By Louis Golino, special to CoinWeek …..
Continuing an initiative begun by former United States Mint Director David J. Ryder, new Acting Mint Director Ventris C. Gibson, and senior members of her staff held a virtual roundtable discussion with members of the numismatic media on November 9.
This was Gibson’s first interaction with the media since assuming her position. She is a Navy veteran and retired senior federal government official with over 40 years of experience who most recently served on the cabinet of Washington, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser.
Mint officials used the forum mainly to address customer feedback they have been receiving, in particular on the recently shipped 2021 Morgan and Peace silver dollars, and fielded questions from members of the media based on feedback from their readers as well as their suggestions for improving the Mint’s products and operations.
Matthew Holben, Associate Director for Sales and Marketing, said the Mint takes great pride in the products it offers and is aware of quality concerns customers expressed about the silver dollars as well as issues with the fulfillment of orders such as those that were canceled. At one point he said he personally fielded many calls from consumers.
Prior to working for the Mint, Holben was with the United States Postal Service and worked in the private sector.
Morgan and Peace Dollars
Asked if the Mint could confirm it is continuing the silver dollar program in 2022 and if it has decided what coins will be issued and in what finishes, Holben responded that the Mint is considering many options but plans to issue them in future years in various finishes struck at branch mints.
He also said the silver dollars will hopefully be available through the product enrollment program in 2022 to avoid the situation this year with several items selling out quickly before some consumers could complete orders.
Earlier this year former Director Ryder and other officials strongly suggested the dollar program would continue next year.
The morning after the roundtable the Mint released the 2022 product schedule that includes the release next fall of Proof quality Morgan and Peace dollars struck at the San Francisco Mint bearing “S” mint marks.
Collectors have expressed a strong interest in seeing the new silver dollars struck in Proof based on my own research into their views over the past couple of years. However, some wanted this to be a one-year-only program and many worry about issuing too many coins and how that might devalue the 2021 issues, which have already seen a sharp drop in secondary value in recent weeks because the entire mintage of almost 900,000 coins hit the market at once.
But regarding whether a High Relief Peace dollar might be in the works for 2022, Holben answered that doing that would require a significant research and development initiative but that he likes the idea.
I noted that many collectors would love to see new Morgan and Peace dollars with business strikes like the originals, which could result in coins with Prooflike and Deep Mirror Prooflike surfaces. Holben said he was not sure if the Mint has the authority to do a bullion program with these coins.
As for flaws on the 2021 dollar coins, he said he has received reports of Denver coins with scratches and Philadelphia coins with color variations as well as broken capsules and many about capsules that did not fit snugly in their boxes.
He added that he is in contact with the grading companies and that he heard 80% of coins submitted for grading have been receiving 70s, which he said he is comparable to what West Point Mint Silver Eagles grade at.
Regarding canceled orders, I asked why orders were canceled when buyers had credit cards that expired while the coins were in pre-order and why it was so difficult to simply update the information as Mint enrollment customers are reminded to do before enrollment orders ship. He responded that until recently centers that process orders did not have sufficient privacy protections in place for customer financial information.
I also asked about how the entire run of six different silver dollars – five Morgans and one Peace dollar – all shipped in a short period starting in mid-October without any notice that was going to happen during the many months the coins were in pre-order, which also put a strain on buyer’s credit cards that received many charges within days. The Mint did say the coins would ship in October when orders were taken in the spring, but nothing was communicated after that.
Holben responded that he was sensitive to the importance of not giving unfair market advantages to buyers of certain coins over others and that the Mint was trying to get the orders fulfilled quickly so as not to be delayed by upcoming Cyber Monday sales and orders.
In addition, he noted that the Mint opened a second warehouse to enable order fulfillment that would normally take three months to be done in three weeks.
This might make some wonder about bulk purchase program buyers who obtained their coins before other buyers did. Bulk buyers went to Memphis, Tennessee in October a week before the coins began shipping to other buyers, which gave them an advantage of several weeks compared to those retail buyers who received coins in the mail – a crucial advantage in this case since the bulk buyers had them before the large drop in premiums occurred. That allowed them to submit their coins sooner for grading and to offer presales while prices were still high.
Holben did concede that communication about the shipping process could have been better, but at the same time, he said the Mint did not want to overwhelm call centers with calls about order status.
I also asked about the importance of a healthy secondary market, and Holben said that the Mint does care about that and works to ensure a healthy market at the wholesale and retail levels.
