The biggest numismatic-related news of the week that not reported in many media outlets. It was the failure of the U.S. Mint to deal with a high volume of orders for what everyone anticipated would be a popular product.
On November 14, 2019, the numismatic community rushed to the U.S. Mint website. It flooded their call center attempting to purchase the 2019 American Eagle One Ounce Silver Enhanced Reverse Proof Coin. As with almost all of their past launches, the U.S. Mint e-commerce systems failed the collecting community.
Collectors reported web failures, outages, and disconnection on the telephone trying to order the product. I was first alerted of a problem by a family member and my mailbox filled with readers who experienced similar issues.
After hearing the criticism, the U.S. Mint issued the following statement:
To try to spin this further, on Friday, the U.S. Mint issued the following statement:
With all due respect to the U.S. Mint, if this is beyond your capacity, then the competence of the Mint and their contractor (aren’t they contracted with Pitney-Bowes?) are in question. There are e-commerce systems that have higher capacity requirements and service their customers better.
The failure of their e-commerce system is not a new problem for the U.S. Mint. We can go back through the history of this blog to note how badly they have implemented their e-commerce systems.
Frankly, I am not surprised. Years ago, when I was a contractor within the Department of the Treasury, I had to listen to how the U.S. Mint’s systems were built to be greater and better than anyone else in the department. Their technology directors touted their capacity and their capabilities over all the other bureaus. They used these reasons to allow them to separate themselves and to avoid integration with other systems, even suggesting that they be the central integrators for the department.
Even though I have not worked within the Treasury Department in many years, the results and the spin published by their public relations department demonstrates that the chutzpah continues.
For four years, the U.S. Mint has been holding forums to try to learn from collectors what they expect. One thing they have not learned is to fix the mechanisms that provide collector access to U.S. Mint products. It is time for the U.S. Mint to stop talking and do something. Their problems have surpassed annoying and are bordering on malfeasance!
And now the news…
UPDATE: The auction is online and begins to close at 7:00 PM on Sunday, November 3, 2019!One of the reasons for my limited posting is that I started a business in collectibles and estate downsizing. Until now, I had not received many numismatic consignments. The few numismatic items that consignors have brought in were not exciting.
A few weeks ago, someone walked into the shop and asked about consigning coins. The coins were something he inherited and did not know what to do with them. Then my consignor removed an 1878 Liberty $2½ quarter eagle gold coin in a Capital Plastics holder. It is a beautiful coin in hand. It looks uncirculated.
Although the 1984 U.S. Olympics Commemorative Set sare not popular, he handed two of the three-coin sets with the gold coin.
Finally, someone brought in the few Israeli coins and medals his late father owned.
Put it all together, add a few of my surplus coins, and there are 54 total coins in my company’s current auction.
Here is a small sample of some of the coins in this auction:
We do ship!
If you want more than coins, check out the rest of the auction which includes sports autographs (like a Joe Montana autographed football), art (two prints from Yaacov Agam), a Black Forest Cukoo Clock (it works!), and so much more. Feel free to peruse the entire 284 lot auction.
But don’t forget the coins, including this 2005 Canadian Silver Maple Leaf silver bullion coin with a Rooster Privy Mark.
The talk around the Washington, DC metropolitan area is not what is happening on Pennsylvania Avenue. It is what will be happening on Constitution Avenue starting at 2:00 PM on November 2. According to the Mayor’s office, the parade for the World Champion Washington Nationals will begin on Constitution Avenue NW at 15th Street NW and end on Pennsylvania Avenue NW at 3rd Street.
A rally will be held at the end of the parade route.
If you are a baseball fan, you hope that every World Series goes six or seven games. Most of the drama comes in those last two games. This series was no different.
Obligatory numismatic content:
Fans of the Nationals can purchase a commemorative plaque from the Danbury Mint that includes a bronze medal. This is an uncompensated message only used so that I had something numismatic to add!
Mints around the world do business differently than the U.S. Mint. In many cases, these mints are public corporations or private corporations contracted to strike coins on behalf of the government. Very few are state agencies like the U.S. Mint.
From what I can tell, the United States is the only country where coin design is governed by the whim of 535 people whose design esthetics are eclipsed by their inability to understand the effects of their decisions. In other countries, themes and designs are managed through the mint in cooperation with the central bank and the government.
In the United Kingdom, the committee advising the Royal Mint has a membership of ten men and three women. According to reports, this committee is usually lead by a Cabinet Minister. It is the practice that the minister is selected from the House of the Lords, the least powerful branch of the government.
