US Coins

Monday Morning Brief for Jan. 24, 2022: Memo to the Mint

The Mint is required to issue annual commemorative coins by order of Congress. However, adding enhancements such as a privy mark to increase the number of products offered is generally a decision made by Mint officials.

Original images courtesy of the United States Mint.

President Biden has nominated Ventris C. Gibson, deputy U.S. Mint director and currently acting Mint director, to a full five-year term as the 40th director of the Mint. If confirmed by the Senate, she will join a long line of directors dating to David Rittenhouse, who began serving in 1792.

Acting director Gibson faces multiple challenges: two heavily used denominations, the cent and 5-cent coin, that cost more to make and distribute than their face value; meeting the needs of customers, which include the Federal Reserve, dealers and collectors; rising precious metals prices; maintaining operations during a pandemic; reopening Mint public tours when it becomes relatively safe to do so; and much more.

Her greatest challenge, from the viewpoint of the typical Coin World reader, will be to regain their trust and to convince them by specific actions that she is on their side, and to show them that the Mint’s collector customers are as valued by Mint officials as the bureau’s dealer customers are.

I have been a coin collector for nearly 60 years, began buying coins from the Mint in about 1970, and have been on Coin World staff as writer and editor for 45 years and counting. I can say without equivocation that Mint collector customers are angrier over Mint actions and practices than I have ever seen them before.

Some of the anger derives from the belief that Mint officials see collector dollars as a source of income to be tapped again and again, and that the way to do that is to offer customers an ever increasing array of numismatic products. When I first became a Mint customer, the Mint’s product line was small — the annual Proof and Uncirculated Coin sets, and the Mint medals list. A few years later came the Eisenhower dollars, offered in several collectible forms, and then the Bicentennial coins and medals. Like many Mint customers at the time, I bought just about everything the Mint offered, and still probably paid less than $100 a year.

The resurrection of the commemorative coin program in 1982 and the introduction of American Eagle gold and silver bullion coins in 1986, both congressionally mandated, resulted in the production of new coin products. So did the growing number of bronze medals duplicating the designs of congressional gold medals, again under congressional authority.

Like many collectors, I bought some of the first commemorative coins and American Eagles, but soon found myself unwilling to continue to buy everything the Mint offered.

Introduction of the State Quarters program in the 1990s further added to the Mint’s product line. This is where the Mint began issuing the same coins in new sets. Annual Proof and Uncirculated Coin sets were joined by specific sets like State Quarters Proof sets and then, Presidential Dollars Proof sets.

Then the Mint began experimenting with finishes beyond the standard Proof and circulation quality finishes. Coins like the annual American Eagle silver dollar, originally offered in just two forms, Proof and bullion, became available in three, four or more forms. The Mint struck the coin at different Mints, further increasing the products line. Additional bullion coin lines in gold, silver, palladium and platinum were approved by Congress, nearly all of which were issued in multiple forms.

In recent years, the Mint’s begun using congressionally approved authority to issue gold coins that do not fall into the bullion or commemorative categories, none of which need specific congressional approval. Ditto for silver medals. It has also started adding privy marks to coins, further increasing the number of products available.

Today, the Mint offers dozens of new products every year, more than most collectors can afford in aggregate.

I hope that acting Director Gibson looks closely at the Mint’s product line and starts scaling back. Two annual sets, the Birth set and Happy Birthday set, have been dropped starting this year. That is a good start.

Now she and her team need to look at the silver medal and special gold programs; just because they can issue products in both lines every year does not mean that they should issue them. The same goes for the nearly endless offerings of coins in multiple finishes from multiple Mints; just stop.

If Acting Director Gibson starts paring down the Mint’s product lineup, she will earn the gratitude of many Mint customers.

Then she needs to tackle the issue of who gets priority from the Mint: dealer customers or collector customers. But that is a topic for a future column.

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