Commentary By Louis Golino for CoinWeek
In a recent online comment Numismatic News editor David Harper suggested that it was time to “dial down the rhetoric” when it comes to how coin collectors view the Mint.
Mr. Harper asked “Has Mint bashing simply become a form of social greeting among collectors for whatever the problem there happens to be?”
I found this to be a very appropriate comment at a time when virtually everyone thinks the Mint screwed up the launch of the 25th anniversary American silver eagle set.
The numismatic community – coin collectors, coin dealers, and the coin media – has been almost unanimous in its condemnation of the U.S. Mint’s handling of this program.
For example, a couple of weeks ago Coin World devoted an entire page to comments from editor Beth Deisher and a guest columnist as well as another page of letters to the editor to all the problems with the Mint’s launch of the anniversary set. The same type of comments appear in countless online coin forums and blogs.
I also made some similar points in some of my articles on these sets such as this one
Most people readily make all kinds of harsh statements without balancing out their view with something more positive, which is what I have always tried to do.
Moreover, a lot of collectors seem to think that if only the Mint were privatized, all would be well with U.S. coins.
But I suspect that privatization would create as many problems as it would solve, and I highly doubt that it would be the panacea many seem to think it would be.
In this case the commenters in Coin World almost never state the most important point about the anniversary sets, which is that they are gorgeous and beautifully displayed in cobalt blue hard plastic boxes. How about giving the Mint some credit for issuing a top-notch product?
In fact, quality control for this set was so good that an unusually high number of coins are receiving mint state and proof 70 grades.
As a result, prices for 70 coins and sets are dropping fast. Reverse proof 70's that were selling for $800 recently can now be obtained for less than $500 on e-Bay.
On the other hand, numerous collectors have reported receiving sets with damaged coins, coins outside capsules, etc. The sets should have been packed with some kind of material to prevent these problems from occurring.
I contacted the Mint about this issue and was told that it is looking into it, but I have not heard anything yet.
Moreover, the Mint did not have to issue this set, and many people expected it to wait another five years until the 30th anniversary of the silver eagle series.
The majority of people who comment on the Mint’s handling of this set agree that it would have been more appropriate to have a household limit of one, or perhaps two to three sets.
But beyond that, there are no clear answers as to how the set’s launch could have been better handled.
If the Mint’s web site had already been upgraded, an even quicker sell out would have been assured.
I have given it more thought, and I now tend to agree with the view that the playing field was actually pretty level on this one provided you were persistent.
Some collectors seem to think they were entitled to a set because they are long-time, devoted collectors of the series.
A lot of disgruntled collectors have suggested the Mint issue more sets. Mint officials recently stated that that is not going to happen.
According to an article from the issue of Coin World posted online on December 12, the Mint settled on the 100,000 mintage limit as a result of inventory and production issues.
On Dec. 8 Mint spokesman Michael White said that the mintage limit was based on many issues “including reserving sufficient blanks for the anticipated high demand of the 2011 September 11 National Medals, and production capacity at our facilities, especially at Philadelphia where both the American Eagle Silver Reverse Proof and 2011 September 11 National Medals are minted.”
Mr. White also reiterated that the Mint is undertaking an “aggressive review of how we brought the product to market so we can better serve our customers in the future” and that the lessons learned from this experience would be applied to future limited edition coin issues.
Both companies require that submitters send the entire set in an unopened box in order to qualify for 25th anniversary set pedigree, as stated on a slab insert.
That has imposed significant costs and hassles on people who want to have one or more sets graded.
But rather than showing concern for how this requirement affects its customers, NGC and PCGS seem to keep coming up with more and more hoops to jump through.
For example, one must ask that the original government packaging be returned, pay a special return shipping fee, and if you forget to request that the OGP be returned to you when submitting and later request it, you will be out of luck.
A majority of collectors were already turned off by many of the practices of these companies such as so-called first strike/early release designations, and the anniversary set requirements seem to be the last straw for many, especially for many PCGS customers.
NGC has a reputation in the coin community for having better customer service and policies that are more collector friendly.
In this instance, for example, NGC’s grading fees were substantially lower than those of PCGS, and the special fee for return of the OGP is negligible at NGC, but at PCGS it costs $150 to have the OGP for five sets returned.
I have still not decided whether to have any of my sets graded. I prefer to focus on enjoying the coins themselves.
Louis Golino is a coin collector and numismatic writer, whose articles on coins have appeared in Coin World, Numismatic News, and a number of different coin web sites. His column for CoinWeek, “The Coin Analyst,” covers U.S. and world coins and precious metals. He collects U.S. and European coins and is a member of the ANA, PCGS, NGC, and CAC. He has also worked for the U.S. Library of Congress and has been a syndicated columnist and news analyst on international affairs for a wide variety of newspapers and web sites.