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What qualifies a person to head U.S. Mint?

For more than 45 years, I have been a close observer of the U.S. Mint, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, the Treasury Department, Congress and the White House  especially with regard to coin and currency matters.

Through this column, "Under the Glass," which I have written since 1965, I’ve taken to task, praised, hectored, chided, nudged and occasionally raised my voice on a number of numismatic issues, never losing sight that there was a community of numismatists  consisting of hobbyists, collectors, investors, and dealers who all wanted their views brought to the table.

Naturally, I have some ideas as to what qualifies someone to be a Mint director. I will list these criteria at the end of the column, but first, I will reminisce a little about what impressed me about some past directors.

During this time, I have known  and usually pretty well  each of the directors, respectively, of the Mint and BEP, the incumbent U.S. Treasurer, and sometimes those who served on even higher levels in government. Some of them stayed friends after their tour was up, others moved on with their lives.

Fortunately, Bob Leuver  assistant director of the BEP in 1979, and then director from 1983 to 1988  became a lifelong friend and when Kathy and I married a dozen years ago, he walked her down the aisle (her dad had died a dozen years earlier). We recently saw him, his wife, Hilda, daughter Mary Ellen (who I knew as a young girl and who is now affianced and a doctoral candidate at Yale University) and fiance, Charlie.

I got to know Eva B. Adams, Mint director under President John F. Kennedy, in the late 1960s when she was serving her second President, Lyndon B. Johnson. Later, while I was Washington correspondent for this newspaper and attending Georgetown University’s school of foreign service, we would periodically meet for lunch in Washington.

Miss Adams (I did not call her Eva until much later) was a skilled lawyer with a masters of law (LL.M.) degree from a prestigious District of Columbia law school she attended at night  while working first for Senator Pat McCarran D-Nev. and then Sen. Allan Bible D-Nev., who later nearly destroyed coin collecting by trying to legislatively abolish it.

Well-connected from her years as a Senate legislative aide, Adams pretty much served as her own director of legislative affairs  for she actively worked Capitol Hill for a number of pet projects that the Mint, the Treasury Department, or both wanted to see at the top of the congressional agenda.

This included five key projects during her tenure: the Act of Sept. 5, 1962, Pub.L. 87-643 (Cent composition change eliminating tin); Aug. 20, 1963, Pub. L. 88-102 (Permits appropriations for new Philadelphia Mint; subsequently, Denver Mint). The Act of Dec. 30, 1963, Pub. L. 88-256, 77 Stat. 843. (Authorizes Kennedy half dollar).

Also the Act of Sept. 3, 1964, Pub. L. 88-580 (repealed by Pub. L. 89-81), (Authorizes "date freeze" on coinage), the Act of July 23, 1965, Pub. L. 89-81 (Coinage Act of 1965); and the Act of June 24, 1967, Pub. L. 90-29 (Restores mintmarks to coinage).

We met for the first time in the spring of 1968, about a week after the riots that decimated Washington following the death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It was my first trip to Washington as a writer.

Mint directors had their offices in the Main Treasury Building then. The meeting lasted about an hour, and Miss Adams was charming, informative and quite knowledgeable about the inner workings of her organization. Administratively, she had a strong handle on the office and its functions. She had moved off the position advanced by her in the early 1960s that coin collectors were the cause of the coin shortage, and had already abandoned the puerile view that elimination of mintmarks would, of itself, solve the riddle of non-circulation of coinage.

Adams and I corresponded, and occasionally spoke by telephone over the next year. On Jan. 20, 1969, President Nixon took the oath of office, and made it clear that he wanted the resignation of all Presidential-level appointees.

Under the terms of her appointment, Adams could have stayed in office until 1971, but she understood the power of the Presidency, and the prerogative of the office. She made her deal to stay in office through the end of the summer of 1969, which would mark eight years in office and the opening of a new Mint at Philadelphia.

Adams and I saw each other next at the 1969 American Numismatic Association convention at the dedication ceremonies for the new Philadelphia Mint. Treasury Secretary David M. Kennedy, and Mint director-designate Mary T. Brooks were in attendance, but the show was outgoing director Adams, under whose aegis the building was erected.

