Debating US Mint Ordering and Mintage Limits

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US Mint at Philadelphia
The United States Mint hosted its 2016 Numismatic Forum in Philadelphia (CoinNews photo of the U.S. Mint facilty at Philadelphia)

The United States Mint wants to make and sell as many coins as the public will buy, but admits there have been misses in balancing demand and mintages and in setting household ordering limits.

Back on Oct. 13, the U.S. Mint hosted its 2016 Numismatic Forum at the Federal Reserve Bank in Philadelphia. Mintages and products limits were among topics discussed in one of seven group sessions held at the event.

There were six of us randomly assigned to the group. Team members ranged from a collector who bought only coins that he liked; without care for their value, to a well-known dealer who has been in the coin business for over 40 years. Author and former Coin World editor Beth Deisher was also in the group, providing decades of insights she gleaned from reporting on numismatics.

In our group "assignment," U.S. Mint officials asked us to discuss their limits and give them recommendations. Before starting, we received the following summary guidance:

"How can we be more responsive and have the ability to include new customers? What are your thoughts and ideas regarding mintage limits, ordering via ‘Online/Call Center only’ or setting the appropriate Household Order Limit? How do we balance demand and mintage limits — for example, made to order vs fixed mintage limit?"

We had about an hour to debate and discuss topics. Those of us who didn’t already know learned quickly that there are no simple or perfect solutions that will make everyone happy.

There were varying perspectives, as you’d expect, but we were able to offer some consensus recommendations. We came to them after weighing options and talking with U.S. Mint officials to include Principal Deputy Director Rhett Jeppson and Dufour Woolfley, Division Chief of E-Commerce, Numismatics and Bullion Directorate. They recounted some of their obstacles, objectives and goals. In summarizing my takeaways from those:

  • The U.S. Mint usually doesn’t have a lot of metrics available to help in forecasting how well new products will sell, with this year’s 100th anniversary coinage a recent example. They have used customer surveys as a projection tool.

  • The U.S. Mint doesn’t like it when a new product goes on back order, noting that orders pretty much tank after it happens. Conversely, overproducing coins for the sake of having an unlimited supply doesn’t work — they don’t want to make too many coins or buy packaging only to later destroy them.

  • The U.S. Mint wants to ship products to customers as soon as possible, a point mentioned in multiple settings.

  • The U.S. Mint understands that a coin’s mintage and product limits can influence sales greatly — for good or bad.

  • The U.S. Mint outsources product packaging to makers overseas. It takes a lot more time to reorder and get additional packaging than it does to strike more coins, making initial sales projections all the more important.

I think most of us would have liked more time to kick around ideas but we did offer general recommendations. They included:

  • Transparency. The U.S. Mint should clearly communicate any limiting factors for a product before it launches.

  • Mintages. When it comes to high-profile products, consult with a small panel of collectors, dealers and other numismatists. Let the panel help in arriving at mintages for unique products like American Liberty Silver Medals and Ronald Reagan Coin & Chronicles Sets.

  • Household Order Limits. When ordering limits are in effect, start them at 1 coin per household and then move to unlimited after several hours/days or after sales hit or failed to reach a certain level. The public should be aware up front when limits will or could expire.

The goal of our last recommendation is to make sure popular products are available to as many collectors as possible while giving dealers an earlier opportunity to buy them in bulk. The group suggested a standard ordering limit of 1 coin through the first three days. I actually recommended a shorter period like a half day — from the noon release until midnight. I thought a 12-hour window met our main goals and could create more "buzz" around a coin’s launch and sharpen sales.

We didn’t have much time to debate the value of products made to order but we thought it was viable in certain instances. The 2013-W $50 Reverse Proof Gold Buffalo was made-to-order, selling only during a four-week window without mintage or household ordering limits. Essentially, modern commemorative coins fall into the same class because of mandated year-end sales deadlines and unrealistically high mintages.

Generally, there is less excitement with coins made to order. Unless you’re selling a gotta-have product, made-to-order encourages procrastination.

A home run product coupled with confident sales forecasts give this method the best chance of success. It lets the Mint build inventory so products can begin shipping on their launch. In 2013, many buyers of the reverse proof Buffalo had to wait several weeks to receive theirs. That didn’t go over well.

