From a marketing perspective, the U.S. Mint had to play catch-up
when, after a 28-year hiatus, it began striking modern commemorative
coins in 1982.
Donna Pope, shortly after being confirmed as Mint director, visited
the San Francisco Assay Office, then the Mint’s fulfillment center.
She was exasperated to find mailed paper orders for Proof and Mint
sets being moved from wire basket to wire basket. The average time for
a customer to receive shipment of an order was six to eight months.
Improvements moved at a snail’s pace initially, but within two
years, fulfillment did improve to an average of about three to four
months, primarily due to more reliance upon telephone ordering and
streamlining the human packaging and shipping process, as Congress
approved additional commemorative programs.
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The game changer came in 1986 when the U.S. Mint entered the bullion
coin market as a result of legislation approved in 1985 authorizing
production of gold and silver American Eagles. Although Congress had
its eye on the domestic market when authorizing the American Eagles
program, it was also obvious that for the Mint to succeed it must
compete in the international market.
It was obvious, too, that a manufacturing and marketing entity such
as the U.S. Mint was being severely handcuffed by the time-consuming
congressional budget process. Annual appropriations were rarely
approved on a timely basis or funded at the requested levels.
Many competitor federal mints were restructured during the late
1980s, becoming self-governing, government-owned corporations. A few
were privatized. Regardless of structure, the changes were made to
position the mints to operate as businesses, with the ability to
respond quickly to changing market conditions.
American dealers and collectors recognized the U.S. Mint’s
shortcomings and began to advocate for it to become more businesslike
in its operations. Some even suggested that the Mint should be privatized.
The U.S. Mint’s need to become more market responsive was one of the
first major issues Rep. Esteban E. Torres, D-Calif., tackled after
becoming chairman of the House Banking Subcommittee on Consumer
Affairs and Coinage in January 1991.
In late November 1991 Torres introduced legislation to reform
operations of the U.S. Mint. The heart of his proposal sought to
establish a revolving Numismatic Enterprise Fund to provide funding
for numismatic operations and programs without fiscal year limitation.
Torres’ Numismatic Enterprise Fund proposal was incorporated as
Title II (United States Mint Reauthorization and Reform Act of 1992)
in the 1996 Olympic Games Commemorative Coins Act, which was approved
and signed into law as Public Law No. 102-390 on Oct. 6, 1992.