This article was originally printed in Numismatic News.
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The Jan. 21 Numismatic News e-newsletter poll asked readers this question: The Mint reports it lost 25 percent of its customers last year. Is it because of high prices?
Following are answers sent from our e-newsletter readers to Editor Dave Harper.
The lapse of the silver and gold proof coins was the start of the Mint’s downfall. You have a sector of collectors who lives for the modern era coins. The gold and silver proof coins are the pinnacle of the modern era. By taking this away the Mint has eroded any confidence in future endeavors.
I have canceled all of my subscriptions due to high prices and lack of demand at my shop.
The America the Beautiful series has been a flop. The previous customers for the state quarters tell me they have had enough and kids cannot begin collections by finding the coins in circulation.
The 5-ounce fiasco made it absolutely clear that the Mint has no respect for the average dealer and has given me no reason to pursue any Mint items unless I am confident these items will move from my inventory. Silver sets have been the most reliable sellers. To me, it looks as if the guaranteed sellers (like Eagles) will always be the domain of the chosen distributors and the small guys get whatever is left. One day the distributors will have no small shops to move the Mint’s coinage and the steady progression of bullion dominance and numismatic decline will set the stage for a group of folks talking about “the way it used to be.”
High Ridge, Mo.
I believe that the high prices does have something to do with the customer decline buying Mint products. However, there are other factors to consider. The economy definitely would have a major role with this downturn. Another is after the Mint outsourced their shipping duties to a third party it has been very poor to say the least.
The product is still getting delivered in a timely way but the packaging is very poor. It is like they just toss the items in the box, seal it and off it goes. You know as well as I that the box that the items are in has to be in nice shape to keep the value and for them to increase in value.
I have made several attempts via e-mail and phone calls to the Mint with my increased frustrations on this issue but it seems it is going to deaf ears. I have cut down on my purchases because of this and because of the higher prices for less quality.
I believe it is because the state quarters program ended. (Yes, I know it was the year before, but most people including myself also collected the territories.)
The Mint has done a poor job of promoting (and distributing) the ATB quarters. I am only collecting them from circulation, where with the statehood I ordered directly from the Mint including the First Day Covers.
I have seen only about four of the ATB quarters in circulation so far. My bank, Wells-Fargo, cannot get them so unless you want to pay the Mint premium, they are very difficult to collect.
I think Mint coins are overpriced. I also think it is highway robbery that bullion-related Mint coins are only sold through dealers at inflated prices.
St. Paul, Minn.
I am one of the 25 percent who has cut way back on purchases. The Mint’s premiums are excessive, and the products that I would like to buy (silver and gold bullion) are not sold direct, but only through dealers. There’s little incentive any longer to buy from the U.S. Mint. The one positive is their low shipping rates.
Yes, I too have looked pretty hard at pricing and it is getting to where I might have to cut back. As a longtime collector, I think the Mint is just putting too many products out and flooding the market. I would like to see fewer things being brought out and maybe better designs. Well I know the cost of gold and silver has been a issue. I can hope that rising cost will be kept within reason to stay with the Mint.
Locals in the Elko, Nev., area aren’t buying from the Mint as extra money in the budget for the purchase isn’t available. They have quit buying collectibles from my shop but are buying coin silver, silver bullion and gold bullion. Collectibles just aren’t the thing to buy at this time. As a result, I cannot buy them as I can’t afford to sit on them until I can find someone to buy them which, at the present time, is not in my area. I have a few people selling silver and gold because they need to pay a bill (house rent or whatever) at the present time. Have a few people come in to see what they can get for it and decide to wait for a while to sell. Have had a few customers that have always bought a proof set for each of the grandkids tell me that they aren’t buying them now because they are so high and want to know if I can get them cheaper than the online prices. The economy is killing the buying of coins for other than the silver/gold value. And I’m not buying them because no one is interested in buying them from me at the costs I have to put on them.
