A possible solution (or not) to the Mint’s fast sellouts of limited products

Our Letters to the Editor page recently has often featured submissions from readers on the same topic — fast sellouts of high-demand limited-edition U.S. Mint products. Readers continue to be angry about the difficulties many experience in ordering products like the 2016 Winged Liberty Head gold dime and 2016 American Liberty silver medals, especially when dealers seem to be able to acquire large numbers.

Letter writers often offer potential solutions that Mint officials should consider. We also have offered various solutions and here is a another one: The United States Mint should consider emulating the Royal Canadian Mint by introducing a Masters Club — a program that rewards regular customers with advance access to new products, among other benefits.

Here’s how the RCM describes the program: “Designed by and for the Mint’s most dedicated clientele, our Masters Club program delivers features and benefits providing recognition and rewards that offer innovation, value, and exclusivity.

Essentially, the RCM tracks a customer’s purchases of qualifying products and enrolls the customer at a Silver, Gold, or Platinum level. The biggest benefit is early access to new products; for example, a customer at the Silver level gains access to a product two days before the rest of the public, while Gold and Platinum customers gain three- and four-day advance access, respectively.

And how do you qualify? Simply purchase a certain amount of product — coins, sets, medals — during a year. As a customer buys more products, he or she advances from Silver to Gold to Platinum member status.

This program rewards customer loyalty; if you routinely spend X amount with the Mint every year, you gain recognition for your loyalty, and better access.

The RCM’s purchase limits are moderately high, with $1,000 in purchases necessary to qualify a customer for Silver member access, $1,500 in purchases for Gold member access, and $2,000 for the Platinum level. The United States Mint would not have to follow these levels since a number of customers might find those bars set too high; the U.S. Mint could set the lowest level much lower if it chose. Still, even at the $1,000 level, many collectors could easily spend that much on annual sets, special sets, and the year’s commemorative coins.

With such a program at the U.S. Mint, what might the practical effect for collectors be?

Better luck in snagging a limited-edition product, for one. It is no secret that some retailers and wholesalers commission individuals to purchase high-demand products on their behalf to circumvent household limits. Since it is likely that some if not many of these customers are noncollectors and are infrequent or even first-time Mint customers, they would not gain access to these products until days after qualified longtime customers would have already been able to purchase the coins under a Masters Club program. Of course, wholesalers could still stack the deck in their favor by enlisting clients to buy products at sufficient levels to reach Masters Class levels.

Nonetheless, early access could also lessen the severity of Mint website crashes and delays, and the inability of customers to connect with customer service representatives by phone, effects that are typically experienced when hot coins go on sale, like the 2016 Standing Liberty gold quarter dollar that went on sale Sept. 8.

A solution exists. It might not be following the RCM’s approach. Still, Mint officials and collectors should work together on finding a solution that benefits collectors.