On Tuesday, November 9 at 2:00 p.m., I virtually attended the second Mint roundtable discussion focused on United States Mint priorities and emerging key issues. The second Mint roundtable was also an opportunity for the attending members of the numismatic press to be introduced to the newly appointed Acting U.S. Mint Director Ventris C. Gibson. A biography of Director Gibson provided by Mint Spokesman Michael White via e-mail was posted to Coin Update here if you wish to learn more about her service. This roundtable discussion was more singularly focused on customer and reader reception of recently released Mint products, particularly regarding the 2021 Morgan and Peace silver dollar issues with some additional queries about the United States Mint Authorized Bulk Purchase Program.
The meeting began with Director Gibson making an introductory statement and thanking the attendees for being present at the Mint roundtable. Director Gibson was joined by Chief Marketing and Sales Officer Matt Holben and Associate Director for Manufacturing Dave Croft to field press questions. Dave Croft began the discussion by acknowledging that they are aware of customer concerns voiced about the 2021 Morgan and Peace silver dollar releases and that production has been affected by the pandemic, with the hiring and maintaining of employees being one of the primary concerns. Matt Holben continued after Dave Croft’s statement and emphasized that the Mint prides itself on the quality of its products. Attending numismatic press members were then asked to briefly introduce themselves one at a time, and included: Mike Unser, owner and editor of CoinNews; myself (Brandon Hall, editor of Coin Update and Mint News Blog); Rob Oberth, president of RoundTable Trading; Numismatic author and journalist Louis Golino; freelance journalist and editor Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez; Coin World senior editor Paul Gilkes; and Coin Collectors Blog writer Scott Barman. Despite discussion being directed toward the 2021 Morgan and Peace dollars, the first question was aimed at the Mint’s Authorized Bulk Purchase Program.
Authorized Bulk Purchase Program and Ordering Hiccups
Paul Gilkes asked his question first, voicing the concerns collectors have about the Authorized Bulk Purchase Program, with 18 dealers purchasing up to 10% of products’ mintage. He listed the various means by which he had gone about to acquire information regarding the identity of these dealers, including FOIA requests and appealing to Congress, none of which yielded any details. Dave Croft interjected that such discussion should be directed offline to the Mint’s legal team.
Scott Barman dubbed the Mint’s online ordering system “an utter disaster,” citing the Morgan and Peace dollars as the worst offenders and the American Eagle coins issued over the summer as “not much better,” but acknowledged that among his audience, the release of the Eagles was received better. He asked what the Mint planned to do to fix such errors, citing one of the Mint’s contractors, which can handle much higher call volumes. Holben fielded the question stating that the Mint was their largest customer with the highest volume, orders have to clear multiple systems, and that there is still significant bot activity — though this has been reduced to the single digits. A “waiting room” was one of the possible solutions considered by the Mint, along with a randomization system to increase fairness among people accessing the system at the same time. Director Gibson continued, “The consumers drive who we are,” and stated that it was one of the first issues she was briefed on when she began her tenure two weeks ago, while also being one of high priority for the Mint to resolve.
Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez’s question centered around the Mint’s plans to market future products and whether they planned to develop new marketing strategies or perhaps even embrace old ones again to facilitate greater fairness for those trying to order Mint products. Holben stated that the Mint is looking into both but that the problem with employing multiple strategies simultaneously is that the orders for phone and Internet, for example, are handled by the same call center. He elaborated that such a strategy would potentially allow certain customers to “double-dip” and “plug our system.” In addition to implementing a waiting room with a randomization system, Holben urged customers to make use of product enrollment options. McMorrow-Hernandez also asked if the Mint’s subscriber and customer base has increased in recent months, to which Holben said “yes,” but acknowledged that some of that increased activity has been due to flippers.
I reached out later to Whitman publisher Dennis Tucker on the flipping phenomenon for his thoughts on the matter:
Many buyers just seem intent on flipping the coins for a profit while they can. Some collectors wait patiently, convinced the secondary market will crash after initial excitement. At the moment the market is robust. And we’ve seen active trading develop, where collectors offer mintmarks or privy marks they have for ones they need to build their own complete set. It has the fun energy of playground baseball-card swapping back in the day.