There was one of our group members who pretty much disagreed with almost everything we discussed, and expressed very little trust in Mint officials. He represents a slice of the Mint’s customer base that, frankly, I don’t think they’ll ever win over. Some of his viewpoints were understandable but he lost footing by arguing instead of suggesting possible solutions to issues he felt were important.

Please feel free to comment or offer your own ideas. I owe the Mint some follow-up information and I can include your thoughts.

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Jesse

I think the mint if it has a household limit, should not arbitrarily release the limit wily-nily – it should be explained when it will be released before it goes on sale. The price of the secondary utterly collapses leaving great losses in the hands of those who are bringing to market the Mints’ own products that we as dealers need to bring to market regardless a limit or not. Just when they release the limit after two days (Reagan set) it woulda been nice to know we could’ve just waited the two short days and bought as many as… Read more »

Richard

Reasonable enough, and thanks for asking. Well, their web site is awful for finding new products: American Eagle 2016 One Ounce Silver Uncirculated Coin Calendar: Date to be determined. No image. No other information. Okay, that says the bare bones. But I first tried to find it in the “search” function and got this: We’re sorry, no products were found for your search: American Eagle 2016 One Ounce Silver Uncirculated Coin did you mean: american eagle 2016 one ounce silver uncrculated coin ? Which got me back again. Hello? Don’t they believe in capitalization? Why make a search harder? I… Read more »

John

Well lets fix one problem right away – The United States Mint outsources its packaging to manufacturers overseas. I think that is pretty sad and one of the points certainly being talked about in this election – we also produce packaging for coins and all of our items are Made in the USA – it is not that hard or that much more expensive.

corners

I think it should be illegal to make United States flags in any other country but the United States. Kind of feels wrong to be waving a flag for country pride but that flag wasn’t even made in that country

Sue

Good point John.
It also creates more jobs here in the USA.

RODNEY MOORE

“There was one of our group members who pretty much disagreed with almost everything we discussed, and expressed very little trust in Mint officials. He represents a slice of the Mint’s customer base that, frankly, I don’t think they’ll ever win over.” That gives me the impression that the feeling about that is “so why bother trying to win them over”. You went on to say”Some of his viewpoints were understandable but he lost footing by arguing instead of suggesting possible solutions to issues he felt were important.” Again, that gives me the impression that the guy that SHOULD HAVE… Read more »

Tired of the Mint

When there is a limited supply, there should be a window where everyone interested can place an order, let’s say, 6 hours, and then, if oversubscribed, the Mint randomly selects the orders to be filled. One per household. The reason being, a lot of folks who have jobs can’t just stop to place an order at Noon Eastern for a coin that will sell-out in 5 minutes. How is a collector supposed to get items from the Mint if they can’t actually have a chance? I’m a long time collector, over 30 years, and have reduced what I collect because… Read more »

Sue

Sorry Rodney,
I tend to agree with Mike Unser… “whiners will always be whiners”
With all your respect…

Mammoth

Conspicuous by it’s absence – no mention was made of the Mint’s ordering system crashing the day a product is released.

Many of us with daytime jobs are not able to spend thirty or more minutes ordering while at work; having to repeatedly reorder because the Mint’s website crashing before our order is completed.

I would rate this high on the priority list of the things which the Mint needs to fix.

sc Mac

Many questions are never answered by the Mint. A prime example are the Reverse Proof Presidential Dollars contained within the Coin & Chronicles Sets. Logically one might think the first { Truman } would’ve had the lowest Mintage, Nope, that distinction went to the Eisenhower, Why ? One may ask why such a low quantity ? Is the Mint intentionally creating a Coin that most Collector’s throughout the World simply will not be able to Purchase ? And then go crazy with the Reagan Mintage ? No logic. For myself, I’ve been collecting for 40 Years. I go for more… Read more »

Louis

I just looked it up and the Ike RP mintage is 68 higher, not lower, than the Truman after sales were reconciled, and besides because it is the first RP, the Truman is valued higher today.

Louis

Sorry, the Ike is 68 lower, which is a small amount. They had the same max mintage level. The difference was due to orders with cc problems, etc.

David

This may kill it for all flippers, but why don’t they do pre-orders? Basically register for the coins that you want for a discount so they most of the people who are interested. They get the data, and then make 10-20% above that for everyone else.

