Many new and interesting ideas were presented at the U.S. Mint’s third annual Numismatic Forum Oct. 17. This year’s event was held at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing in Washington, D.C. Perhaps 60-70 of us invited guests attended, along with numerous staff from the Mint and the BEP.
After a welcome from U.S. Treasurer Jovita Carranza, new Mint Director David Ryder (who had previously served as Mint Director from 1992-1993) explained his goals, visions, and plans, all of which indicated a greater receptiveness to public input and a broadened outlook on what the U.S. Mint might be able offer in the future.
Ryder was followed by brief presentations from Mint managers of different forthcoming 2019 numismatic programs, including commemoratives, Presidential silver medals, the American Innovation Dollar series (with the first coin to be released in late December 2018), and new products directed to appeal to young collectors.
The presentation on new products for young collectors was particularly enlightening. About 79 percent of Mint numismatic products sold directly to collectors go to people aged 55 and older. Most sales by the Mint destined to be owned by children are actually purchased by older customers, who then make gifts of the items.
In deriving market information about what would appeal to young collectors, several key points came out. Children generally do not want to read a lot of words. Instead, they prefer a link to a YouTube video that they can watch. In other words, less copy and more connectivity.
Of the printed materials, the preference is for fewer words, larger font sizes, and more graphics. Monetary denominations not generally seen in circulation – half dollars, dollar coins, and $2 Federal Reserve Notes – were more popular than different finishes (such as proofs) of common circulating coin denominations.
Further market research on what interests potential young numismatists is that they prefer coin sets with multiple coin types rather than multiple issues of the same denomination. For themes, space-related and dinosaur-related products or packaging are most popular.
The Mint will soon start promoting numismatics to youth by introducing Mighty Minters, a group of five children and two animals. For particular products, a Rocketship set will be offered in February 2019 with space artwork that glows in the dark.
Later will come a set of Explore and Discover coins, which will include examples of the one cent through dollar coins plus a blank cent planchet. Late in 2019, look for a youth coin and currency set which would include a set of the five proof America the Beautiful quarters along with a $2 Federal Reserve Note.
The Mint is revamping its website to be more appealing to kids and adding a new section titled “Gifts For Kids.” For gift-giving purposes, the Mint found that the two optimum price points for customers are $10-$15 and $15-25.
Beyond looking for more products directed toward children, the U.S. Mint has begun discussions with some other mints, including the Royal Canadian Mint, Royal Australian Mint, and the Royal Mint about producing joint sets of coins and currency to be marketed by each mint with product included in the set.
As of the beginning of October, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing’s public sales are now being handled exclusively by the Mint (though the BEP will continue to handle its own dealer bulk sales program). One result has been an increase in BEP products being sold. Going forward, the Mint will look to expand offerings that include both coins and currency, especially incorporating military themes that are more popular than average with U.S. Mint customers.
Up to now, the U.S. Mint has generally accepted legislation directing what coins to produce and the specifications of them. Going forward, Ryder said that Mint staff would become more proactive at helping to write such legislation so as to incorporate ideas that would be of higher appeal to coin collectors.
Ryder noted that Mint numismatic sales in 2018 were down. He projected that the Mint would only return $265 million to the U.S. Treasury this year. However, he anticipates a resurgence in volume in 2019 from the introduction of new products.
Further, he stated that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration would also be promoting sales of the forthcoming Apollo 11 commemoratives being released next February.
He also explained that the Mint’s marketing budget was imposed by another government agency, at a level far less than he judged optimum.
He also commented that the Mint will be going away from its historical depiction of Liberty in female form. Instead, some objects might be depicted, or significant historic events that allude to the concept of Liberty.
As an aside, he also revealed that the Mint was studying the possibility of making direct bullion sales to the public or at least more actively directing potential customers to the coin dealers now listed on the U.S. Mint website.
Next on the program, Robert Fickling, the Mint’s bulk sales manager, described the impact of the Mint’s changes to the bulk program announced a year ago, where the discount would depend on total annual volume rather than being the same for all participants in the bulk program. With higher minimum order sizes, more than 80 percent of those previously in the bulk sales program had dropped off. Only two companies are at the highest discount level, three others at the next highest discount, another 14 at the next lowest discount, and all of the rest still in the program at the minimum discount level.
In all, only 47 dealers account for 97 percent of the Mint’s bulk sales. Fickling also announced that new products may gradually be added to the bulk sales program, and it may soon be possible for bulk program participants to place advance orders for forthcoming products instead of having to wait until the day they are actually released (though products would still not be shipped any earlier).
Next on the agenda was a discussion of the process of merging the Mint and BEP numismatic selling programs. While there were some customer options offered by the BEP in its retail sales that have been dropped, there are multiple new advantages for customers to make BEP purchases through the Mint’s website. Among the new perks are participation in the Mint’s loyalty program, the ability to ship packages internationally with tracking, the ability to use PayPal or Mint e-gift certificates as forms of payment, and broader marketing channels.
A welcome addition to this year’s agenda was a panel on the problems of counterfeiting. Unfortunately, the four panelists only had a half hour, which was much too short to do much more than explain what is and what is not being done to combat this growing problem.
It was explained that the Mint is neither a policing or enforcing agency. Instead, it supports other federal agencies charged with these activities, such as the Secret Service and Customs and Border Protection. The Mint does review product returns to verify that they are not counterfeits.
Perhaps the best news from the panel discussing counterfeits is that since Ryder became Mint Director (where he had previously worked with anti-counterfeiting technology in the private sector), the Mint has begun discussions with the Royal Canadian Mint, British Royal Mint, Royal Australian Mint, and the marketing agency for the South Africa Mint as to what they are doing to combat counterfeits. (I think they should also contact the Perth Mint and Austria Mint as well.)
