On October 17, the United States Mint hosted its third annual numismatic forum at the Bureau of Printing and Engraving (BEP) in Washington, DC, bringing together 69 members of the numismatic community to discuss the theme of “collectively building numismatics.” Attendees included coin dealers, members of the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee and numismatic press, the president of the American Numismatic Association, Gary Adkins, and others.
According to the Mint, many attendees said they thought this was the best forum so far. This sentiment likely reflected Mint Director David J. Ryder’s increased focus on learning what collectors and dealers want and exploring new ways of doing things.
Mint Director Ryder and 36 Mint employees were also present as well as the director of the BEP, Leonard R. Olijar, and the Treasurer of the United States, Jovita Carranza. Mint officials and employees gave presentations on topics such as new programs for young collectors, 2019 coin programs, the bulk sales program, collaboration between the Mint and BEP, and others.
There was also a panel on combatting counterfeiting of coins, which was followed by two breakout sessions about the future of the hobby, covering issues such as packaging innovations, incentive programs, and collaborating with other mints.
In addition, participants made numerous suggestions from numbering certificates of authenticity, as many other mints currently do, to special packaging of coins and sets to be sold at coin conventions, issuing a 2021 Morgan dollar to mark the centennial of the end of production of that coin, and others.
Director Ryder also announced plans to implement one of the ideas suggested at a previous forum to release a rare coin into circulation. It is not known if that would be an error coin, coin with special mintmarks, its denomination, nor how many such coins would be put into circulation.
This move has been welcomed by many as a way to increase interest in numismatics and bring in new collectors, while others caution that depending on how it is done it might leave many collectors upset that they were unable to obtain one of the coins, as Coin World editor Bill Gibbs suggested in his November 12 editorial.
In 2013, the USPS issued an intentional error stamp as a marketing scheme when it reissued the famous Jenny invert stamp and also issued 100 sheets of six stamps which are upright. To date, only some of those error sheets have been found.
Addressing Decline in Sales
During the forum Director Ryder noted that the Mint’s customer base, which numbered two million the last time he served in this position in 1992, has shrunk to about a half a million and that 79 percent of its customers are 55 or older. These facts point to a clear need for a greater appeal to younger collectors and new products and ways of doing business to increase sales. The Mint is even considering direct sales of bullion coins to retail customers.
Mint officials announced plans such as new packaging of products designed to be more appealing, products for young collectors on dinosaurs and space, and moving away from depicting Lady Liberty as a female. Instead of this longstanding motif, “some objects might be depicted, or significant historic events that allude to the concept of Liberty.”
It remains unclear what the change in Liberty designs would mean in practice such as for the American Liberty gold coin and silver medal program, which during the August ANA meeting Director Ryder suggested would now be focused on “visions of Liberty.” In addition, Mint officials recently announced that starting next year the medals will be made of 2.5 ounces of silver instead of one ounce.
One of the most significant additional announcements from Director Ryder is that he plans to encourage his staff to become involved in the process of drafting congressional legislation on coins to help implement ideas from collectors and develop legislation that does not impose so many constraints of what products the Mint issues, designs, and other specifications of coins, etc.
This, in addition to the fact that our Mint is not run as a business, is what primarily separates it from other mints around the world, which, whether run as government entities or privatized, have much greater latitude in how they operate.
Working with Other Mints
Another notable development at this year’s forum was a focus on greater collaboration with other mints in two areas. First, the U.S. Mint plans to consult with major world mints that produce bullion coinage, such as the Royal Canadian Mint, the Royal Mint, the South African Mint, and others, on what they are doing to combat the issuance of counterfeit coins, which is expected to eventually result in enhanced anti-counterfeiting features on U.S. coins.
Second, as the Director suggested during the August ANA World’s Fair of Money in Philadelphia, the Mint plans to develop products in collaboration with some other world mints such as the Mexican Mint and Royal Canadian Mint. During the ANA show, Director Ryder discussed the possibility of a three-coin North American mint set with coins that would only be available in that set.
