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Good sportsmanship applies to Mint orders

HarperD_color.jpgWhen I was growing up, I got the usual boyhood lesson when it came to athletic contests: it?s not whether you win or lose, it is how you play the game. This collided with Green Bay Packer?s Coach Vince Lombardi?s, ?Winning isn?t everything, it?s the only thing? philosophy of professional sports.

Somewhere between the two extremes come the daily lives of most Americans.

I open my column this way because I want to address issues involving the U.S. Mint and some reader complaints about it. In the last few years, it has been increasingly popular for readers to buy coins on the opening day of availability in order to sell them at a profit on eBay.

I have no problem with this. It is how America works. It is nothing new. In the years following the return of proof sets in 1968 and the imposition of five-set-per order limits, the great game for hobbyists was buying five sets, selling off three or four in hopes of paying for the one or two sets kept. This was not a bad way of stretching a hobby budget.

The problem was that it didn?t always work. Delivery often took many months. If your order was processed at the beginning of the order period, you often could make this profitable process work. If you were unlucky enough to have your order in the last mail sack to be processed, you probably were not going to make it work.

Nowadays, the time period for dealing with the Mint has been greatly condensed and purchase options have expanded. So have payment options.

Instead of sending a check in the mail and having it cashed in 10 or 20 days, readers can offer credit cards.

The world of snail mail and checks and postal money orders looks terribly quaint today. Two things about it impact present conditions. First, with essentially only one way to buy stuff from the Mint, collectors who did so basically knew the rules and knew what to expect.

Secondly, selling off proof sets usually involved dealing with someone you knew, either dropping the sets on the counter of a local coin shop, or shipping them by mail to a dealer you had done business with before. Again, the rules of the game were well known to virtually everyone.

Not so today. With the Internet, a potentially hot coin causes huge back-ups because the Mint?s system cannot handle such a high volume of orders at once. So readers complain when they have to wait a few hours.

If the coins are not delivered within a few days, complaints arrive that the Mint provides lousy service. Again, an initial crush of orders can back up the logistics.

Credit cards make paying for these Mint orders much easier. However, in the early days of credit-card orders, the Mint took payment upon receipt. This caused collectors to complain that the Mint had use of their money for 30 or 60 days before the coins shipped.

Now the Mint holds credit cards until coins are ready to be shipped. Unfortunately, some of these accounts expire in the meantime and the money cannot be obtained by the Mint, so the order is cancelled. This causes readers to complain, even though the rules are posted on the Web site.

Now I am not trying to lean into the wind of human nature. I was disappointed in the old days when I couldn?t sell my extra proof sets at a profit, but I understood that I received what I had asked for. The Mint did not owe me a profit. It simply owed me the sets in a variable delivery time frame.

The same is true today. The Mint does not owe any customers a profit on eBay. They cannot maintain a huge order infrastructure for the few times a year when orders come in rapidly. It is not possible.

But collectors need to remember that it is only because there is a crush of orders and the occasional disappointment that makes the eBay profit possible at all. If everyone could order at once and everyone could get three-day delivery, there would be no profit on the secondary market because everyone would have bought their coins from the Mint. Let?s be good sports about it.

Send comments to Dave Harper at e-mail address david.harper@fwpubs.com.

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