The International Business of the U.S. Mint
The Honorable Henrietta Holsman Fore, 37th director of the United States Mint, spoke to the Wilson Center about the Mint’s history, its goals and objectives, and its expanding international business as it moves forward into the 21st century.
Robert Morris first introduced the subject of a national mint for the United States. During the Confederation the different States had the unquestioned right to coin money, but only according to the standard of fineness, weight, and value, prescribed by the central government. As head of the Finance Department, Mr. Morris was instructed by Congress to prepare a report on the foreign coins, then in circulation in the United States. In January, 1782, he laid before Congress an exposition of the whole subject. Accompanying this report was a plan for American coinage. But it was mainly through his efforts, in connection with Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton, that a mint was established in the early history of the Union of the States. In April, 1790, Congress instructed the Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, to prepare and report a proper plan for the establishment of a National Mint, and Mr. Hamilton presented his report at the next session. An act was framed establishing the mint, which finally passed both Houses and received President Washington's approval on April 2, 1792.
The Mint’s official mission is to distribute coins to the Federal Reserve banks and branches; maintain physical custody and protection of the United States’ $100 billion of gold and silver assets; produce commemorative coins and medals for sale to the general public; manufacture and sell platinum, gold and silver bullion coins; oversee production facilities in Denver, Philadelphia, San Francisco and West Point, as well as the U.S. Bullion Depository at Fort Knox, Kentucky; and receive, redeem and process mutilated coins. Today the Mint employs 2300 people, produces 15 billion coins per year, serves three million domestic customers and is among the top 30 largest online retailers with over $100 million in sales. The U.S. Mint, the largest in the world, turned in one billion dollars in revenue to the Treasury last year. “We have introduced business-like government and we believe others should do the same,” Fore said. “It is vital for mints to market, to have great relations with customers, to be more efficient and to have a business-minded approach.” According to the American Consumer Satisfaction Index, the Mint ranked first among all governmental services in customer satisfaction.
The Mint has a long history of international business, having produced coins for 41 other countries over the past two centuries. Today the Mint ranks first internationally in the production and sale of platinum, gold and silver bullion coins, holding 70 percent of the North American gold market and 48 percent of the world gold market. Fore said the Mint is working hard to expand its business with China and India, and pointed out that the weak stock market and lagging economy mean booming business for the Mint as the relative values of precious metals increase. The Mint faces stiff competition from the European Union as it enters into the commemorative coin and medal market, but their overproduction of coinage in 1998 has meant stronger business for the United States Mint. The Mint is exploring the creation of an exchange program with mints around the world, and the United States will host the Mint Directors Conference next year in San Francisco.
Fore also told the fascinating tale of the 1933 Double Eagle gold coins. The 1933 Double Eagles, nearly a half a million, were struck after President Franklin Roosevelt took the United States off the gold standard in an effort to help the struggling American economy out of the Great Depression. The coins were thus illegal and never official money. All of the 1933 Double Eagles were stored deep in the vaults of the Mint until they were ordered destroyed in 1937. Ten Double Eagle coins, however, were stolen. Between 1944 (the first time the government realized some Double Eagles had been stolen) and 1996, the U.S. Secret Service successfully tracked down and destroyed nine of the ten missing coins. When the tenth coin surfaced in 1996, the government seized the coin and put it up for auction. In July, 2002 the only 1933 Double Eagle gold coin in existence was “issued and monetized” by the government and sold at a public auction for $7.95 million dollars. Fore said the sale reinforced the value of coin collecting as a hobby that is both fun and profitable.