Improving Order Management System
One participant called the Mint’s online order system “an utter disaster,” especially for the silver dollars and that it was not much better for American Eagles, based on his reader feedback.
Holben responded that changes at the front and back end of the process were involved, including a big increase in bot activity that they managed to reduce significantly. But non-traditional buyers, often working in groups and dealers who offer premiums to those who will buy for them continued to pose a major problem.
He added that the Mint has plans to implement a waiting room feature in which buyers will be assigned a number and given a certain amount of time to complete their orders. This is currently used by other mints, including the Perth Mint and the Royal Mint UK.
As for a suggestion to reduce household order limits to one, which has been done in the past, Holben explained that doing that only increases the web traffic. The key problems at the moment, he said, are the short supply of silver planchets, people having more time to buy coins, and dealers paying buyers to order for them.
Someone else suggested doing catalog orders, but Holben said that did not work well because of mail delays and that the Mint is looking at providing the enrollment option for more of its products.
As for those early morning sudden appearances of products that were thought to be unavailable that many collectors are familiar with, Holben answered that it was a result of returns that if not opened were deemed sellable. Because the Mint understands that making those items available early in the morning disadvantages people on the West coast, they are looking into doing this perhaps at 12:00 noon.
As for what happened to the 12,900 orders for Morgan and Peace dollars that were canceled, Holben said eventually those coins will be offered for sale after the Mint finishes determining which ones are legitimate orders and which are fraudulent.
The Mint used to melt coins that it did not sell, and Holben responded that Mint still sometimes does that, but that it is using demand forecasting to better estimate how many of a given coin to make. He added that it is costly to melt such coins, including for collectors.
Regarding the big increase in the price of large bronze medals from $39 to $160, Holben said that it was driven by the need to cover all costs and that because sales of these items are fairly low, production costs are higher for small batches of medals.
Holben added that this has been a good year for profits at the Mint, which are up substantially, and that should help to reduce overall costs going forward.
Asked if there really has been an uptick in the overall number of customers, Holben said there has indeed. He said that from 2019 when he started with the Mint there were 400,000 customers and 900,000 subscribers to Mint e-mails. Today there are 530,000 customers and 1.1 million subscribers. He attributed the increases to effective marketing and the increase in the number of people who buy Mint products to flip them.
He also mentioned those 500 four-coin sets of the first Type 2 and last Type 1 2021 American Silver and Gold Eagles that will include a certificate of authenticity hand-signed by former Director Ryder. They were originally planned to be sold at auction this year but will instead be offered sometime in 2022.
I mentioned the 2021 American Liberty $100 gold coin, whose design is very popular with collectors, and whether a two-ounce silver medal will be issued bearing the same design next year, as was done with the last silver Liberty medal in 2020.
Holben responded that a one-ounce silver version is being issued instead because of the shortage of silver planchets.
I also suggested that a 1/10th-ounce gold version would probably be a hit, as was the 2018 one based on the 2017 American Liberty $100 gold coin, and Holben said the Mint will look into the feasibility of doing that and perhaps of also reintroducing fractional American Gold Buffalo coins like the ones issued in 2008.
Holben said the Mint’s manufacturing facilities have been very busy because of high demand for its products and that the Mint set a new record for bullion sales in 2021 and also had its second-best year ever for sales of numismatic products. He added that, unlike many other world mints that shut down for extended periods due to COVID-19, the U.S Mint did not have to do that [It did shut down several branch mints last year for brief periods. –Louis]
Specific data on sales was not provided but the Mint’s FY2022 Annual Report will be available in December and that information.
Director Gibson provided closing remarks which mentioned the importance of customer satisfaction and giving consumers good-quality products.
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Louis Golino is an award-winning numismatic journalist and writer, specializing primarily in modern U.S. and world coins. His work has appeared in CoinWeek since 2011. He also currently writes regular features for Coin World, The Numismatist, and CoinUpdate.com, and has been published in Numismatic News, COINage, and FUNTopics, among other coin publications. He has also been widely published on international political, military, and economic issues.
His column “The Coin Analyst”, special to CoinWeek, won the 2021 Numismatic Literary Guild (NLG) Award for Best Numismatic Column: United States Coins – Modern. In 2017, he received an NLG award for Best Article in a Non-Numismatic Publication with his piece, “Liberty Centennial Designs”. In 2015, “The Coin Analyst” received an NLG award for Best Website Column.
In October 2018, he received a literary award from the Pennsylvania Association of Numismatists (PAN) for his 2017 article, “Lady Liberty: America’s Enduring Numismatic Motif” that appeared in The Clarion.