After that ceremony, she took the time to introduce me to a young, talented sculptor named Elizabeth Jones, whom she had befriended and had tried, unsuccessfully, to encourage to join the Mint engraving staff.

Jones, who was then on her way back to Italy, where she ultimately resided for nearly 20 years, later did join the Mint  as chief engraver. (Adams worked behind the scenes to help orchestrate it during the Reagan administration).

Adams left office and that fall. I started college at Georgetown University in Washington and also became Washington correspondent for Numismatic News. I saw and spoke with Adams regularly, even though she was no longer in office.

One day, I invited her to lunch at Jean Pierre’s, a tony French restaurant on K Street. She asked me to meet her at her offices, located a block from the White House  in the other direction from Main Treasury  where she maintained offices as a lobbyist for Mutual of Omaha.

We had a pleasant conversation  all peaches and cream  talking about current numismatic events. Then, "Sweet Little Eva" got a telephone call from a colleague who had evidently not performed on an assignment to her standards. She proceeded to dress him down in strong, earthy language.

When the conversation finished, the peaches and cream returned, and a memorable luncheon followed. During it, she discussed her days as a child in Wonder, Nev., a frontier town where she was born in 1908, and the values it had given her.

As a lobbyist for Mutual of Omaha, she knew how to count. And over a long career for them, and on Capitol Hill, there weren’t many votes that she did lose.

Her successor was Brooks of Idaho. I met Mrs. Brooks for the first time in August 1969, when her predecessor, Adams, introduced me to her at the ground-breaking ceremony for the Philadelphia Mint on Independence Mall. It was not an auspicious meeting, since Mrs. Brooks wore a charm bracelet consisting of holed gold coins  as a numismatist, I was horrified  but over the next eight years I saw her many times and found that she truly cared about coins and their history, and her role as a custodian for the Mint tradition dating back to 1792.

Brooks was a political animal  her father had been a U.S. senator, and so had her husband  and she was socially friendly with Patricia Nixon, whose husband, Richard, came to Washington while her husband was still in office. She used those skills, and friendship, to achieve breakthroughs that were never conceived of, no less undertaken, previously.

As any government official knows, it is easy to become a captive of the bureaucracy, and Brooks, for a time, was forced into internecine battles with her staff who opposed change of virtually any kind. Critical to her ultimate success was a strong sense of self, the kind of reliance that may just come naturally to someone born and raised in Idaho.

By February 1970 the Coins and Medals Advisory Panel of the American Revolution Bicentennial Commission (later Administration) was constituted, and for the next several years, Brooks took the official Treasury position of opposing any coin commemoration  medals were what were posited as the official answer  all the while working behind the scenes for a circulating coinage tribute.

In the "Under the Glass" column of April 20, 1971, I had interviewed Brooks in her office in the Main Treasury Building  with furniture rescued from a government warehouse and restored to its former splendor; it had once graced the office of the Superintendent of the San Francisco Mint. At that time, she commented that coins "touch everyone’s lives", and it was this recognition, I think, that guided her future actions  eventually persuading Treasury Secretary George P. Shultz to approve a Bicentennial dollar and half dollar coin.

Although she was required to voice the official Treasury Department objections, she had her own independent opinions and was an honest broker. For example, at one meeting of the Advisory Committee, she was asked what would happen if the quarter dollar was chosen for the Bicentennial circulating coin.

"If it is a circulating quarter," Brooks said in executive session, "it will certainly get to the hinterlands because it will be the only issue of that year, if we change it."

There was some thought on the committee that the Treasury and Congress might approve a one-coin change, but would never buy into multiple across-the-board changes that some committee members, including Krause Publications executive Clifford Mishler had advocated.

Brooks ultimately stood 12-1 against an across-the board-change.

I interviewed Brooks many times over her tenure in office as Krause Publications’ Washington correspondent.

In May of 1972, she spoke of the Bicentennial and was still pushing against the ARBC panel’s recommendation to change all coins. "If we changed all the coins, it would be a disaster," and offered the alternative of one or two pieces  which ultimately became the dollar and half dollar put forth in March of 1973.