The reason the Mint has lost customers has many contributing factors.
First, the economy has and will continue to have a significant impact on discretionary spending. Secondly, some of the product lines that are offered aren’t really that desirable. To put it in context, if they were at a money-making corporation the product managers and their respective counterparts would be fired.
The gross mismanagement of the ATB coin and roll-out is that seminal moment people will point to and say that is the beginning of end.
I absolutely believe the Mint hurt themselves by the high prices they establish on their products. They actually “gouge” their customers in prices and in the same breath tell others (secondary market) that they can only charge a certain amount of mark-up when they sell and distribute the Mint’s products for them (example: 5-ounce ATB coins).
This is hypocritical and I can’t wait to see what the Mint charges for the ATB 5-ouncers when they sell them directly to their customers in the short future. You talk about losing customers. Wait until this happens, and I know it will be because all the Mint is concerned about is money profits, not satisfied customer service. I could dwell on more of their “money-making schemes” but it would be old news for all of us who work hard for our money and enjoy the numismatic hobby but are very tired of price gouging, over producing and bad quality. These are traits that go with the territory of an “over-profiting” business. As for me, I will scale way back in the future with purchases from the Mint.
Jerry Lambert Jr.
I would say poor customer service equals less customers.
I think the reasons there are less people buying from the Mint is because of the higher prices and poor quality of the coins sold. Also because of the bad economy that we are in with high unemployment, down housing, higher gasoline rates, etc. People tend to spend their money for the essentials like food, rent, clothing and medical.
I myself am not buying for the above reasons. Many times, these coins can be bought later on in the open market at less cost.
Yes, especially when historical price trends show how much the overall prices keep going up and the constant (way too large) loss of value in the following years. And it bugs me I can’t at least get some new coins in any bank rolls (almost always from zero to four or less new 1 cents per bank roll of 50, for example)!
I would at least like to think there is a slight possibility that 10 years from now I could see some gain, or at least no loss, on the coins I purchase this year. But I just do not see that as anywhere near a possible scenario. Therefore, I have stopped buying much.
Aliso Viejo, Calif.
I hear much conversation and comments on this subject. I offer the following insights based on being in the middle of the controversy. I am a professional coin dealer.
The fact is people can just tell when they are being fleeced. I can see price increases based on inflation, supply and demand, or escalations in metals prices, but the Mint has decided to try to get the end retail price. This leaves the collector thinking the Mint is in cahoots with all of the coin dealers/Mint distributors to keep prices high (dealers must add $3-4 for a reasonable profit on proof sets).
The Mint keeps adding products to the proof set and now a proof set directly from the Mint is $31.95 and with only 1.85 in silver coin added, the silver proof set weighs in at $67.95. Many people feel they can no longer afford one. The silver adds only approximately $28.50 so why is it now $67.95? I don’t think a silver planchet costs much more to handle at the Mint. So, why the $9.45 extra in the price? Greed? If silver rises, will they even increase their current price?
The case of the 2009 proof silver Eagle is another one that has collector heated up. This will likely show in this year’s further lack of interest. They made fewer uncirculated Eagles but could not get the proof Eagle out. They managed to do it in 2010 with a much larger mintage of the uncirculated version. They either lied or were completely incompetent.
The price of the 2010 silver Eagle was another example of trying to get the end retail price. They priced this gem at about $15 above the silver price. Currently, just a little above is the end user buy price. This subject runs a little deeper but collectors could care less. Math is math.
There are many other examples. Basically, the collector feels abused. Some blame dealers, incorrectly. The Mint is a much bigger target.
Harbor Coin Company, Inc
Winthrop Harbor, Ill.
It wasn’t on my behalf that they were down 25 percent. I ordered everything this year that I ordered every other year, i.e. uncirculated set, silver proof set, 14- coin proof set, proof silver American Eagle ...