In the past, the Mint has issued U.S. coins packaged with those from other mints that were not unique to that set such as the 2003 Legacies of Freedom set that included an American Silver Eagle and silver Britannia — both dated 2003. Although both coins can be purchased individually, that set has remained popular with collectors, perhaps because the 2013 Britannia is one of the lower-mintage coins of that series and is not easy to locate, or because collectors like the pairing of the two coins and packaging.
During the forum, Mint officials explained that because Congress currently has to authorize through legislation the issuance of most U.S. coins, issuing coins in conjunction with other mints would have to be limited to producing coins with “a unique finish or special privy mark.”
The Mint has much greater latitude to issue gold and platinum coins as opposed to silver and bimetal coins as a result of a legislative provision from 1996: 31 U.S.C. 5112(k), as originally enacted by Public Law 104-208, whose key phrase is “The Secretary may mint and issue bullion and Proof platinum coins in accordance with such specifications, designs, varieties, quantities, denominations, and inscriptions as the Secretary, in the Secretary’s discretion, may prescribe from time to time.”
This provision enabled the Mint to issue coins such as the 2016 trio of gold centennial coins without congressional authorization.
Perhaps under this basis, it would be possible to issue special coins or sets with coins from other mints if they were struck in the right metals. Moreover, this is one of many areas where greater Mint input in shaping the legislative process would be very useful as perhaps the Mint could be given greater latitude to issue silver and bimetal coins as well.
Technically, Mint staff cannot actually write legislation, but agency officials and interest group lobbyists often play key roles in shaping legislative language.
Other areas where the Mint could learn from other mints is to produce circulating coins with small amounts of silver far below their face values — something which mints in countries such as France, Canada, and the UK have been doing. During the forum, longtime dealer and numismatic writer Pat Heller suggested issuing a $5 circulating coin with between one and three grams of silver.
In Mexico, there is a longstanding proposal from billionaire Hugo Salinas to issue coins for circulation that contain silver to help prevent the Mexican currency, the peso, from losing more purchasing power. This proposal has been made in various forms over the years, including in September 2017 by a group of Mexican congressmen.
In 2014 the Mint worked with officials from the Royal Australian Mint and Paris Mint to develop the curved baseball coins because those two mints were the first to issue curved modern coins, which included producing replicas of the 2009 French astronomy coin and the 2012 Australian Southern Crux piece.
The Mint’s use of different finishes such as Reverse Proof and coins with varying levels of frosting was also first used by foreign mints on their coins.
There are other areas in which the Mint could embrace some of the approaches of other mints such as issuing silver coins larger than five ounces and gold coins larger than one ounce, or fractional silver coins, and producing more high-relief issues, particularly silver coins — another area where it would be fruitful to consult with mints such as the Perth Mint that have extensive experience in this area.
Mint officials also announced the possibility of colorized coins at the forum — an approach used widely by many foreign mints that would likely meet with mixed success among American collectors with greater enthusiasm probably coming from younger rather than older numismatists.
The U.S. Mint could also learn from other mints in the areas of marketing and branding of its products, which other mints generally do in a more aggressive way. The forthcoming 2019 Apollo 11 50th anniversary coin program, which is expected to have broad appeal, and which the Mint said will be marketed by NASA, is a great way to implement Director Ryder’s plans for increased spending on advertising and marketing.
Thomas Uram, who currently serves as the ANA governor, president of the Pennsylvania Association of Numismatists, and is a member of the CCAC, summed up the importance of new cooperative efforts with other mints, noting that “Going forward collaboration and joint efforts are a key element for the U.S. Mint. The exposure [to what other mints are doing] is numismatically important for all concerned.”
Louis Golino is an award-winning numismatic journalist and writer specializing primarily in modern U.S. and world coins. His work has appeared in Coin World, CoinWeek, The Numismatist, Numismatic News, FUN Topics, and COINage, among other publications. His first coin-writing position was with Coin Update.
In 2015, his CoinWeek.com column, “The Coin Analyst,” received an award from the Numismatic Literary Guild for best website column. By 2017, he received an NLG award for best article in a non-numismatic publication with his “Liberty Centennial Designs,” which was published in Elemetal Direct.
In October 2018 he received a literary award from the Pennsylvania Association of Numismatists (PAN) for his article, “Lady Liberty: America’s Enduring Numismatic Motif,” that appeared in The Clarion in 2017.