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Mint botches delivery of new High Relief

The potential waiting time for the new $20 gold Saint-Gaudens Ultra High Relief is a result of the Mint’s total inability to understand the market and the coin collecting community. Add a dash of marketeering greed on top of that for a variable.

First, the Mint publicly announced that the lack of blank ability will prevent the scheduled release date. Then it issued a statement that 300,000 blanks have been secured, and the release date will go as planned.

The Web site listed a ship date of Jan. 28 for coins ordered at noon on Jan. 22. Fifty-five minutes later, the Web site had a ship date for orders of Feb. 6. A phone conversation with customer service at 1 p.m. pointed out that there could be a six- to nine-month wait for shipment. The young lady who eventually answered actually read the script to me, and stated that they were required to notify everyone that got through by phone of the potential back order shipping delay.  The Web site still listed a ship date of Feb. 6.

Reading between the lines:

The Mint initially decided not to go forward because they did not have a solid hand on the gold blanks.  The Perth Mint made an announcement that it was again selling blanks. The U.S. Mint secured a contract for a minimum 300,000 blanks delivered in 2009. The U.S. Mint decided to go ahead with sales, even though it had minimal stock on hand, knowing delivering up to 300,000 coins, if that many were ordered (the effective law said they had to be made-to-order for 2009), would be possible. Hence the six- to nine-month potential wait for coins struck on blanks that they don’t yet have in house. 

I’ve got a time list of six customers that ordered the coins on issue day, four via the Mint Web site and two via phone. I plan to follow up and record delivery dates to try and determine if one ordering source is any quicker than the other. 

Two comments for the general public:

If you buy bullion coins from the Mint, your favorite dealer, local coin show, or even a pawn shop, remember that bullion can go up and down.  You are buying a bullion-related item, not a rare coin. 
Secondly, there has been no picture or much discussion about the size of the coin. The American public is used to a 34mm one-ounce or $20 sized gold coin. The numismatic press should be pointing out that the new High Relief $20 is the same size as a state quarter,  just twice as thick. All press pictures are over-sized and make it look like the normal gold one-ounce coin we’re accustomed to.
Finally, isn’t it time that the U.S. Mint reopen its own Assay Department?  We hold more gold and silver than almost any other country.  Why should we be buying non-American and be held hostage (again) to the costs, production, and availability of materials from other countries when we have everything here in the U.S. to do it faster, more effectively and less expensively? 
Chip Cutcliff is President of the Metropolitan Coin Club of Atlanta and ANA district delegate to northern  Georgia. He resides in Powder Springs, Ga.

Viewpoint is a forum for the expression of opinion on a variety of numismatic subjects. The opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of Numismatic News.
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