Seth Riesling

Mike Unser & CoinNews readers- The “Remind Me” option simply doesn’t work properly – and since the Mint doesn’t like the Backorder status & no longer offers a “Wait List” they have no way of knowing how many people want to order a product that is currently unavailable. Collectors are not going to check the website every day or rely on a Remind notice on a “Hot” product (and some Remind me notices, when they are sent which is rarely, are sent minutes after the product has sold out). A Wait List is fair & at least you know if… Read more »

jim

re: mint management obstacles: Not having a lot of metrics – the mint has a gold mine of metrics, namely a list of every customer name and address as well as all the products they’ve bought and when. They can use this information to project future sales. Also at order time the mint could gather comments and other survey type of info to help in future sales. I know it’s hard to predict favorites but as mentioned above when they can’t publish a full schedule with descriptions of the contents who knows what they might buy and when. In addition… Read more »

Sturgeon

Seth—“He said the Mint is looking into more modern artwork such as famous modern street artist “Banksy” type art to attract new & younger collectors.”—That will stick a fork in my US Mint purchases—-Lots of other places to buy beautiful designs

Seth Riesling

Sturgeon- That is exactly one of the problems in this matter. Many collectors have been buying more coins from other world Mints that offer more “creative” coin designs & the US Mint is therefore losing sales. I have cut my US Mint purchases starting last year (after being a loyal customer for 40 years) & purchase more & more from the Royal Canadian Mint, Perth Mint Australia & Royal Mint of the UK. I think the Mint is simply trying to finally think outside the box & offer both classic old designs as well as avante guarde modern art designs… Read more »

Christopher Williams

Excellent presentation, Mike.

Thank you.

Charlie 1952

OUR ”UNITED STATES” MINT USING SILVER AND GOLD MINED IN THE “UNITED STATES” PREPARED AND MINTED IN THE “UNITED STATES” OUTSOUCES THE PACKAGING OVERSEAS, YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING. WHO’S IDEA WAS IT TO LOOK OUTSIDE THIS COUNTRY FOR SOMETHING AS SIMPLE AS PACKAGING.

RonnieBGood

Mike, Thank You for listening.
It is encouraging that as a group we are trying to solve the issue of release and mintage. As well as the future of our hobby.
What has worked well in the past was an initial household limit of 3 and a mintage of approximately 70,000. This satisfies both the collector and the secondary market. Initial coin demand is strong and sellout occurs quickly. Price and demand in the secondary market remains strong and both the collector and dealer are satisfied. Thanks again for listening.

Seth Riesling

Charlie 1952 –

The US Mint even uses foreign made (mostly Perth Mint Australia) gold & platinum blank planchets for US coins when it cannot get enough from vendors in the USA (against the original provisions of the Liberty Coin Act as signed by President Reagan in 1985).

-NumisDudeTX

tekhen

First, thank you for the report back! Bandwidth!!! Bandwidth!!! Bandwidth!!! Allow the website, app, phone center to function upon ordering. I’d take an automated telephone ordering service if it would bypass the busy signal. Website and App crashing, constant busy signals and/or the inability to complete an order is very frustrating. If I’m not mistaken, the Mint said they would resolve this issue? There could be an upfront online/automated call statement letting collectors know that their order(s) could be ‘rejected’ or they would be added to the queue. I’ve tried all three ways at once and still failed to place… Read more »

Barry

The Silver Liberty Medals mintage was less than the gold version. That was a moronic decision and soured a lot a people including me. The Reagan dollar is a poor design. Who made that decision ? Now they have a lot of extra coins sitting around and wonder what went wrong. Needless to say I’d never buy it.

RODNEY MOORE

You’re right, the Reagan reverse proof makes him look like a monster! I was tempted to get it just for the Silver Eagle and then have the Reagan coin as icing on the cake. But like you mentioned, the Reagan coin just doesn’t look good.