Regarding the demographics and age of newer Mint customers, Louis Golino inquired if the Mint is seeing younger people enter the fray. Holben qualified that while they are not allowed to collect personal demographic information about customers, anecdotal reports indicate an increase in younger-than-average Mint customers.
2021 Morgan and Peace Silver Dollars
After his initial question about the Authorized Bulk Purchase Program, Paul Gilkes asked if Mint staff could clarify the validity of the statement that Morgan and Peace dollars “dated 2022 and beyond” would also be released. Matt Holben responded: “That is correct. . . our intention is to have the Morgan and Peace as a continued program in the future.” Gilkes continued his query by asking if the same six options would be offered. Holben responded that there was a great deal of flexibility in the legislation regarding what the Mint can provide in the product range (including different finishes).
Louis Golino inquired about the possibility of a bullion program, given the collector interest in the original Morgan and Peace dollar releases. Holben responded that he is unsure if the legislation provides sufficient leeway for the introduction of bullion options.
Rob Oberth’s query focused on ordering issues, particularly cancelations, and what the Mint planned to do to resolve such matters to ease customer transactions. Holben took the question and stated that the canceled orders were primarily for fraud protection reasons. However, according to Holben, 12,900 of these potential cancellations were directed to the Mint’s call center to maintain their orders, as there were questions regarding those accounts. Holben also mentioned that orders were halted because the call center was overwhelmed and would commence again once capacity had become more manageable. Some reports Holben mentioned included “broken capsules or capsules not fitting snugly in the platform” and “color variation in the Morgans.”
After Louis Golino’s question about a possible bullion program for Morgan and Peace dollars, I asked my first question: Acknowledging that despite it being late in the year (and thus highly unlikely), I asked if it would still be possible to mint 2021 Peace dollars in high relief. Holben confirmed that it was indeed too late to make such an issue happen this year and that on current blanks would require “some R&D,” but that seeing a Peace dollar in high relief would be an “intrinsically nice offering.”
After the Mint roundtable, Dennis Tucker had this to say about the 2021 Morgan and Peace dollars:
These coins have definitely captured the interest and imagination of the hobby community. In recent weeks at Whitman we’ve been hearing about them from collectors and dealers every day. The conversation runs the gamut — admiration, skepticism, frustration, excitement. Some hobbyists love them, some aren’t quite as impressed. A lot of collectors are interested in the 2021 coins because of the approach the Mint took, recreating Morgan’s and de Francisci’s original artistic intent in the designs. They see them as an homage to the historic Morgan and Peace dollars, a triumph of modern Mint capabilities. Back in 2009 Mint Director Ed Moy had a similar vision with the Saint-Gaudens MMIX Ultra High Relief gold.
Asked about how the new Morgan and Peace dollars should be categorized in works of numismatic publishing, Tucker commented:
There’s been discussion about how the coins should be cataloged by publishers: Are they regular issues? commemoratives? some new hybrid animal? We’ve planned how we’ll cover them in the Guide Book of United States Coins (the ‘Red Book’), and will make an announcement on that soon.
Another question I had about the 2021 Morgan and Peace dollars revolved around both their release as numismatic issues in general and the release of “CC” and “O” mintmark variants (“privy marks,” in the Mint’s wording) being not entirely positively received by collectors. I asked if the Mint intended to continue such issues given some of the feedback received and if the secondary market would be considered in making such decisions. Holben responded that if there are any repeated concerns voiced here on Coin Update or Mint News Blog, I should let him know as they make for useful feedback directly from customers. He also acknowledged that he does stay up at night reading the blog comments.
While not a direct answer to my question or terribly shocking after some thought, this did somewhat take me aback initially with intrusive, paranoid thoughts such as:
“I’ve been warned. They’re watching us!”
In all seriousness, however, this is an excellent opportunity for you all on Coin Update and Mint News Blog to directly communicate with the Mint about what it is you’d like to see change. So don’t let it go to waste. Instead, make your voices heard and strike while the iron is hot.