Ned F. Chatt
Perhaps some of the U.S. Mint’s troubles are occasional poor distribution problems as with the recent 5-ounce coins. Also, the prices of items are increasing as the precious metals increase freezes many people out of the market for some items.
Rio Grande, N.J.
Just wanted to make a few comments about the Mint losing 25 percent of their customers last fiscal year.
The question was, “is it because of high prices?”
My guess would be that a goodly number of people would say exactly that: “they’re just gettin’ too dang high on them coin sets nowadays.”
I suspect that might be the perception with some people out there who have avidly snapped up their yearly mint and proof sets in the past (along with an occasional commemorative or two).
Now, they’re sitting on the sidelines – at least in part – because they perceive the prices to be too high for the product that they are receiving.
And they may be right, at least to some extent.
Which brings me to my real point: What our Mint charges for a “proof set” is not terribly exorbitant at all – leastways, not for a “real” proof set, which is manufactured to the highest possible standards and one which is presented and packaged in an elegant and professional manner.
The problem, I think, is that our Mint doesn’t always meet those standards I mentioned. Sometimes (though certainly not always), the design and packaging of the coins seems to be a bit “ho-hum” and reeks of a “churn ’em out as fast as we can” mentality without a whole lot of emphasis seeming to be placed on creativity, vision or the level of presentation being used.
And that, in turn, may be what leads to the cries of “price gouging” and the like.
Your typical coin-buying bubba (or bubbette) may not know beans about the coin-making process or what all goes into it. When they get that proof set in their hands, though, and study it up close, they do know whether or not they think they got their money’s worth.
And given some of the ill-conceived – or poorly executed – designs that are sometimes used, and the fact that almost half of every mint and proof set now is made up of coins that don’t even circulate (not in most people’s “real world,” anyhow), and the fact that the packaging and presentation – while certainly compact and functional for the proof sets – is certainly not elegant or museum quality, then I think you can understand some grumbling taking place and maybe a bit of dissatisfaction setting in.
The problem is, there appears to be at least some lack of vision and inspiration at the Mint.
No, I don’t think $31.95 plus shipping is an awful, outrageous amount to pay for a proof set, not when you’re getting an average of 14 coins in each set and not when they look as relatively nice as those coins tend to look.
The point, though – and this may be what’s driving a lot of the dissatisfaction amongst some collectors – is that we can, and should, do better ... much better!
For an example, look to our friends to the north: the Royal Canadian Mint does an absolutely superb job with all their coin sets (astonishingly so, at times). They’ve been doing for a good while what we in the U.S. should be doing now!
Their coins are breathtaking in quality, presented at two or three different price levels (with the sophistication of packaging and the professionalism of appearance steadily increasing as you choose to pay more for them), and you can decide for yourself which level of quality and presentation you want, based on what you can afford. You have options. You can go economy or go whole hog. The choice is yours.
That, in my opinion, is what our Mint should have been doing yesterday!
Despite the room for improvement, for what we are getting now – and how it is being packaged and presented – 32 bucks for a U.S. proof set is still a relative bargain, I think (some folks are just spoiled and want there to be $20 sets forevermore). And you can see for yourself that it’s still pretty reasonable if you just do a little comparison shopping.
Look at what other world mints are getting for their proof sets.
At most of them, you can’t even sniff of a proof set for $32.
Of course, as I said, a lot of those “other guys” are delivering an extremely high-quality product – with loads of vision and flair in their designs – and they are using considerably better, more sophisticated, more upscale packaging and presentation also (and dare I say, with a lot more pizazz and more appealing marketing efforts, too).
Here in the U.S., we have to decide: do we want to pay more (maybe significantly more, eventually) to get a really first-class, jaw-dropping, more appealing product (and dressed in finer clothes), or are we content to just stick with what we’ve already got?
If you want the former, we’re going to have to start pushin’ and demand that the Mint step things up a level or two.
If, on the other hand, you’re satisfied with the way things already are, then I’m not sure we have that much room for complaining.
