Leon Worden




Good Timing
Mint Director Optimistic About New Presidential Dollars

By Leon Worden
COINage magazine • Vol. 43, No. 2
February 2007

Interview with Edmund C. Moy
Director, United States Mint

Conducted November 27, 2006

C
OINage: Susan B. Anthony. Sacagawea. Will the third time going to be a charm for a circulating small-dollar coin?

Moy: There are a lot of really positive finds. I think our timing is really good on this. When you take a look at the city of New York upgrading all of its parking meters to accept dollar coins — people are beginning to find out on their own that dollar coins are convenient for certain transactions. Whether it's parking meters, Metro or vending machines, they're beginning to use them more. That's backed up by some data coming out of the Federal Reserve. You see an uptick in circulation of not only dollar coins, but in orders of $2 bills.

COINage: The U.S. Postal Service is rolling out new machines that won't accept the dollar coin—

Moy: Yes. One of the requirements of the law that Congress passed was to have us work closely with federal agencies to make sure that each one that interfaces with consumers is able to dispense dollar coins. We're working with all of these agencies, including the department of transportation, which gets us into all of the subways of the United States, as well as buses and things like that.
    Specifically regarding the Post Office, they were very helpful when we rolled out the Sacagawea dollar; that was where a lot of consumers got their first Sacagaweas. But bottom line is, what the Post Office now dispenses is small in comparison to what people can get from banks and retailers. So our strategy has been to work very closely with the Federal Reserve to make sure that all their member banks have supplies of this coin on hand when they actually go into circulation.

*U.S. Mint is "prepositioning" each new presidential dollar at banks two weeks before they go into circulation to make sure consumers can obtain them on their release date. "When we announce on Feb. 15 that we're releasing the George Washington dollar into circulation, people can go in the minute after that announcement and get that coin from the bank."

*Coordination with federal agencies will help put presidential dollars into circulation. "We're working with all of these agencies, including the Department of transportation, which gets us into all of the subways of the United States, as well as buses and things like that."

*New parking meters will help, too. "I live in Washington, D.C. I came here 12 years ago. I could buy two hours of time for a quarter. Today I can buy seven minutes. If I'm going shopping downtown, I've got to carry a whole sack full of quarters around with me. It's going to be a lot easier to use a dollar coin."

*Four new designs each year will spark collector interest. "Americans just love a series of coins. My nieces and nephews anxiously await each new [state] quarter rollout. They all have their maps; they're up to No. 40 now. They're looking forward to the last 10. Doing rotating designs on these presidential dollars, I think, will ensure the success."

*Sacagawea dollars must be manufactured; no decision yet on whether or how they'll be distributed. "Our priority right now is to get the presidential dollars out, and [Sacagawea distribution] is something that we can figure out a month from now, not today."

*Both the artist and the Mint sculptor-engraver will get their initials on the new dollar coins. "When we unveiled the dollar coin designs at the National Portrait Gallery, it was less about the Mint and more about the artists. I introduced not only each individual sculptor, but I also introduced the other assisting artists, and they got the loudest applause."

COINage: Have you gotten any kind of agreement from the Federal Reserve that they'll order the new coins?

Moy: It's not only an agreement; the law requires both the Fed and the Mint to work closely together. Even if that law didn't exist, the Mint would want to work closely with the Fed, and we have never had a better relationship than we do right now.
    As a matter of fact, the Fed has detailed one of their star people ... over to the Mint as our temporary employee throughout this whole process. She has been just wonderful, not only helping us understand the language and the culture, but actually helping us get to the banks and educating them.

COINage: If the Fed typically orders strictly on supply and demand, how will it help create demand?

