George Washington half dollar leads renewed program

After 28-year hiatus, nation’s first president is called upon to launch new series
By , Special to Coin World
Published : 02/14/17
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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.

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Older Comments (1)
Hello Beth! This article brings back some fond memories of my teenage years as a coin collector. I lived in Germany on our most secret NSA base outside a small Bavarian village from 1976-1979 (Bad Aibling Station). Every year I would send my paper order forms from the Mint in with a US Postal Service money order for 5 clad Proof sets & 5 Uncirculated coin Mint sets & wait patiently (checking the mail every day was a treat back then! ) for an average of 4 months for delivery of my coin sets. I still have them all & some are worth less than issue price! LOL
The Washington silver commemorative half dollars mentioned in this article are also available for less than the issue price, even with silver up substantially from 1982. But they are beautiful, & values are a subject for another day. Thanks for jogging my memory bank Beth!