For what we’re getting right now, I’d say we’re doing pretty good, overall (in regards to prices for the proof and mint sets, anyway, which is my primary emphasis. I know this doesn’t necessarily apply to everything the Mint sells).
For what they’re giving us at present, I think the majority of their prices are not so unreasonable that we need to storm the place with torches, or anything like that.
We do need to start demanding as much for our buck as they can legitimately give us, though.
And maybe gently suggest to them that they start improving and stepping up everything there – from the quality of the coins, to the number of choices and options available, to the packaging and presentation, and even to the marketing.
As I said before, I think our Mint could – and definitely should – start doing better!
The biggest single dissatisfier was not producing the 2010 proof silver Eagles last year. Many people who had been collecting that one item gave it up.
Beyond that, the bad economy coupled with higher metals prices has squelched a lot of collecting. I saw some collectors get priced out the half dollar series last year, like Franklins and Walking Libertys.
North Florida Coins & Collectibles
Lynn Haven, Fla.
I cut down my Mint purchase last year, not just because of high prices. I’m a longtime collector of proof, silver proof and mint sets: twp sets per year, except for the silver proof. One to open for individual collections. When the state quarter program started, I was not enthusiastic about it but collected them. With the addition of the Presidential dollars, D.C. and Territories, Lincoln Bicentennial, and America the Beautiful at various points, it is overwhelming the amount of money and space that I have.
I was also a collector of silver Eagles. After the 2009 problems, I stopped that collection along with silver proof sets. I feel that the Mint should produce proof and mint sets lacking any of the aforementioned add-ons. Let them be offered separately to those who choose to collect them. The more than $130 spent on four sets of coins last year to meet my needs is becoming burdensome. Part of this onus is due to the fact that my wife and I are retired and the overall economic conditions. Thank you for allowing my thoughts on the current state of the Mint as I see it.
It’s really no big surprise to me. The Mint’s buyers have gone to other mints, like the Royal Canadian Mint and the Perth Mint for example. The U.S. Mint is totally out of their league when it comes to product selection, presentation, variety, information, technology, transparency and performance. Just visit the U.S. Mint’s website, then compare it to the RCM or the PM. You will see that there is actually no comparison because both of those other mints offer websites that are modern, cleanly designed, fast, functional and above all, customer friendly, all of which the U.S. Mint’s website is NOT.
The U.S. Mint claims they have just re-designed their website, but in reality, it is just a poor hack job of their previous poorly conceived and designed first generation website. They are so far behind the times in their websites design, usability and functionality that it embarrasses me as an American. The selection is pathetic, and they are missing many opportunities to sell bullion and a much greater variety of coins and actually make some money.
As a web designer and operator with a budget thousands of times less than the U.S. Mint, I just can’t see why they don’t do a much better job. They should hire some professionals if they can’t do it in-house. Finally, the disastrous way they have handled the American the Beautiful 5-ounce bullion coin program is another clear indicator of their incompetence and only adds to the perception that they don’t know what they are doing.
George B. Hug
Pleasant Hill, Ore.
First and foremost, the lack of a 2009 proof silver Eagle. I really like the silver Eagles and this simply ruined it for me. I know in the great scheme of things it amounts to nothing, but you ask. Also the lie that they couldn’t make proof coins until they made all the investment coins for the public, while I’m part of the public and I consider the proof silver Eagle with its huge premium to be an investment also.
The annual fare is OK but overpriced. The yearly price increase is simply too much.
When the U.S. Mint does come out with something that’s above their usual offering, they don’t make enough, i.e. the 5-ounce bullion parks coins, creating enormous profits for the Authorized Purchasers who purchase directly from the Mint. All the current setup does is allow 11 companies to make enormous profits off of the collectors the Mint supposedly makes the coins for.
