By Louis Golino, special to CoinWeek …..
In recognition of the high level of interest among collectors in the forthcoming 2021 Morgan and Peace silver dollar program, United States Mint Director David Ryder and key members of his staff held a roundtable discussion with members of the numismatic media on May 4 to discuss this topic and provide an update on recent Mint activities and sales trends.
During the hour-long session, Ryder and his team discussed the most important parameters of the program and fielded questions from media participants from this publication and several others, as well as Rob Oberth, a coin dealer and member of the American Numismatic Association (ANA) Board of Governors. Those questions came from or were intended to address the concerns of readers.
The most significant news that arose was that the Mint is strongly considering using the enabling legislation’s lack of a sunset provision for the new silver dollar program and making it an ongoing annual series of Morgan and Peace dollars if the demand appears to exist for doing that. The program would be aimed at a new generation of collectors as well as at veteran collectors who love the original silver dollars.
Jennifer Warren, Director of Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs, first provided an overview of how the program came into existence, tracing its journey that began in 2019 as a commemorative coin program championed by Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee (CCAC) members Thomas Uram and Michael Moran (acting in their private capacity) that failed to garner sufficient congressional support to the recently enacted Public Law 116-286 that had strong bipartisan support. That legislation was also spearheaded by Tom and Mike all the way through the process.
The second effort began in the House in March 2020 when the 1921 Silver Dollar Anniversary Coin Act was introduced by Representative Garland “Andy” Barr (R-KY6) with the key support of Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO5) and Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV2), whose district in Nevada is home to the old Carson City Mint. In the Senate, it was Mike Enzi (R-WY) who introduced that version of the bill with key support from Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV).
Signed into law on January 5 by then-President Donald J. Trump, the timeline for the new coin program starts this year and can continue in out-years. Due to the tight timeframe and all the other programs at the Mint, the coins will ship in late October.
Other staff members discussed how the Mint worked with Tom and Mike and members of Congress to draft the legislative language. Rep. Amodei, who is a coin collector, played a key role in this area.
Director Ryder then explained that using pre-orders was “necessary to help manufacturing facilities to coordinate production plans” and that given all that has happened since last year because of the pandemic “the United States Mint had a very challenging year” as it tried to meet the high demand for bullion products and because of so many new programs “all hitting at once.” There was also the necessity of strict adherence to covid protocols which required spending a lot of money to keep the Mint open. There were 138 cases of the disease, including two deaths among the staff.
Ryder also mentioned the recent decision to reduce the household limit for the silver dollars from 25 to 10, which was “a direct result of customer feedback,” including many letters and messages sent to him.
Joseph Menna, the Mint’s Chief Engraver, clearly anticipated questions on the relief of the new coins, especially the Peace dollar, explaining that the coins are “not technically high relief like the originals because the profile of the artwork is higher than the borders of the actual coins, which would make them not stackable.” [We have reached out to the Mint for clarification on this and will update this article when we get it. –CoinWeek]
Better Than the Originals
Regarding the designs of the coins, Menna said they were developed using key legacy assets at the Mint, including original 1921 Morgan and Peace dollar platers, galvanos, and tooling made with the old Janvier reduction machines and that the result is one that “best represents the original artists’ intent.” He added that by combining those assets with modern digital technology, “you get better results than the originals” because factors like extra lines added by the old technology are removed.
Fellow roundtable participant and CoinWeek Editor Charles Morgan asked if there were any plans to strike circulation-quality coins and added that the new coins would give collectors the chance to buy perfect (i.e., MS-70-worthy) silver dollars for the first time.
Menna, who is a comic book fan and graphic artist too, said it would be like reproducing the famous Action Comics #1 that introduced the Superman character but without using old, yellowed paper. He also said that the Mint’s staff of engravers and designers is the best in the world.
Ryder then covered the plan to use privy marks in lieu of mint marks for the New Orleans and Carson City Mints that no longer operate. He said that Rep. Amodei insisted on doing this. Asked who did the engraving for those privy marks, Mena emphasized that it was a group effort by his team.