At that same meeting, I asked her about what seemed very logical to me, a gold coin for the Bicentennial, paralleling the Sesquicentennial issue of 1926. Her verbatim response  which you didn’t read in Numismatic News in May 1972: "I’d love to strike a gold Bicentennial coin. No more wonderful way could be found to commemorate our Bicentennial than with a gold coin."

Later that day, a staff member who was present at the interview Roy Cahoon called me at home and requested that the remark be left unpublished  evidently the Treasury secretary heard about it and decided it would roil the gold market if the Mint director were heard advocating gold coinage.

(The quote was ultimately published in the long article on Bicentennial coinage that I did for The Numismatist in 1975-1976, and earlier from an interview with Russell Rulau in Numismatic Scrapbook).

Brooks turned out to be quite the friend of young numismatists. It was she who prevailed upon President Nixon to open up the White House in June 1972 to local young collectors  as the Mint announced publication of a new series of books and pamphlets on American coinage. Tricia Nixon Cox was guest of honor.

She was also aces when, as Young Numismatist co-chair for the Washington, D.C., convention of 1971, she arranged for Mint office tours as well as other visits to noted sites. And of course on her watch, the mini-medal program of the Mint  designed to make medals of the U.S. Mint available at small size and modest price came into everyday reality.

In the early 1970s, the nation seemed on the verge of a new coin shortage  one cent pieces. Brooks got to the heart of the matter in June 1970 with a campaign to bring the coin (which she always referred to as the "penny") out of sock drawers and pocketbooks, and back into commerce. It was less than successful, but not on her account, for she enthusiastically called for the release of sock-drawer hoards nationwide.

Brooks was appointed to a second five year term in 1974, but with the election in which Jimmy Carter beat President Gerald Ford, her departure was pre-ordained. On Oct. 26, 1977, nine months after taking office, President Jimmy Carter nominated Stella B. Hackel of Vermont to succeed her. Brooks, resigned, the White House announced. "Hackel was born December 27, 1926, in Burlington, Vt. She received a J.D. from Boston University School of Law in 1948," they continued.

"She was elected city grand juror (city prosecutor) of Rutland in 1956, and was re-elected annually until 1963. From 1963 to 1973, she was commissioner of the Vermont Department of Employment Security and chairman of the Employment Security Board.

"Hackel practiced law in Rutland from 1973 to 1975. From 1975 to 1977, she was treasurer of the State of Vermont. She was the Democratic candidate for governor of Vermont".

I got to know Hackel very well, mostly as a writer and somewhat as a lawyer, for by 1978 I had become the ANA’s legislative counsel (a position I held until after my presidency concluded in 1995). At the ANA mid-winter convention in Albuquerque in 1978, she and I spent an entire day together traveling to Santa Fe, the beautiful state capital.

Watching her testify at numerous congressional hearing, she was well-prepared (as any trial lawyer would be) and usually testified without notes giving her opening statement, and without ubiquitous aides to offer advice at the table to answer obscure topics of congressional questioning. Among her significant accomplishments, legislatively, as director: Feb. 14, 1979, Pub. L. 95-229, 92 Stat. 26 (Capitol Historical Society medal legislation.

– Oct. 10, 1978, Pub. L. 95-447, 92 Stat. 1072. (Approved Susan B. Anthony dollar.)
– Nov. 10, 1978, Pub. L. 95-630, 92 Stat. 3679. (American Arts Gold Medallion Act.)
– March 7, 1979, Pub. L. 96-2, 93 Stat. 4 (Carson City silver dollar sale; final disposal).
– May 26, 1979, Pub. L. 96-15, 93 Stat. 32 (John Wayne gold medal.)
– March 14, 1980, Pub. L. 96-209. Title II, 94 Stat. 98. (Abolition of Assay Commission.)
– July 8, 1980, Pub. L. 96-306, 94 Stat. 937 (Gold plated medals to U.S. Olympic team because of nonparticipation in Moscow Olympic Games)
– Dec. 23, 1981, Pub. L. 97-104, 95 Stat. 1491 (formerly 31 U.S.C. 399). George Washington commemorative coin authorized.

