Editor’s Note: This is part two of an interview with United States Mint Director Edmund Moy conducted by Michael Alexander of the London Banknote and Monetary Research Centre in January 2010. In this portion of the interview, Director Moy talks about the decision not to produce the proof version of the 2009 American Silver Eagle for collectors, United States coin designs, the international coin market, and his coin collecting background.
Read Part One of the interview.
Michael Alexander: There were some controversies last year such as the decision to not strike the silver proof American eagle. How did you come to that decision and weren’t you afraid this kind of decision would alienate your core customers?
Edmund Moy: Well, I do have letters of disapproval from customers about the decision to not produce the Proof Silver Eagles, and this was not an easy decision to make. My legal team working with Congress just decided that we did not have any other choice. If there are conflicting priorities which arise, we first have a responsibility to produce coins to satisfy the public’s demand, which is why we were created. Second, we have to also supply the demand for bullion coins to financial investors and then lastly, if there is any left-over capacity, that capacity goes to collector or numismatic products.
When bullion demand went sky-high, we reached out to our suppliers, the Perth Mint for example, for more planchets (blanks) and many of them almost tripled their production for us. Yet, we still could not keep up with demand, and last year alone, and we sold almost 28 million ounces of silver and gold coins of which about 22 million of which was silver. This was a record amount for us, which made the U.S. Mint the largest producer of bullion coins in the world, and we still could not keep up with the worldwide demand! Legislation requires us to satisfy the demand for bullion related coinage before the collector’s version, but it was a tough mandate to have to follow.
MA: Would it have been possible to have this coin minted by the Royal Canadian Mint with a mintmark denoting this? Wouldn’t that have been a better alternative to not minting the coin at all?
EM: No, the law stipulates if it is a U.S. coin, it has to be produced in the United States, and only the U.S. Mint can produce legal tender coins. Producing the planchets is not legislated but “stamping” it into a coin is.
MA: Last year, the U.S. Mint received Coin of the Year (COTY) awards for the most historical and best contemporary event categories. How important are these awards for the coin industry and does this recognition influence what the US Mint issues?
EM: I can’t speak for all other Mints but talking to other Mint directors, we do have this friendly competition going on between us about winning those awards! (Smiles.) I can say for the U.S. Mint that those awards have become much more important to us in the last couple years. One emphasis for me as Mint Director has been trying to take the Mint to a higher level of artistic excellence and design, and I think you’re beginning to see it in some of the newer coins.
It was always a frustration for collectors that we did not produce the St. Gaudens gold double eagle the way it was intended back in 1909 because the ultra-high relief was not technologically possible, so we decided to “take care of the past” before moving onto the future. The result was the ultra-high relief as a way of saying, “Let’s not bring those nostalgic designs forward. Instead let’s focus our efforts on moving forward and think about new designs.” Where the COTY awards come in, they allow us to receive feedback on whether or not we’re making progress on moving forward. We also want to try to “out-do” ourselves!
I have to say I am really impressed with a lot of the creativeness from Latvia and Poland, for example. They’re really designing and producing some “cutting-edge” coins, and we want to inspire our own artisans to take design to the next level. About a hundred years ago, we experienced a renaissance where American coinage is concerned. I think it’s possible with the right seeds growing to feed another renaissance of coin design!
MA: Would you like to be recognized as having gone just that bit further in design?
EM: Yes. We’re training our artists better. We have competing artists and readers might like to know that if they’re interested, they can submit designs and applications which are received several times a year. Artistic panels review the applications and designs. We’re beginning to use outside artists who can take us to new places regarding design. Another approach we’ve looked at is similar one used by the Royal Mint where the public submit designs directly to the Mint for consideration, I know this was done for the Olympic 50 pence coin competition.
MA: With all of the present and potential changes in U.S. coinage, there’s a fine line to the right amount of issues for the collector market. Do you think the criticism that the US Mint just issues too many variations of the same coin or too many coins to keep up with is valid?
EM: I am a collector myself, and when I arrived at the Mint, we did have many products I didn’t even know about. One of the things I wanted to do, which is an evolving process, is to “whittle down” our portfolio of products. We’re producing none of the items we didn’t sell and a lot less of those items we sold small amounts of. We are now saving that production capacity to do two things: One is to make more of those items our collectors want and to make them earlier in the year. The second is to make room for new products. We’ve found that proof sets, for instance, were being produced in the third quarter of the year and since they are often given as gifts for birthdays and anniversaries, what I want to do is produce those items earlier in the year or even the previous year.
