All four Proof and Uncirculated 2012 First Spouse half-ounce gold
$10 coins will be struck and issued before the end of the calendar
year, though not until production problems are remedied.
U.S. Mint Deputy Director Richard A. Peterson told Coin
World during an Aug. 7 interview that trial strikes have been
conducted at the Philadelphia Mint for all four of the 2012 First
Spouse .9999 fine gold coins. The coins bear designs for Alice Paul,
Frances Cleveland (first and second terms) and Caroline Harrison.
Peterson discussed a range of topics during the interview.
Once problems have been rectified and final trial strikes
approved, the First Spouse coins will be struck at the West Point Mint
and bear the W Mint mark.
Peterson said the primary striking problems have been encountered
with the Paul and Cleveland (first term) coins; the Mint has had
difficulty in achieving proper metal flow to fill design devices and
achieve proper surface finish quality.
Philadelphia Mint production personnel are adjusting striking
pressure on the coinage presses to rectify the fill issues and to
avoid creating what Peterson referred to as a “halo effect” around the devices.
Peterson said the West Point Mint has plenty of production
capacity to strike all four coins in Proof and Uncirculated versions
once the production problems have been cleared.
Normally, by this time of year, the U.S. Mint would have already
issued three of the four First Spouse coins, Peterson said.
No timetable for the 2012 releases has been announced.
Research and development
Peterson also discussed ongoing research at the U.S. Mint.
The Mint’s contractor, Concurrent Technologies Corp., is still
overseeing extensive research and development into alternative coinage
metals or alloys for circulating coinage, according to Peterson. The
Mint is nearing the end of a congressionally mandated study, with the
findings to be forwarded to Congress by mid-December.
The Mint’s three current suppliers of coinage metals, and an
undisclosed number of potential vendors, have submitted planchets for
consideration. Jarden Zinc Products, Greeneville, Tenn., currently
provides ready to strike cent planchets; and Olin Brass, East Alton,
Ill., and PMX Industries, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, provide coinage strip
for the remaining denominations.
Peterson said the Philadelphia Mint has used the submitted
planchets to conduct two rounds of trial strikes. The testing is
addressing diameter, weight, color, hardness, ductility, and other
factors affecting coinability including metal flow, striking pressure,
wear, corrosion and color retention. The vendors selected must be
capable of supplying the Mint with sufficient planchets for each
denomination for which they have been selected.
During an Aug. 7 coin forum, numismatist Q. David Bowers
recommended the trial strikes be presented to the National Numismatic
Collection at the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of American History
to preserve them, instead of the Mint having them melted.
The alternative coinage metals research is being conducted under
provisions of the Coin Modernization, Oversight and Continuity Act of
2010, Public Law 111-302. The findings of the research and development
must be submitted to Congress by Dec. 14, with subsequent review and
analysis reports every two years thereafter.
Before the initial report is submitted to Congress, it must be
vetted by the Treasury Department, Treasury secretary and the Office
of Management and Budget.
The nature of metals limits the Mint’s choices of coinage metals.
Peterson said that, of the metals on the elemental chart, half are
radioactive and most of the remainder are in insufficient supply. Only
aluminum, zinc, steel and lead are left, and lead is not being
considered, Peterson said.
Steel-based alternatives have been suggested, based on testimony
presented during an April 17, 2012, hearing before the House
Subcommittee on Domestic Monetary Policy & Technology.
So far, trial strikes are limited to low production runs, but
quantities will need to be in the millions with a supply chain of
planchets ample to support circulation demand, Peterson said. Peterson
expects the initial draft to be readied sometime after Labor Day.
Order management system
Peterson said Mint officials are continuing to consider what
direction to pursue in revamping the current order management system
or whether to construct a completely new one.
Peterson recently suspended a multimillion dollar contract with
British-based Venda, not because of any problems with the vendor, but
to determine whether revamping an old system, as was being planned,
was the right way to go.
Peterson said the consulting firm the Mint subsequently hired in
the interim, MITRE Corp., has concluded the Mint’s current system
remains prone to complete failure if overloaded.
Much of the hardware driving the current computerized OMS is no
longer being supported by the manufacturers. The system is able to
handle a maximum of only 5,000 orders per hour combined: that is,
orders placed through www.usmint.gov and by telephone
through the U.S. Mint’s order fulfillment contractor, Pitney-Bowes
Government Solutions in Plainfield, Ind. The contractor’s telephone
operators enter phone orders into the same system that customers use
when directly ordering the coins through the Mint website.
Peterson said that when order entries exceed 5,000 per hour, the
system can become inoperable or perform erratically.
During the Oct. 27, 2011, sellout of the 100,000 five coin 2011
American Eagle 25th Anniversary sets, the OMS became overloaded, and
many orders were randomly canceled.
“That’s an ugly problem, but we live with it,” Peterson said. “We
don’t want to do that to our customers.”
With the two-coin 2012-S American Eagle San Francisco Two-Coin
set, the Mint sold the coins between noon June 7 and 5 p.m. July 5
without mintage limits.
MITRE Corp. recommends the Mint stockpile all of the secondary
market hardware parts it can obtain. Peterson said the consultant also
has recommended data compression to reduce the size of computer files
that could affect the OMS’s efficiency and prevent overloads. ■