CoinWeek Podcast #79: My Advice for the U.S. Mint

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The CoinWeek Podcast returns after a short hiatus.

We’ve been up to our eyeballs in the new site design, an hour-long new coin grading video, and preparations for our next on location video shoot.

In this episode, editor Charles Morgan talks about the upcoming United States Mint forum and big issues he thinks that the Mint needs to address to truly make an impact in today’s numismatic market.

If you have ideas you would like Charles and Hubert to bring up in Washington, DC, let us know in the comments.

CoinWeek will publish Podcast #80 this Thursday. Our guest is former U.S. Mint Director Edmond Moy. We talk about Fort Knox. You won’t want to miss it!

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Transcript:

Hi everybody, this is CoinWeek editor Charles Morgan and this is the CoinWeek podcast.

Regular listeners of the coin week podcast may have been asking themselves in the past two weeks, where is the next episode? My inbox has been flooded with emails from some of our most loyal readers and listeners asking if I was ok.

Folks, there is no need to worry. I’m fine and the CoinWeek informational technology grid did not suffer any downtime. In fact,  I think it is safe to say that we have been busier now than we have been at any point in the year. On the backend we are, I would say, about half way through our  redesign and new feature process. You will see additional cool things coming online really soon.

I have been working hard and long hours on our latest CoinWeek IQ video – the World Coin Grading Challenge. In Anaheim last year I had the opportunity to sit down with my friends at PCGS to take their US coin grading challenge. I felt that I did ok, but you always run a risk of really embarrassing yourself doing these unscripted challenges. That video was one of our most popular videos last year and this year at the ANA in Denver, I wanted to up the game by not only taking the challenge in an even more difficult area of numismatics – world coins – but I also wanted to compete – not just against the NGC graders – but against three other world coin experts.

I recruited Andy Lustig, Lance Tchor, and James Ricks of Atlas Numismatics. Any one of these three, I think could step into a grading room and hold their own. Our friends at NGC put the set together, it was a diverse and challenging mix of coins and each of the four of us sat down and knocked out 20 coins.

As you can imagine, four guys grading 20 coins makes for quite a long video–and the process of editing this footage and making graphics for it–to make all of these hours of footage make sense took time. The video, which we published just this week, runs nearly an hour long… but I recommend that you watch it. Watch it for what it conveys about consensus grading – how even top experts will probably not consistently hit the same number for a coin and how huge a factor personal taste is in grading. I don’t want to spoil for you who won and who lost, but I will say the information and commentary that each of the graders gave, whether their scores were exactly right or a couple of points off is revelatory.

Next up on our video channel is a private lot viewing with Daniel Frank Sedwick, covering a number of fascinating treasure items from their November sale. We will have that for you next week.

As we enter October, CoinWeek is gathering its thoughts for the second United States Mint Numismatic Forum. This year, the Mint will host industry stakeholders at Mint headquarters in Washington, DC. What do I want to say to the Mint? A number of things. It seems that last year, before we got started, the Mint wanted to let the air out of the balloon and tell us the things that it couldn’t do.

For example, Coin design and commemorative programs are determined by Congress. The Mint can’t just design their own programs like other mints.

The Mint also cannot alter or reform our coinage denominations or designs without Congressional approval. If we get rid of the penny or put the half dollar back into circulation in a new size or composition, that won’t be the mint’s decision, but Congress’.

Considering Congress hasn’t approved a Mint Director since Ed Moy left in 2011, don’t hold your breath for Congress to pay the Mint or our nation’s coinage much mind anytime soon.

Fair enough.

I’m not sure what most of the stakeholders who came to the first forum came with in terms of expectations. I think we were all on fact-finding missions. What pre-forum work was done came through the offices of former ANA President Jeff Garrett, who, in his remarks, signaled that he hoped that the industry would have constructive things to offer the Mint, and Dr. Ellen Feingold, curator of the National Numismatic Collection, who gave a presentation about her work at that August institution.

Hubert and I broke into separate working groups. My group dealt with Mint packaging. PCGS wanted bulk purchasers to be able to buy coins without all of the extraneous mint packaging that they spend thousands of hours breaking apart to remove the coins for re-holder. Makes sense to me. Hubert’s group focused on classic designs on U.S. coins. Hubert acknowledges the fanservice motivation on the part of the Mint, but believes that it has become a crutch – and in some respects reveals the truth behind the fact that the Mint can’t actually give the die hard collectors what they want.

A harder question: what is it that they really want?

Going into the second forum, management has changed at the Mint. Gone is Rhett Jepson, Principal Deputy Director. Replaced by the U.S. Mint’s former Chief Financial Officer David Motl. Jepson had the benefit of the Mint’s major 225th anniversary and the Silver Eagle’s 30th. Motl will need his team to create its own buzz to top what we have seen so far in 2017.

I don’t know that I have met Mr. Motl  and I do not know where he sees the Mint’s numismatic program. I am hoping that we get to hear his vision when we meet up with his team in a few weeks.

So what are my recommendations? You know, I talk to many industry insiders – essentially having a never-ending ongoing conversation – like a game of correspondence chess that takes years to play and seemingly never concludes.

Typically, I can rebut almost any idea I hear. We need more mainstream press coverage? You get a ton of it already. We need new circulating coin programs to get everyday people to collect out of change? We have had once since 1999, people are bored with it. We need more publications, less publications, more websites, less websites, more coins, less coins, it goes on and on…

Fundamentally, I think, the answer lies not within where our own interest or self-interests lie – but within the central truth behind the very nature of the coin hobby. Coins are interesting. Make interesting coins. Write interesting articles about coins. Sell interesting coins. Make coin releases interesting. Boring and stale isn’t good enough in a diffuse media landscape and boring and stale coins certainly aren’t good enough in a competitive numismatic marketplace. CIT coins may not be your cup of tea, but a skull coin made of antiqued silver certainly is more novel than a boys town silver dollar?

And who the hell was clamoring for a Boys Town coin anyway?

The truth of the matter is that the United States Mint needs to agitate for its own survival and convince the Treasury to support and politicians to advocate for a new Coinage Act that will either make the United States Mint a public corporation – like virtually every other successful mint in the industry – or give it complete control over its numismatic products – so that it can create interesting coins that are market tested and viable.

And the Mint should do more, much more, to involve not only the coin industry on the dealer side, the major clubs on the hobby side, and the major publications on the media side in what is going on.

In the old days, there wasn’t a major event that took place where the United States Mint didn’t involve the coin hobby – from Farran Zerbe to Margot Russell. I bet you didn’t know that former ANA President Anthony Swiatek struck one of the first American Silver Eagles?

Now new coins are struck out of the view. No budget is expended on traveling to coin launches or striking ceremonies and the primary relationship the mint has with anybody is from across a retail counter.

These are the ideas I plan to bring to Washington, DC. Can I get an Amen?

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The CoinWeek Podcast is brought to you by PCGS – the Standard for the Rare Coin Industry. The world class graders of PCGS are at the Long Beach Coin, Currency, Stamp and Sports Collectible Show this week grading coins on site. To have your coins graded, visit www.pcgs.com to learn more.

CoinWeek is the #1 website online for news and information about numismatics.

The CoinWeek Podcast is a two-time winner of the Numismatic Literary Guild award for best Audio/Video program. CoinWeek has also won the NLG Award for best numismatic website 5 years running!

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