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.