WASHINGTON - Reacting to howls of protest, the U.S. Mint is planning to expedite delivery of an additional 50 million recently released Gold Dollar coins to community banks.
"This is a direct response to the banks," U.S. Mint Director Philip N. Diehl said Wednesday. "Those banks are our partners, and we are committed to responding to their interests and needs."
Mr. Diehl declined to discuss specifics of the plan, but a draft proposal circulating this week states that on March 1, any community bank, credit union, or small thrift may order as many as 2,000 of the coins. If supplies last, institutions will be able to place second orders for up to 2,000 coins on or after March 15.
The coins are to be shipped directly to the banks by registered mail, rather than through district Federal Reserve banks.
The new supply of 50 million is in addition to the 100 million coins already being delivered through the Fed.
A U.S. Mint marketing effort that began Jan. 30 pumped 94 million of the coins into the registers of Wal-Mart stores but left small bankers in the embarrassing position of having to direct customers who wanted the coin to the giant retailer's nearest outlet.
Bankers interviewed shortly after the coin's release characterized the deal with Wal-Mart as "a slap in the face" to banks.
"The [bankers'] response was stronger than we expected, but understandable, because the public's demand for the coin was also much stronger than we expected," Mr. Diehl said after a speech to the National Press Club. Orders from banks and retailers for $200 million worth of the coin were received in the first month after its release - 10 times the expected demand.
The terms of the new distribution agreement seem designed to make amends to miffed community bankers.
In addition to the face value of the coins, banks are to be charged $5 per box of 1,000 coins to cover the cost of registered mail. A Mint release noted that the shipping charge will cover "only a fraction of the full cost of delivery" and that "the Mint will bear the difference."
The gesture won a grudging nod from the industry.
"This is a better-late-than-never situation," said Kenneth A. Guenther, executive vice president of the Independent Community Bankers of America. "Anything that expedites the delivery of the coin to community banks is welcomed."
The dollar, made of manganese, brass, and copper, pictures the Native American woman Sacagawea, who guided Lewis and Clark in their exploration of the lands included in the Louisiana Purchase and the Oregon Territory. The coin is intended to take the place of the Susan B. Anthony dollar, which Mr. Diehl characterized on Wednesday as "a failure."
To help the Gold Dollar avoid the same fate, the Mint is spending $40 million on an advertising campaign to promote the coin.