Moy: There will be several ways. First of all, we're required to do a demand acceptance study. Based on that and some market research that we've done, we have found that there is tremendous interest in these coins — certainly by collectors, who view this, rightfully, as based on the successful 50-state quarter program, but also by people who want to use this coin.
    We've had a number of forums where we have invited key associations, or the big member banks, into the Mint, and we have heard what their concerns are. The fed has been partners with us through that whole process. They have listened to what the obstacles are.
    Just to give you one small example, the banks have complained that in the past, they've had a hard time ordering the coins and getting them before the actual circulation date. There was always a gap [after] we announced the coin was going into circulation. People go right into their bank and then they wouldn't have whatever coin it is. We have heard that from these banks. We've done something about it. We are prepositioning our presidential dollars at the bank up to two weeks prior to the circulation date.
    In essence, whatever orders are placed, we'll have them delivered before the circulation date, and it will be stamped on there — like "don't open until Christmas" — "this is George Washington; don't open until Feb. 15." What that means is, when we announce on Feb. 15 that we're releasing the George Washington dollar into circulation, people can go in the minute after that announcement and get that coin from the bank.

COINage: Will banks not be using the first-in, first-out method? What it's time for John Adams and there is still a big supply of George Washingtons?

Moy: For not only the two weeks prior to the launch, but up to four weeks after that, banks will be able to order our dollar coins in unmixed quantity. For every release, every three months, they'll have a six-week period where, if they want, they'll get pure John Adams or George Washington [etc.]. ... That's something that we administratively could do here at the Mint that we thought would really help boost the success of this program.

COINage: One-third of all new dollar coins must be Sacagaweas. You're required to produce them, but will you actually distribute them?

Moy: We haven't gotten that far in our thinking yet. We know that we have to produce and create the capacity [for] all these new dollar coins, which requires new technology for us. To be able to do the edge lettering, which hasn't been done since 1932 — there's not a lot of technology out there that helps us do the volume of coins that we're doing.
    We know we can make Sacagaweas; our first priority now is to be able to get our manufacturing processes down for this coin because of the larger volumes that we're contemplating.

COINage: So there is no mandate to distribute all of those Sacagaweas?

Moy: I'd refer you specifically to the law. [It states in part: "The Secretary annually shall mint and issue such "Sacagawea-design" $1 coins for circulation in quantities of no less than 1/3 of the total $1 coins minted and issued.]
    Again, our priority right now is to get the presidential dollars out, and this part of it is something that we can figure out a month from now, not today.

COINage: How many 2000 and 2001-dated Sacagawea dollars are still on hand at the Mint?

Moy: The broader number — when you consider what's on reserve at the Mint and what the Federal Reserve has — it's probably in the [200 million] range. [As of Sept. 30, 2006, the Mint held $115 million worth of Sacagaweas in inventory and the Federal Reserve held $84 million.]
    That is down significantly from the large inventory that we had in the year 2000. It's been whittling down.

COINage: Ballpark, how many of each dollar design to you expect to produce?

Moy: We won't know that until the banks begin their ordering process. All we know is that if this meets our standards of success, the Mint will have to produce hundreds of millions of each one of these coins. So, what we're more concerned about is creating the manufacturing capacity to meet the demand. We'll see what those numbers are, the closer we get to the launch date.

COINage: Will you need to expand your manufacturing facilities?

Moy: One thing you have to look at is, the Mint has gotten extremely efficient over the last five years. We are producing three times more designs today than we were even five years ago, and we're doing them in shorter amounts of time. For example, the San Francisco commemoratives — from the date the law was passed, and they took a while debating that, to the time of implementation gave us slightly more than two months to get that coin not only designed and produced but also distributed. We were able to do that. So the answer to your question is, we have gotten more efficient. We know how to redirect our capital resources to be flexible during this whole process.

COINage: Do you know where things stand with regard to the possibility of outsourcing the coin-blanking process?

Moy: I've been on the job a little bit more than two months [as of November], and my priorities have been to visit all the employees at all the Mints on all the shifts, as well as taking care of some hot-button issues such as making sure the presidential dollar coin is successful.

COINage: It seems you've walked into a hornet's nest. Brand new on the job, and you're handed this congressional mandate—

Moy: But I'm so excited about this. Your first question was, from your mind, was this going to be successful? Well, this is based off our 50-state quarter program, which has been the most successful program that the mint has ever had.
    One thing we found out is, Americans just love a series of coins. My nieces and nephews anxiously await each new [state] quarter rollout. They all have their maps; they're up to No. 40 now. They're looking forward to the last 10. Doing rotating designs on these presidential dollars, I think, will ensure the success, because we know that a lot of people are going to want to collect these.
    But as they get used to these coins and go through their change all the time, that's going to help them use them more often. As I said, they're already finding out that carrying a dollar coin for a parking meter is a lot easier than carrying four quarters around with them.