Next Year and Beyond
As for the planned use of product rather than mintage limits, Ryder explained that it was necessary to limit this year’s maximum to 175,000 for each Morgan and 200,000 for the Peace dollar because of the unprecedented demand for silver, which has resulted in the need to allocate American Silver Eagle production and has put the Mint “between a rock and a hard place.” He added that if the demand is there, the Mint will have “great incentive to make more coins next year.”
As for the possibility of Proof versions, which collectors would love, this is another option that could be a possibility in 2022. The same is the case for sets of all six coins, which are not possible this year due to the lack of silver planchets (especially with the imminent rollout of the Type 2 reverse American Silver Eagle). Sets would also be very welcomed by collectors especially given the expected quick sell-out of each product.
Matt Holben of the Mint’s marketing staff then discussed the staggering of the debut of preorders for each product option (they are two weeks apart from each other), which is intended to help prevent collectors from losing out on some of the coins they want. He also stressed the fact that “this is our new Morgan program, and the goal is to continue it in subsequent years like the American Silver and Gold Eagles or the American Buffalo Gold coins.” He also said he is “excited about a multi-year program,” which would also include Peace dollars.
In some discussions and informal polling I conducted last year on this matter, the collectors who participated said they would be more interested in a one-year-only program than in an ongoing one, but those views are not necessarily representative of collectors as a whole.
Matt pointed out that as is always the case, buyers will not be billed until their silver dollars are ready to ship and that they should make sure their payment information is updated if it changes between the pre-order period and October.
Charles suggested that collectors would like to see some of the coins sold in GSA-type packaging, which Ryder said he would consider. Another participant asked how the new coins might impact the values of the original dollars and questioned whether they might devalue them.
While only time will tell, it is noteworthy that in the ramp-up towards the 2021 program, prices of the originals have been moving steadily higher. And one can be sure that many dealers will be doing promotions selling the old and new silver dollars together.
Ryder also discussed the recent surge in both bullion and collector coin sales, especially in March – with the latter up 173% and the former up 200%. He said there had been “huge demand for the American Silver Eagle Proofs” and that he appreciates the patience of Mint customers who have had the deal with delays related to the pandemic. He said that compared to when he took on his position in 2018, the Mint has added 100,000 new customers and is working to entice younger people into numismatics.
He mentioned that he recently went to the West Point Mint to strike the last of the Type 1 Silver Eagles and the first of the Type 2 coins and also saw the production of the 2021 Liberty gold coins that provide an entirely new vision of Liberty as a bucking bronco, which Ryder said are really beautiful. [This coin will be the first one in which Liberty is represented by an animal rather than a person. –Louis Golino]
He also said Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has already approved the designs for the first two coins in the American Women Quarter Program for poet Maya Angelo and astronaut Sally Rider.
Ryder indicated he was also open to other possible tribute coin programs–such as ones in copper suggested by Charles–but that such efforts would require congressional approval since the Mint’s existing authority to issue coins without such approval is limited to gold coins. [The Mint also has this authority for platinum coins. – LG]
Finally, I asked about whether the Mint planned to do bulk sales to dealers for the new silver dollars. Matt explained the genesis of the bulk sales program as one intended to address the bottlenecks collectors encounter when ordering high-demand products. He said that prior to the implementation of the program, dealers would offer premiums to buyers to purchase on their behalf, which would result in very high web traffic on release day and the use of bots because they did have their own process for ordering the coins. He said the Mint will offer 10% of the planned 2021 mintage this way and that it requires dealers to pay a premium over retail price as well as full shipping charges.
Yet while these changes–the bulk sales program, the staggering of the product options, and the reduction in the household limit–are all useful in helping to create a somewhat more level playing field, buyers should nevertheless expect a frenzy when each product’s pre-order sales begin given the anticipated high level of demand.
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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.
In 2015, his CoinWeek.com column “The Coin Analyst” received an award from the Numismatic Literary Guild (NLG) for Best Website Column. In 2017, he received an NLG award for Best Article in a Non-Numismatic Publication with his piece, “Liberty Centennial Designs”.
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.