Earle42

When the 2011 Silver Eagle set with Reverse proof was issued I learned a lot about the mint. f interested in backing this up with fact – search for “computer bandit” on the coincommunity.com where I documented everything as it unfolded step by step. I spent a good deal of time trying to get my verified order shipped to me. It was verified – with an order number – over the phone. However, I never got the email confirmation. They told me myltiple times it was just a computer erorr. not ro worry, and they would look into getting things… Read more »

Timothy Calhoun

You can’t make everyone happy but at the same time I feel you should have a chance at products I would love something you said before which is a time limit on products say 2 to 4 weeks being the only limit on products

Hewhodontknow

I think the US mint have totally lost respect for collectors and are only looking forward on fixing things to work in favor of coin dealers and their own personal interest as the mint sees this hobby as simply “business” now. So sad to say but it seems to be the reality now in days,so much lack of leadership in the recent years have led to people in the us mint to be careless and unsesitive of us collectors and the just focus on making money now. So sad but the mint is full of greedy individuals leading for their… Read more »

Tinto

@Seth Riesling “..offer both classic old designs as well as avante guarde modern art designs to appeal to all ages of collectors.” Unfortunately the Mint had an avant garde (IMO) design a while back with the Platinum with what I call “The dude with the sword” design… which was liked by the CCAC and the Mint wimped out by pulling it and giving the very lame excuse that the Platinum could not take the design properly … which begs the question .. why the f… didn’t they access it for such in the first place? .. too many inconsistencies with… Read more »

Tinto

I mean “assess it”

Tinto

The Mint doesn’t seem to have provided it’s participants with details/info on what the Mint has done to date in order to remedy the situation with declining collector base, mintage and order limits, etc. etc. That way they can get some feedback on what went wrong and the participants also won’t waste time going over old stuff … was this done? Or was that not brought up at all?

Another question is, are the Mint people able to do the job, either for the current state or in the future ??

Tinto

@Hewhodontknow

How true .. the Mint’s actions over the years speak louder than their words (that is if they speak at all)

joera

Well they are “debating” the problems so maybe something will finally get done? NOT!

Mouse

Very positive news for sure. As a Canadian, I am a fan of diversification and choice when it comes to new numismatic works of art. The market is ever changing and so to must all mints if they want to remain profitable. The numismatic world needs to evolve to cater to not only the existing, but future-market. I would be in support of any mint asking input from children. My sons collection is very different to mine. As he and others are the future of the numismatic world, their input would be very valuable. I have always endoresed to my… Read more »

Charlie 1952

I started collecting coins in 2004 shortly after I became disabled, I have always been a big supporter of the US mint, It would seem to me that it’s very difficult to cater to every ones wants and needs when you sell millions of coins world wide. I have spoken to a lot of “flippers” that sell on ebay, and have found that they make a living doing what they do. It’s no different than owning a car lot or a carpet store, a lot of them have to boost their social security to live. I don’t hold that against… Read more »

RODNEY MOORE

“The mint put one set that I remember for sale with unlimited mintage you bought as many as you wanted for a 30 day period”

Charlie, Which coin are you referring to? The 1998 Kennedy Collector’s set?

Tinto

@Mike Unser

Appreciate your keeping us up to date on the Mint meeting/forum.

You mentioned that you were part of one group out of seven. Can you tell us what subjects the other 6 groups covered? Thanks

Seth Riesling

Charlie 1952- You are so right! Reagan must be turning over in his grave next to Nancy in Simi Valley, California since the Mint started getting gold & platinum planchets for the American Eagle coin program from foreign countries (against the Federal law that Congress passed & President Reagan signed in 1985 – the Liberty Coin Act ) & cheap wooden boxes from Asian countries like China & Vietnam! There are companies in the USA that specialize in such wooden boxes & other packaging that could do the job, but the Mint accepts the lowest bid. The US Mint is… Read more »

Seth Riesling

Tinto –

Some of the other topics at the Mint forum included: packaging, pricing, US Mint Heritage assets, programs to attract new customers, quality control, website problems, enrollments & S&H charges & bulk coin purchases by coin dealers, among others.

-NumisDudeTX

Charlie 1952

No sir it wasn’t that 1998 set, I didn’t get into this hobby until 2004. It was one of the smaller silver eagle sets that came out after the 5 coin set. I have a close friend that kind of got me into this. That 5 coin set they made 100,000 of with a limit of 5 ph. I remember us discussing that the mint did such a good job with this one. Sorry I cant remember exactly. But it ended up they sold around 250,000 of them. That seems to be about the limit on the eagle sets. I… Read more »

T

Are low mintage collectors happy with the First Spouse gold coins? These coins have very low mintage and should be a home run for the collector that wants their coin to dramatically increase in value due to low mintage.

