Is it time to rethink the U.S. Mint and its functions?
While European countries are closing mints and even contemplating the end of cash, the United States moves merrily along with the best technology the mid-20th century could provide.
When new technology is needed, as was the case with the 5-ounce America the Beautiful coins, the equipment was imported from Germany.
We have been engaged since 2006 in a discussion about the future of American coinage and have bravely reached no conclusions.
If the metallic cost of the cent were reduced to zero, that is, if it was given to the government, it would still cost the U.S. Mint more than a cent to make it.
If we want to keep the cent, is a radical restructuring of the whole organization to reduce costs required?
If we could start with a blank slate, how would a mint today be designed?
The U.S. Mint has a proud tradition and a long history.
As a result, it has valuable properties.
The Philadelphia Mint dates to 1969, Denver to 1904 and San Francisco to 1937. The West Point Mint is also 1937.
Should some be sold and torn down?
Should the Philadelphia site be cleared and a skyscraper erected on it?
Should the Denver Mint be turned into luxury apartments?
Half a century ago, it was concluded that the Mint should vacate the present Denver building for another Colorado site. Obviously, it didn’t.
San Francisco is the most expensive city in the United States for average people to live and work.
Perhaps the current "S" facility there could be sold at a huge profit and the money re-deployed in a location with a cheaper cost of living for employees.
The Mint has been moving down the road of lowering the relief on the designs of circulation coins to reduce die wear and extend die life. That saves money.
Has this relief reduction gone far enough?
With the production of circulating coins going down even as the economy grows, should the Mint’s overall coin production capacity be reduced?
Last week’s Numismatic News poll question showed that 100 percent of respondents don’t think coins will be abolished in 10 years.
But what if they will be?
What if technology displaces coins faster than we think?
Is it already too late to reorganize the Mint to face a 21st century demand for coinage that could reach zero sooner than anyone has predicted?
This morning, the U.S. unemployment rate came out at 3.9 percent. That is the lowest it has been since the year 2000.
In the year 2000, we needed to produce 25 billion coins to service the economy.
This year, coin demand is running at roughly 14 billion coins.
The size of the economy is much larger now than in 2000, yet we are using considerably fewer coins.
That is not a trend to inspire optimism for the future of circulating coins in the United States.
There is a future for bullion coins and collector coins, but these do not require retention of all of the current Mint production capacity.
In a discussion of Mint reorganization or closure, the future may have already been decided by current events.
Buzz blogger Dave Harper won the Numismatic Literary Guild Award for Best Blog for the third time in 2017 . He is editor of the weekly newspaper "Numismatic News."
• Like this blog? Read more by subscribing to Numismatic News.