those same dealers and investors on the secondary market. On the second day after the sets sold out at the Mint, I tracked them on eBay. The sets finished for the day with an average price paid of $827 each, with a low of $630 and an unbelievable high of $1,530. A week later the sets are averaging around $600.

What is the bottom line here? The Mint had sales of $30 million in four-and-a-half hours, the dealers and investors are in position to make a fortune, thanks to the Mint’s marketing strategy, and the poor old collectors got cheated as usual. At what point did the Mint give a thought to the wants and wellbeing of the collectors?

I received an email Nov. 3 that puts things in perspective and proves my point. It was from the Perth Mint in Australia, from which I have made purchases from time to time. The Perth Mint wanted me to take a survey so it could better serve its numismatic customers. What a novel concept.

I have made purchases directly from mints of other countries as well. Every time I am on the website of the Royal Canadian Mint I get a popup asking me to take the time to complete a survey. This has never happened with the U.S. Mint. The only email I have gotten from them, other than ads for new releases, was an apology for any inconvenience I might have experienced on their website caused by system overload during the sale of the recent American Eagle 25th Anniversary sets. There was however, no mention of regret for their total lack of concern for the collector community or their marketing strategy that favored profit mongers over collectors.

The Mint seems to view collectors as a cash cow to be milked at its pleasure. If this view continues, one day Mint officials will go to the barn, with pail and stool in hand, only to find their cash cow dead from neglect and abuse.

It has been said that no man can serve two masters. Since the Mint has two goals, perhaps it needs two directors — one in charge of coinage for commerce and the other in charge of coinage for collectors — and it would probably be a good idea if it were a requirement that the director of collector coinage must be a numismatist.

For those who are saying, “This is just sour grapes from a guy who couldn’t get his order placed,” let me set the record straight. My order for the 25th Anniversary set was logged and confirmed nine minutes after they went on sale. My comments are made because I feel, in the matter of collector coinage, that the Mint is driven solely by profit and does not care about collectors in the least and this needs to change.

Richard graff is a numismatist living in Oregon who has been collecting coins for more than 50 years. His collections are many and varied, but his strongest passion is for his collections of early classic commemorative half dollars and commemorative silver dollars.

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