What you will see for 2010 is a truncated production schedule of an eight-month period when new items are issued and with the remaining four months of 2010, we can prepare for 2011. We need to forecast better and have more of the popular products on the shelf, especially when those products are launched.
MA: Speaking of some of the coins that are popular with collectors, the commemorative silver dollar issues always benefit some type of worthwhile organization or national program. How was this initiative originally devised?
EM: Congress authorizes the commemorative dollars with surcharges added from the sales which do benefit worthwhile organizations such as the National Federation of the Blind, which benefited from the Louis Braille coin. When the surcharges became a permanent part of the program, Congress limited themselves to only two silver dollars per year, it’s not a mandate but it is a guideline. With too many issues, the public loses interest, some don’t sell well and there is more success with only two per year.
MA: I’d like to know if you might share some information of the upcoming coin issues from the U.S. with our readers.
EM: Well, regarding the silver commemoratives, we’re very excited about the new dollars, one for the Disabled American Veteran’s Memorial, which will be issued at the end of February. In March, we anticipate issuing the Boy Scouts 100th anniversary commemorative dollar. Of course, the National Parks quarter-dollar program is going to be a challenge since we’ll be featuring landscapes on coins, I’ve seen all of the designs for 2010, and there are some very innovative winning designs there! I think this program will encourage Americans to rediscover and reconnect to their roots as Americans.
MA: Does the U.S. Mint actively court the overseas buyer / collector of American coins, and if so, what is done to increase foreign sales and how important to the U.S. Mint are these sales?
EM: That’s a big question, and there are several ways to answer it. First, we do value our international customers, which is one of the main reasons we attend the World Money Fair. It’s the most effective way for us to reach our customer base here. The business for us overseas is not insignificant, but it isn’t a big part of our overall sales. Typically, we will generate sales of between $300 – 500 million annually, and maybe about a million dollars of those sales are from overseas customers. Much of that is due to the fact that we are just not equipped to handle foreign transactions, and the world market is relatively small in comparison to our domestic market. I think what many other Mints have also realized is that the market for serious collectors is in the United States. International customers are important to us, but we’d like to concentrate on our own domestic market first.
MA: As we conclude, I always ask the question “do you collect coins yourself?” But you’ve already mentioned that you do. So, I’ll ask if you think that makes a difference to the position and products offered when a Mint Director is an active collector.
EM: First, let me tell you how I started. My parents are Chinese immigrants who own Chinese restaurants. One way Chinese culture affects families is they view the family as an economic unit. As soon as I could add, subtract, multiply and divide, my parents put me at the cash register because you trust one of your kids more than an employee. I remember one customer tried to pay us with an Indian head cent, and I said, “You can’t pay us with that!” but looking at it closer, it did say “ONE CENT” on the reverse! This coin made me interested in art and finding out more about Native Americans, and from there I started collecting Indian head cents. That led to collecting Lincoln cents which I found in the restaurant’s change and, it just blossomed! I remember when I became Mint Director, my parents asked me when I was going to remove the nine boxes of coins and albums from their home! (Laughs.)
My collection includes Walking Liberty half dollars, Mercury dimes, nice buffalo nickels, and the somewhat controversial Standing Liberty quarters. I’m not too interested in rarities, but really love beautiful designs.
MA: Regarding the Standing Liberty quarter, why don’t we see this beautiful design on the bullion silver ounce to replace the Walking Liberty design?
EM: Well, that coin design is prescribed by law, and I personally wouldn’t want to recycle old designs, I’d rather experiment to get new designs, which also means experimenting with 24 karat coins, platinum, etc. I love the old ones but I’m not going to reissue them unless I’m told to by Congress.
MA: One last item to cover: You’re a politically appointed Director by the President. How long would you like to be Director?
EM: My five-year term as Director was re-confirmed by the President. I can be removed within this time if he thinks I’m not doing a good job, but so far this president has allowed me to continue to serve, and it has been an honor to serve two presidents! I’m into my fourth year and my term officially expires in August 2011. I will continue to serve at the pleasure of the President.
MA: Would you like to be known as the “Reformer Director”?
EM: I think I’ll let others decide on what my legacy is or was, I just want to make things better than how I found them! (Smiles.) We owe it to all of those constituencies who follow us faithfully! And I’m sorry you didn’t get your 2009 proof Silver Eagle.
MA: Apology noted (with a smile). And should I hear anything about the President looking for a replacement before 2011, I’ll be sure to send him a copy of this interview personally! You’ve set a big task for yourself and the U.S. Mint.
Edmund Moy, Director of the United States Mint, thank you very much for your time today. It was a pleasure speaking with you during your attendance at the World Money Fair in Berlin.
EM: You’re very welcome!