In all of the meetings that we had while she was director, I do not recall any in which aides were present. And there was never a follow up to tell me she had been wide of the mark. This included leading a shift of the Administration at least as to the elimination of the cent, though the proposed elimination of the half dollar and creation of a smaller-sized "mini dollar" retained support.

Hackel confirmed to me that published reports of the Treasury’s reversal of its position on elimination of the cent were correct, and that action on half dollar elimination and dollar reduction is to proceed in the second session of the Ninety-fifth Congress. (Interview at Washington, D.C., Nov. 29,1977).

Let’s jump to the 1990s now.

Philip Diehl, when we first became acquainted, had just been named executive deputy director of the U.S. Mint, named to run the agency ahead of David J. Ryder, a Bush-I recess appointment (named because the President was unable to get his nominee confirmed by he Senate).

He also became a member of the Citizens Commemorative Coin Advisory Committee, by way of a stint as the legislative assistant to Lloyd Bentsen, Clinton’s Secretary of the Treasury. Diehl had to deal with Treasury bureaucracy on a variety of issues, some of which included the heartburn I caused by repeatedly promoting circulating commemorative coins.

Diehl tells the story best in a December, 1998 letter to the editor of Numismatic News: "The idea of a circulating commemorative has been around the hobby for decades, but frankly, good ideas are a dime a dozen. Far more rare is the ability to move an idea to reality, especially in the rough and tumble environment of Washington, D.C.," he wrote.

"From my vantage point, the lion’s share of the credit for making the 50 States program a reality goes to David Ganz, for his persistence as an advocate, and Congressman Michael Castle for championing the proposal through Congress. David gradually persuaded me of the merits of the proposal, and we at the Mint, in turn, convinced Treasury and the Hill that it was doable. There are other claimants, to be sure, but the hobby owes a debt of gratitude to Congressman Castle and Mr. Ganz."

The other members of the Advisory Committee came around, also, and this proved to be the seminal moment.

Mint director, Henrietta Holsman Fore had factory experience. Asked initially about her background, she told me that she was more interested "in talking about the Mint than in talking about me," certainly an unusual feature for some Presidential appointees. Holsman Fore was an old hand, however, having served in Bush-I in two prominent positions that required Senate confirmation.

Her official resume says simply that she graduated with a B.A. in History from Wellesley College and an M.A. in Public Administration from the University of Northern Colorado in 1975. She also studied at Oxford University and Stanford University. She was born Dec. 9, 1948 in Chicago, Ill. Bush-I appointed her in his administration. "From 1989-1993 I served in the U.S. Agency for International Development and was confirmed twice by the Senate, once as Assistant Administrator for Private Enterprise and once as Assistant Administrator for Asia. Since that time, I have served on several non-profit and public corporate boards, traveled, and run my business."

More interesting is that during "the past 24 years I have managed and owned a wire and metal products manufacturing company servicing the construction industry with factories in Nevada, Arizona and California." This background is not coins, but it is manufacturing.

By contrast, the Mint directors since 1960 have all come from political backgrounds. Two (Adams and Diehl served as senior staff members on Capitol Hill; another (Pope) was a state legislator, and yet another (Hackel Sims) an unsuccessful candidate for governor. Still another (Brooks) was a Republican national committeewoman and (Idaho) state senator.

The immediate prior director, Jay Johnson, served as a member of Congress  something that seven other directors have done in the 209 years since the Mint was founded under the Act of April 2, 1792.

Summarizing, successful Mint directors in the past half century:

– Are political, most typically on a national level (consistent with the President’s policies)
– Have a working relationship with either the Treasury secretary, the President or both
– Are good listeners
– Hear their own bureaucracy but reach out to other sectors
– Don’t necessarily have technical knowledge but are quick studies
– Have an entrepreneur’s spirit
– Aren’t lemmings
– Speak enthusiastically to the various segments of the Mint’s constituency
– Come from various segments of society
– Work well with members of Congress (both sides of the aisle)
– Understands what staff’s role actually is.
– Know were the buck stops

None of this definitely says who should be the next Mint director. But this list surely defines who is unlikely to be successful by type and experience.

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