COINage: Granted, people will save examples of each new design, but how effectively do you think they will be used in commerce as long as we're still producing a dollar bill?

Moy: The evidence is there right now. When you take a look at the Federal Reserve numbers on the number of dollar coins circulating, you see a dramatic increase in the last year on these.

COINage: Why is that?

Moy: It's like up in New York City, they're going to upgrade all their parking meters next year to accept dollar coins. I live in Washington, D.C. I came here 12 years ago. I could buy two hours of time for a quarter. Today I can buy seven minutes. If I'm going shopping downtown, I've got to carry a whole sack full of quarters around with me. It's going to be a lot easier to use a dollar coin.
    Ultimately this is not about supplanting the paper dollar. This is about offering Americans a choice to use whatever is convenient for whatever transaction they're doing. In some cases, using a coin is going to be more convenient. In other cases, using a paper dollar is going to be more convenient. We don't want to tell them what to use. They should be able to determine what's the best thing for them.

COINage: The Sacagawea launch saw a big promotional campaign with TV commercials and distribution through Wal-Mart and cereal boxes. Are you planning something similar with the presidential dollars?

Moy: What we found in that original campaign was, while a big, splashy ad campaign gets a lot of attention on Day One — floats in Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and whatnot — you get a lot of awareness, but that fades off quickly unless you continue that. To continue such an expensive campaign is probably not a good use of the taxpayers' dollars.
    The longer-term sustaining of awareness is going to be at a grass-roots level, which is why it's so important for us to work with people like the Fed which, in working with its member banks — that's where people get their money. They either get it in change when they go to a retailer, or they go to a bank specifically to get a roll of quarters [etc.]. The more we can do to educate consumers at the places where they access their change, the more long-term success we're going to have. So a lot of our efforts have been, how do we get to the people who actually use this, and make them aware of it?

COINage: With the Sacagawea dollars, people were interested because it was something new, but then the interest died.

Moy: Exactly.

COINage: Do you think that simply by changing the designs every three months, you'll overcome that?

Moy: I think several things — this is a series, and people love a series, as proven by the 50-state quarter program. That's going to help. Second, the design. Already we've gotten accolades when we unveiled the designs [Nov. 20] at the National Portrait Gallery. It was a limited space, but the applause was deafening when we unveiled the designs. By putting the lettering, the mottos, on the edge of the coins — E Pluribus Unum and In God We Trust, as well as the mintmark and the year minted — Americans have not seen this on their coinage since 1932.

COINage: And already there has been discussion on the Internet about the decision to move "In God We Trust" to the edge. Some people have already complained that you're "taking God off the coin." How do you respond to that?

Moy: We're not taking god off the coin. "In God We Trust" is still on the coin; it's on the edge of the coin.
    You know, coming from a guy who goes to church every Sunday, I view that as comforting to know that instead of just on the face of the coin, "In God We Trust" encompasses the coin. So I don't think — people who view that that way aren't really looking at the facts here.

COINage: But you DO anticipate a big outcry, come Feb. 15, from people who are just realizing that they don't see God on the fact of their coins, don't you?

Moy: No, not at all. In all the interviews that I've done, and in all the coin forums that I've had out there, this has not been an issue.

COINage: We didn't see many new circulating coin designs in the 1980s and most of the 1990s, so the discussion centered on the need for new designs. Since the state quarters were introduced in 1999, we've heard complaints about designs. Much of that is probably is related to relief; each coin press is stamping hundreds of coins every minute—

Moy: Yes. Just with each state quarter, we probably do 500 million of those.

