The Mint needs a new director
Edmund Moy, who was the 38th director of the U.S. Mint from 2006 to 2011, was the last presidentially-nominated and congressionally-approved Mint director. His tenure was marked by the introduction of a wide range of new precious metal coin series that either ended recently, like the First Spouse coins, or continue to this day, like the American Buffalo gold coins and America the Beautiful coins.
In the years since Moy left, a series of individuals have held the top slot at the Mint in an acting capacity, most recently Rhett Jeppson, who was named Principal Deputy Director, the first person to hold that position.
This situation is primarily a result of the highly partisan political climate In Washington, which prevented President Obama from getting his 2012 nominee, Bibiana Boerio, confirmed, and so far, President Trump has not named anyone to the position. Obama’s second nominee, Jeppson was nominated during his first year at the Mint, in 2015, but his nomination never received a Senate vote.
As Michael Miles Standish explains in the CDN Greysheet Monthly Supplement for June, Jeppson worked hard to revitalize the Mint during his tenure. His accomplishments include: resuming production of American Eagle 1-ounce platinum bullion coins; the 30th anniversary American Eagles silver dollars with edge inscriptions (which, though not all collectors saw it as enough to mark the anniversary, was “the first-ever meaningful design change in the series and a technically complex one,” according to Standish); the launch of the American Liberty gold coin and silver medals; the 2016 Centennial gold trio; and meeting record demand for the American Eagle silver bullion coins, which reached almost 48 million coins by 2015.
Since Jeppson left in January of this year, David Motl has served as Acting Principal Deputy Director.
Profits, especially for numismatic items, were down substantially in the 2016 annual report, and this year demand for and sales of silver bullion coins has also been down markedly. These developments reflect a changing coin and bullion market as well as decisions about mintage levels for collector products like the Centennial gold coins, last year’s biggest release, that were too optimistic.
In addition, less information has been coming out of the Mint about forthcoming products this year, as the online product schedule is updated only month by month. And halfway through the year, buyers have no idea when the planned first American Eagle palladium coin will be released.
Also, some decisions about pricing and mintage of certain products have left many collectors scratching their heads.
For example, the Proof 2017-P American Liberty silver medal, which will be released on June 14, and which is not high relief (as the Mint confirmed to me recently), despite some press reports claiming it is, is priced at $60 with no limit on mintage, packaging options or household purchases.
Last year’s medals were $35 each and had mintages of 12,500 each, making them instant sellouts that are still worth several times their issue price. The 2017 medals were expected to cost more, especially with the packaging and booklet that come with them, but at this price point and with minting to demand, the medals are not likely to be big sellers. Initial collector reaction to these details has not been very positive, with some noting they cost more than Proof silver American Eagles.
It is true that in terms of production costs, a Proof medal does not cost less to make than a Proof coin, but collectors continue to have a strong preference for coins over medals and are less likely to purchase a medal they see as too expensive, especially if they believe it will eventually cost less than issue price on the secondary market.
Perhaps, as has been suggested in the past, including by former Coin World editor Beth Deisher, the Mint could offer two options for products – one with the packaging, and one without and at a lower price point.
Another issue is the pricing and 100,000-coin mintage level of the 2017-W American Liberty high-relief $100 gold coin, whose current sales are only 22,447 after two months. Many collectors find the coin too expensive at $1,690, or about $400 over spot value, and believe it should have had a mintage closer to the 50,000-coin limit of the 2015 issue.
Mint officials and staff are clearly doing their best and can never please everyone, but the organization would benefit from a new director and some fresh thinking about coins and how they are marketed. It would also help to follow up on the many insightful recommendations from last year’s forum in Philadelphia.