I have canceled my subscriptions at the Mint and don’t plan on buying anything else from there. I am going to sell off my collection and start purchasing award-winning coins made in Europe. Canada and Australia are light years ahead of the U.S. Mint catering to collectors. The Australian Lunar set is a beautiful set along with the Kookaburras and Koalas. A little imagination goes a long way. I have never purchased any coins other than U.S. coins, but now I’m starting to look other places and finding some pretty cool stuff.
I think a lot of people are like me and don’t have as much money to spend anymore. My husband is out of work and I am self-employed and my business has suffered too. I think the prices are high from the Mint and I have begun to think it may be silly to be buying what I do from the Mint when storage is an issue. What the heck does one do with the proof and mint sets as they mount up? I have my better coins in safe deposit boxes but that costs a lot of money as the years pass and I have to buy additional insurance because the bank does not insure what is there. What to do? I hate to pass up coins that may be valuable in the future but ... who knows?
St. Louis, Mo.
Hello, David. My name is Debra Hubert. I’m from California, and I have been a longtime buyer from the U.S. Mint. However, after what they pulled by not issuing the silver Eagle proof in 2009, thus proving to the public they did not care about their loyal collectors or their collections. They screwed up and pi**ed a lot of buyers off. I was able to get my proof 2009, unauthorized, to complete my set, but I’m sure there are those who did not. Shame on the Mint!
2010, then comes along the America the Beautiful 5-ounce silver coin sets. The Mint had planned to strike 100,000 sets but there was a problem with the first coins struck. (Seems to happen quite often in the past few year.s) So they ended up only producing 33,000 sets, which they decided to send out to distributors.They choose 11 very special distributors, however only nine decided to take part. The Mint fixed the price, oops! Did I say that? Sale price $975, one per household.
Because of the low mintage, people started going nuts, paying people to buy sets for them and then selling them on eBay to those who could afford the prices. (That’s another big problem.) The distributors weren’t holding true to their contracts of $975. When they saw the frenzy of buyers, they raised the prices to where they were making 300 percent to 500 percent profits or more. CoinVault and HSN were selling the sets on TV for starting prices, $4,799.95, plus $24.95 shipping and handling, plus a 10 percent buyers premium. It ended up being well over $5,000 per set and the prices continued to go up until the public had had enough. The next you know they were on TV trying to explain themselves to get their customers back.
Why did the Mint make these 5-ounce coins to begin with? Then to make matters worse by not selling them to the public. Another major screw-up! How many people in this economy can afford those prices? Who really wants a coin that size? Why not make that coin a great quality $5 gold coin that we can afford? Five $5 gold coins in a set. Have the Mint set up payment plans for those that cost in the thousands, so the regular Joe can afford them. Now that makes sense, it would make them money and make the public happy.
The bottom line is the Mint (government) thinks they can do whatever they want. I thought the U.S. Mint belonged to the public, for the public. Not to price gouge and charge these huge prices. If they had just put the 5-ounce coin sets for sale through the Mint in the first place, there wouldn’t be this mess. But, again the Mint screwed up ... and the public is pi**ed, as well they should be. I know I took a lot of my subscriptions and closed them. I'm mad, I’m really mad!
Disappointed, I feel like I’ve been let down by a good friend. The Mint has a lot of work to repair the mistakes they have made.
This is only coming from a regular old coin collector who loves her coins and doesn’t want the Mint to screw up again.
There is a certain group of speculators, and 25 percent seems about right, who jump in for what they perceive to be a ground-floor opportunity from the Mint, or the stock market or even the Home Shopping Network. They make their buy then chase around trying to find their dream offer or appraisal. As we know, often times the metal price has been exceeding any numismatic value, leaving little to get excited about. So they go chase something else. The Home Shopping Network has been offering the 5-ounce national parks set for the ground-floor price of $4,995. Purchasers who buy these and put them away for 5 years are going to get one heck of a shock, in my opinion. But it will still be better than Cabbage Patch dolls.