As it turns out, most of the Lords are male. Since the chair of the committee selects the members, most of the members of the committee are male.
A Controversy is now brewing in the U.K. because a proposal to honor Emily and Charlotte Bronte with commemorative coins were rejected. Even U.S. educated children know about the Bronte sisters having been assigned to read Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre in school.
It is not the first time that the committee rejected the selection of a woman author. The committee had decided not to honor Enid Blyton, a children’s author. Blyton wrote over 600 children’s books that echoed her conservative and moral lifestyle. Although she continues to be criticized by more literary critics, her books remain popular.
The committee decided that Blyton was not worthy of the honor.
The British women authors are up in arms over the decision. But could this be a tempest in a teapot?
This year, the Royal Mint issued coins celebrating the 20th anniversary of The Gruffalo and Mouse. The Gruffalo is a children’s book written by Julia Donaldson. The book is about a mouse’s adventures walking through the woods until it meets the mythical Gruffalo.
The award-winning book was translated into 59 languages and made into an animated short film.
Although the Royal Mint did not honor Donaldson on a coin, her characters are so honored.
The Royal Mint has also issued 50p coins honoring Paddington Bear, a character that became popular in the United States through the movie. While Michael Bond wrote Paddington Bear, the books were initially illustrated by Peggy Fortnum.
We learned that whether committees or politicians design coins, they will get it wrong. We also learned that maybe we should stop trying to put humans on coins because regardless of the decision, someone is going to be upset. Sometimes, it is not worth the hassle.
And now the news…
My Twitter followers (@coinsblog) have seen the articles coming from the United Kingdom. U.K. news outlets have staff that follows the special issues from the Royal Mint that are selling for hundreds of times over their face value in online auctions. These coins have a limited run and are issued as circulating commemorative coins.
Similarly, the Royal Australian Mint recently released an alphabet series, similar to what the Royal Mint did in 2018. As part of the series, they created a stir when they used the letter “X” to highlight a small village in Western Australia. Aussies learned something about their own country.
In the United States, we bemoan new issues by the U.S. Mint. We look at the coins and come up with some reason to dislike them. Many of the reasons range from the parochial to the absurd.
Dealers do not like them because they make more money on selling you what they think are “better” coins. Rather than try to use the opportunity to get people interested and into their shop, they would rather sell a more expensive coin. Note to dealer: selling 100 coins at a $1 profit is the same as selling one coin for a $100 profit except that you now have 100 new customers rather than recycling old ones.
Another reason I hear is that modern coins are not worth the money and, therefore, not worth the time. Really? Are you collecting or investing? Are you enjoying your collection, or is it something to do?
Recently, I sold off my Morgan Dollar collection. I started the collection many years ago and realized that I did not have the eye for coins that I have today. I also lost interest.
Someone asked what am I collecting today. I respond with modern circulating commemoratives. When I get a strange look, I have been responding with, “do you know what the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness is?”
Who is Frank Church, and what is the River of No Return? If you paid attention to the American the Beautiful Quarters program, you would learn more about your own country. I did not know about this wilderness area in Idaho until I looked at the quarter.
I also learned that the Northern Mariana Islands and Guam, both United States territories, have beautiful memorials to those who gave their lives in World War II.
Now collectors are lamenting the new American Innovation $1 coins. Why? Because they do not circulate? Then go pick up a roll and start spending them! You can show people the series that is beginning with honoring Annie Jump Cannon, who invented a system for classifying the stars still used today. Aside from being a Delaware native, Cannon was a suffragist and hearing impaired.
Stop being so stuck up about modern coins, buy a roll, and give someone a William Henry Harrison dollar. Then ask them why Harrison is so important to U.S. history? Pick a president who is not famous and do the same exercise.
If you have children, why not plan a trip based on the quarter that has been released. If you cannot travel to Guam to see the War in the Pacific National Park, then a trip to San Antonio Missions National Historic Park. You can also Remember the Alamo and visit a fascinating area of the country.
Collecting modern coins may not make the dealers rich or be a great investment. But there is enough material to have fun beyond just accumulating metal discs.
And now the news…
In the chapter, Santayana was emphasizing the need to use every experience as a lesson to improve the future. The rest of the chapter discussed how to apply lessons from things that went well.
What does George Santayana have to do with numismatics? Numismaitcs has not learned from the past and making the same mistakes expecting a better outcome. In other words, the numismatic industry is fulfilling the axiom credited to Albert Einstien: “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.”