COINage: The presidential dollar portraits look nice in pen and ink, but when you try to translate the shading, for instance, to a coin that has to fly through a high-speed press, much of the detail is lost. The presidential dollars could end up looking like the tokens from Shell Oil Co.'s Mr. President Coin Game in the 1960s and 70s (the tokens were manufactured by The Franklin Mint). Since you probably won't be producing as many dollars as, say, quarters, are you interested in finding ways to increase the relief?

Moy: More broadly, coins are not only something that we use in commerce and help facilitate purchases, but coins are also a piece of public art that everyone carries in their pocket. And it's also a piece of history. That's what makes what we do here so unique, and that's what makes our people so proud to work on each one of these — to know that Americans are going to be seeing this every single day. For instance, by putting the mottos on the edge of the coin, that frees up both the face and the back to do some pretty stunning designs.
    We make hundreds of millions of each type of coin every single month. When you are doing that type of volume, which is 10 times the volume of the next largest country's mint, you have certain constraints. One of them is, you can't have the deep-relief coins that Teddy Roosevelt wanted Saint-Gaudens to do, and even back then they had debates on, how deep of a relief can you really do?
    I guess my view on that is twofold: One, when you compare our coins to other mass-produced coins, I hope you will come to the vision I have, when I have taken a look at all of our test strikes — that this is going to be a striking, very modern-looking coin that is going to really capture the imagination of a lot of people. And second, we do have our numismatic side of our business, where we are able to double- or triple-stamp coins to provide greater relief. In order to do that, you can't make as many of them.

COINage: Will we see deeper relief in the First Spouse coins?

Moy: Yes, because they're made out of gold, and gold is a little softer so you don't have to hit it as hard. That's going to allow us a little more creative flexibility.

COINage: Roosevelt and Augustus Saint-Gaudens certainly had their arguments with Frank Leach and Charles Barber; even back then, the Saint-Gaudens camp complained about carving grooves into the molded hair, for instance. If you look at the Lincoln cent through the 20th Century, his hair has gone from being contoured to being a series of grooves. Same with the Washington quarter. Are you looking at that sort of thing?

Moy: I would take a look at, for example, our San Francisco commemorative. When you take a look at the detail on the back of the Granite Lady — take out your magnifying glass and you're going to be able to see bricks. That's because we've gotten a lot better at using a lot of different — traditional methods continue to drive us, but we're also looking for new ideas.
    As Americans reflect back on the Golden Age of coins — in the past century, they always thought: Turn of the century, Saint-Gaudens and [James Earle] Fraser. It's my hope that Americans will look back at this period of time, saying that this is the beginning of another Golden Era of coins.

COINage: Will you be using Artistic Infusion Programs artists (outside artists) to design presidential dollars?

Moy: Yes. That Artistic Infusion Program has been so helpful, and when you really take a look at the number of artists in the world who specialize in medallic art, it's a shrinking group of people. Our people are among the best.

COINage: Will both the original artists and the engravers get their initials on the coins?

Moy: [Yes.] One thing that has been different than in the past: When we unveiled the dollar coin designs at the National Portrait Gallery, it was less about the Mint and more about the artists. I introduced not only each individual sculptor, but I also introduced the other assisting artists, and they got the loudest applause.

COINage: What recommendations are you making with regard to the continued production of the cent and nickel?

Moy: This is something that the Constitution gives sole authority to the Congress to determine what coins we mint and what denominations and [in] what metal content. We're doing our job to make sure that when Congress is ready to deal with this, we have all the options available to them that are well researched and give them the information that they need in order to make their decision.

COINage: Have you been providing them with information or recommendations?

Moy: At this early stage, any discussions like that are between the executive branch and the legislative branch.

COINage: What's your favorite state quarter?

Moy: [Laughing.] That's like choosing my favorite kid. They're all special in their individual way.

COINage: How many kids do you have?

Moy: I have one. We just adopted a girl from China in August. Her name is Nora, 14 months old this month [November]. We just love her to death. [My wife's] name is Karen. She worked in the former White House and had her own business. We've decided — we've waited so long to have kids that she wanted to stay home with [Nora]. She is enjoying motherhood full-time.


©2007, MILLER MAGAZINES INC./LEON WORDEN. RIGHTS RESERVED.
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