Was $8.95 plus $4.95 shipping and handling for two rolls of cents too much? You bet it was. I remember a time when proof sets and mint sets were shipped by the Mint using their their government free franking authority. We were not charged shipping and handling charges. All proof sets were sent by registered mail also.
I remember paying the Mint $7 or so for a proof set, only to be able to purchases the sets in the secondary market for $5 a set just by waiting for the Mint to stop selling their sets. Are they charging too much? You bet they are.
Can’t find new coins in your local bank? It’s not that they are rare, it’s because the Mint wants to sell those two roll sets and charge you a shipping and handling cost that they are in one way or another are coming out ahead with. I truly believe that the people that marketed the sports card business into its downfall were rehired by the Mint to market OUR coins to us. I think that 25 percent loss to the Mint is only the beginning of a new downward spiral of collecting worthless Mint products.
Have we forgotten how the Mint handled the state quarters program? It started out with a big bang of interest. Why? Because the first few years most local banks carried and promoted the state quarters. Then towards the end of the program, all banks didn’t have them. What a brilliant marketing strategy. Stick it to them (us) in the end. Nice job, well done. This is why I won’t even try to get those America the Beautiful quarters. Have you found any in your local banks yet? I rest my case. Oh, and the Statehood quarters that I ever received from a bank were all late die state productions. Where did the nice coins go to?
Palm Bay, Fla.
I received an e-mail from a friend that you were looking for opinions as to why the U.S. Mint lost 25 percent of its customers last year. Perhaps people are getting smart.
I am a coin dealer in Las Vegas, Nev., and in my opinion the reason isn’t necessarily the high prices that the Mint is charging, but it’s the prices charged compared to the resale value after a few years have gone by. I think you should explore every Mint product made (with and without silver or gold) since 90 percent silver went out of proof and mint sets, and every Mint product up to, let’s say, four years ago. List the original “to the public” selling prices, and the realistic price that each Mint product is selling for these days (both wholesale and retail). I’m only guessing here, but I’d say that about 90 percent are down. The exceptions I can think of off the top of my head are the 1999 proof set, and the 2001 Buffalo dollar.
My personal conclusion is, that after a long period of abuse (as those customers have been taking from the U.S. Mint for years), why would people want to purchase (invest in) Mint products, only to lose money after time goes by? They wouldn’t. As bad as bank rates are these days, at least they’re paying half a percent interest.
Let’s also not forget that all people collecting proof ASEs now have a big hole in their sets. The Mint doing this has certainly lost them some business.
If in 1971, ’72, ’73 and ’74 I had purchased $10 worth of .999 silver (I’d estimate that’s 3 ounces, times four years) instead of the 40 percent silver Ikes ... well just figure it out. Buying Mint products is ridiculous. Just my opinion.
Gary M. Brown
Coin & Currency of Nevada
Las Vegas, Nev.
It’s probably due to two things. First, the tough financial times we’re in. Second, the cost of the individual sets and bags and rolls.
Why buy rolls from the Mint when you can get them face value from the banks and not for $16.50 plus shipping that it costs from them.
Mint unc. sets $31.95 from the Mint for exactly $13.82 in REAL change amount. That’s a nice markup of approximately two and a half the value. (Didn’t know a little plastic and carboard cost that much.)
Proof and silver proof sets are way overpriced, as are bags of coins released from the Mint.
Quality: Many of the proof offerings don’t seem to be that great in appearance: nicks, scratches, other marks.
The Mint should take the price and quality, along with the hard financial times, into consideration in order to keep their customers but also make it appealing to new customers.
Good grief! Just read the previous issues in NN and you’ll get your answer. It seems that for every high praise letter about the Mint, I read three who complain of poor customer service, Ed Moy, high prices for junk, etc. Many of these folks claim to be long time customers who are aggravated. My experiences haven’t been that great, say 50-50. Still, that isn’t a great record.