What are we doing wrong? Let’s look at it in the context of this week’s news. Following the lead of the Royal Mint, the Royal Australian Mint is producing 26 limited-edition circulating one-dollar coins with the letters A to Z along with a depiction of something Australian that represents that letter. They call it the Great Aussie Coin Hunt.
Some letters are easy, like G for G’Day or V for Vegemite. Others do not have obvious names. When it came to X, the Royal Australian Mint picked Xantippe.
What is Xantippe?
Aussies were perplexed when trying to figure out who, what, or where Xantippe could be. That is when the Royal Australian Mint revealed that Xantippe is a small farming town in Western Australia.
For the Royal Australian Mint, it was the perfect way to get the message out about the new dollar coins. It caused a minor yet fun controversy that had the county talking about the series creating excitement about finding the coins.
In the UK, the Royal Mint had a similar program called The Great British Coin Hunt. In 2018, the Royal Mint issued 10 pence coins struck with British themes. Along with the other limited edition 50 pence themed coins, the Royal Mint keeps Brittons interested in coins by generating excitement about each release.
In the United States, we also saw excitement about looking for coins. We saw an increased awareness of coin collecting during the 50 States Quarters Program. Earlier this year, there was some interest shown over the release of the W mint quarters. The interest was not as strong as the 50 State Quarters, but people heard about the coin.
But that was for National Coin Week. What has happened since then?
Learn from the positive: by advertising, getting the word out, and promoting the coins, the US Mint is capable of getting people interested. By having the numismatic industry join them, people were paying attention.
Since the end of Nation Coin Week, the numismatic industry has been silent to those outside of the hobby. Most of the promotion has been like preaching to the choir. We get it. We got it. But you cannot keep an industry going that outsiders are claiming is dying.
Numismatics is not dying or near death. Like every hobby, it has problems to overcome. The first step to better health is to expand the base. The only way that could happen is if the numismatic industry does something radical: reach out consistently to everyone.
It is time to learn what worked in the past and stop doing the same things over again.
We can learn lessons from other industries. What about the collector car industry? Nearly 20 years ago, the collector car industry existed but was not that strong. The thought was that getting into cars was expensive, time-consuming, and confusing. Then Discovery Networks fell over the answer.
For Discovery, it started as HDNet, a television channel where they experimented with high definition content. They would create something in high definition and air it on HDNet to test the public’s reaction. Interestingly, the shows about cars were their most highly rated content. Then they contracted with Mecum Auctions to broadcast their events, and the ratings for a niche cable channel were higher than expected.
HDNet was renamed to Velocity. Now it is owned by Motor Trend, who rebranded the channel in its name.
Although the car hobby business was doing well, the trade publications point to the rise of HDNet and Velocity as a reason that the hobby is doing better than ever.
What can we learn from putting cars on television? First, there is an interested market out there that may not know where to turn for information. The shows provide both knowledge and entertainment. While there are shows that have a doctrine-like attitude, most are inclusive of all styles and interests.
Just like in numismatics, there is no single way to collect and enjoy cars. And like cars, there is a lot that can be used to teach everyone about history.
There was a multi-part series about the growth of the auto industry that followed many of the early titans, including Henry Ford, William Durant, and Walter Chrysler. One of the segments was their reactions to World War II, while the story was about how the automotive industry also showed how the country participated in the war effort.
What stories can be told about the 1943 steel cent? What about the “Shotgun Shell” cents struck in 1944 by recycling spent shells picked up from the training field?
How about some fun shows? Numismatic Jeopardy, where the questions are based on answers derived from something numismatic-related. For example, “It’s called the Old Line State.” The answer is on the reverse of the 2000 Maryland State Quarter!
Revive the old PBS show History Detectives and do it with numismatics. After all, they did investigate a coin said to be associated with Annie Oakley and a $6 Continental Currency note found in Omaha.
These are a few ideas. I am sure that others can come up with better ones.
Then again, that may mean that the industry will have to break out of its niche comfort zone and embrace something different.
And now the news…
Metal detectorists have made many amazing discoveries down the years in Britain, with a great hoard of 2,600 coins just revealed last month. But there are strict rules regarding archaeological finds made by detectorists. → Read more at ancient-origins.net
The Royal Australian Mint is producing 26 limited-edition legal tender coins that will be given out as change at post offices over the coming weeks. The A to Z of Australiana could see you pocketing a Neighbours , Weet-Bix or didgeridoo $1 coin in your small change. → Read more at news.com.au
The UK’s Treasury plans to commemorate Brexit by minting millions of 50 pence ($0.61) coins. But like many of the Conservative government’s recent moves, there is a major flaw: the imprint date will be the Oct. → Read more at qz.com