The Mint has committed to learning more about counterfeits and how to possibly address the problem. It will sponsor a roundtable in early December to discuss circulating coinage. Also, at some point in the near future, technology companies will be invited to come to the Philadelphia Mint to showcase their anti-counterfeiting technology for coins, paper money, and the packaging. The intention is to eventually incorporate more anti-counterfeiting features in future products and packaging.
The afternoon sessions almost entirely were for attendees to provide ideas and feedback to the Mint on multiple subjects. For ideas on potential international collaboration, one obstacle was that any newly created U.S. coin would have to be authorized by Congressional legislation, which tends to be a slow process. Using current coinage, the Mint could produce a special issue with either a unique finish or a special privy mark.
I pointed out that rather than creating new coins, you could instead focus on new packaging. As an example, I said the Mint could work with the Royal Canadian Mint and La Casa de Moneda de Mexico to jointly produce a North American proof set where the holder would be in the shape of the continent, with each country’s coinage placed where that nation is in the continent. As another idea, I suggested that the Mint collaborate with mints around the world in issuing coins for various United Nations International Year themes.
Another session asked what kinds of “freemiums” could be offered by the Mint to entice more demand for its products. There were a number of ideas suggested, including:
• a nationwide prohibition on sales tax on the sales of coins, currency, and precious metals bullion;
• blank planchets in sets;
• serial numbers on sets so that those with low numbers might appreciate in value;
• the reissue for one year of discontinued denominations such as half cent, two cents, three cents and 20 cents;
• special packaging for coins and sets sold at major coin shows (similar to such special editions of the Red Book);
• a 2021 Morgan dollar to honor the 100th anniversary of the end of its production.
If any reader has other ideas, let me know at email@example.com and I will forward them to the Mint staff.
The following sessions sought input about the Mint’s portfolio of numismatic products and on sustainable product or packaging innovations. One attendee suggested that Mint staff contact the Patent Office to get a better understanding of the subject of innovation for the new American Innovation Dollar series.
Someone else suggested making a significant effort to make the designs for the American Innovation dollars themselves be innovative. Still another asked if the Mint’s packaging would survive for the long term for products being stored in vaults for precious metals Individual Retirement Accounts. As for packaging, the possibility of being able to remove or at least turn upside down some coins from packaging might be a future possibility, as is now done with some Perth Mint sets.
Toward the end, Mint Director Ryder asked if it made sense for the Mint to hold interim phone conferences with those attending the forum. After discussion, the idea of holding such conferences on a quarterly basis will be considered. Also, he said the Mint is in discussion with the BEP about taking over some of the BEP back office functions such as procurement.
I was able to raise several points and ask questions. When I said that a number of the copper-coated zinc cents and some other denominations can deteriorate more quickly than you would want – with some cents literally turning black within one year – Ryder stated that this was a problem with quality control that would need to improve.
When I asked if the Mint was looking to end cent production, since they cost more than face value to produce, he said that they are required to produce circulating coinage as requested by the Federal Reserve, so that was a subject out of their control (it later occurred to me that circumstances might change quickly if the Fed were required to pay actual production costs for cents instead of only face value).
I also pointed out that a 15-year release program for the American Innovation Dollars would not appeal to young collectors and even many older numismatists. Instead, I suggested that the Mint explore expediting the releases to one per month to make it a less than five-year program.
I later learned from Greg Weinman, a senior legal counsel for the Mint, that the enacting legislation for the American Innovation Dollar program would not prevent a more rapid issuance.
Further, I also asked some members of the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee if they could handle an accelerated workload if they needed to review American Innovation dollar designs on a faster pace. Their general reaction was it would be manageable.
Last, I raised the idea of the Mint issuing a $5 circulating coin that contained somewhere between one to three grams of silver content (less than fifty cents to less than $1.50 at current silver value), along the lines of a program currently under consideration for a circulating silver coin in Mexico. Ryder said such an idea would require Congressional action, which would be up to the general public and numismatic community to push.
Overall, this year’s Numismatic Forum brought forth much more participation by the attendees. The sense I got is that Mint Director Ryder is much more open to outside ideas and has instilled that attitude among the other Mint staff in attendance at the event.
As a result, I judge this to be the most useful of the three Numismatic Forums thus far. Stay tuned to see if any of the ideas brought forth are actually incorporated. I am very much looking forward to attending next year’s Numismatic Forum.
One idea that comes to my mind (and I emphasize that it is personal to me and not anything reflective of any organization of which I am a member or officer) is should the Mint and Bureau of Engraving and Printing merge? They are both in the Treasury Department and both are concerned with facilitating everyday commerce by issuing the media of exchange.
While government bureaucracies tend to operate independently from each other and would be resistant to such changes, perhaps it is time to consider the potential cost-saving benefit of such a step.
Patrick A. Heller is winner of the American Numismatic Association 2018 Glenn Smedley Memorial Service Award, 2017 Exemplary Service Award, 2012 Harry Forman Dealer of the Year Award and 2008 Presidential Award. He was also honored by the Numismatic Literary Guild in 2017 and 2016 for the Best Dealer-Published Magazine/Newspaper and for Best Radio Report. He is the communications officer of Liberty Coin Service in Lansing, Mich., and writes “Liberty’s Outlook,” a monthly newsletter on rare coins and precious metals subjects. Past newsletter issues can be viewed at http://www.libertycoinservice.com. Some of his radio commentaries titled “Things You ‘Know’ That Just Aren’t So, And Important News You Need To Know” can be heard at 8:45 a.m. Wednesday and Friday mornings on 1320-AM WILS in Lansing (which streams live and becomes part of the audio and text archives posted at http://www.1320wils.com).
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