T

michael

I’m concerned with the pricing structure. The gold standing liberty and walking liberty are priced significantly over spot. The proof silver eagle was 2-3 times more than spot. The Mint is being greedy which is driving down demand.

michael

Just looked up Banksy art. Haha. Why not use modern art too. Is this country void of artistic talent? Stop trying to attract kids and focus on 30-40 year olds who might have money and are looking for new hobbies now that their knees are too bad to run half marathons. Or maybe the mint can put garbage on a coin and hope a 25 year will buy it, after paying off school debt, saving for a house, and a down payment for a car built in thin decade.

jim

T –
Law of supply and demand. In this case nobody wants them so the demand is low so the mintage is low. I can’t imagine a presidential spouse coin ever being a hot collectable outside of the metal content. Only sleeper coin I can see is Alice Paul who wasn’t actually a spouse. The coin is in a way a work around of the two commemoratives in a year law since it commemorates suffragettes. Are you collecting spouse coins?

Seth Riesling

CoinNews readers FYI – At the Mint’s Oct. 13 Numismatic Forum in Philadelphia, the following stats were released: Net income on numismatic program coins has dropped greatly in past 10 years from $87.2 million in FY 2006 to a low of $66.8 million in FY 2015. The Mint lost the most amount of customers from its active order list in FY 2015. Demographics of Mint customers: FY 2015 – Ages of customers: 8 percent 18-44 40 percent 45-64 52 percent 65 & over Ethnicity: FY 2015 – 86 percent White Income level FY 2015: 12 percent $100,000 or more 25… Read more »

Joe

Better late than never.

T

jim- It sounds like there are many collectors that want a manufactured supply/demand so their investment is gauranteed and they can immediately be able to have a free coin. That would be nice. How do I sign up? I don’t buy any of the Presidential spouse coins. I just buy coins based on liking them and other factors such as platinum costing less than gold. Unheard of and also a great coin. I have no care for mintage limit or HHL and I won’t buy a coin from a flipper. That just ruins it for me. At the end of… Read more »

Mouse

Hi Seth,

thanks for the stats. Not surprising numbers. If the US mint is going to tackle these issues they must follow suit to other major mints such as the RCM and Perth. Provide high end low mintage coins to the consumers with the bank to afford them, than suppliant with affordable coins for the younger numismatic collectors growing into the hobbie. Spark interest by motivating the younger generation to advance their careers and earning potential to collect with the big boys…and women.

Mouse

Seth Riesling

Hi Mouse –

The US Mint has a reputation for horrible customer service & marketing, although they do have a few popular coins. They could learn a lot from the RCM for sure! I have received the best customer service from the RCM & they have a fantastic marketing team for sure.
The stats I listed above should force the US Mint to learn from our great neighbors to the North.

Happy collecting!

-NumisDudeTX

Tinto

@ Seth Riesling
” The US Mint has a reputation for horrible customer service & marketing,…”

Well earned IMO ….

Sturgeon

Mint Website—American Eagle 2016 One Ounce Silver Uncirculated Coin—-
This product will be available for sale on December 1, 2016, at 12 noon (ET).

RODNEY MOORE

Sturgeon: Thanks for posting this! I check the the mint website almost daily for this and I also checked it last night and didn’t see the UNC on the product schedule. And to be expected, there is no announcement of this as far as I can tell when I just now visited the mint website. I think the 30th anniversary of the Silver Eagle has been a let-down, as far as the incused lettering being the only thing they did to mark the anniversary. They should have made some sort of set. I think a reverse proof of this coin… Read more »

JesustheLionofJudah

I would posit thank Household Limits should never be fewer than 5 – people have children and grandchildren they would like to buy for plus most collectors also like to have 3 to 5 of the coins anyway. Having a household limit of only 1 is destructive to the salability of the coin because the coin will never sellout like that and once people see that a sellout has not been achieved probably 20 percent of the people will return their coins/cancel their order because they see that the coin will not be valuable. Conversely, making a household limit of… Read more »

JesustheLionofJudah

Also, ALWAYS first come, first serve

jim

Seth – Miserable numbers from a mint who says they don’t have a lot of metrics. A loss of 23% revenue says the mint should revisit the numismatic business and seriously consider abandoning it altogether. Or continue on with just a few staples and proven winners. Based on these numbers coin collecting is obviously a dying hobby with only 8% of the collecting population under the age of 45. Or maybe it’s our thinking that needs to be revised and stop trying to make the US Mint a competitor in a world where Congressional oversight is a built-in road to… Read more »