It's not every day that a product made by a federal agency wins kudos from Fortune magazine as one of the best new products of the year. Or exceeds its sales projections by 23 percent.
When it does, that calls for a celebration, which is just what the U.S. Mint did yesterday to mark the first anniversary of its best-selling American Eagle gold and silver coins.
In their first year, the gold coins have captured 65 percent of the U.S. bullion coin market, displacing the banned South African Krugerrand and the Canadian Gold Leaf as the coin most widely held by American investors, the Mint announced.
"I couldn't be more pleased," said Mint Director Donna Pope, who presided yesterday afternoon over a cider and cupcake (festooned with simulated gold coins) reception at her agency's G Street headquarters.
Sales of the gold coins, the first the nation has issued in 53 years, have far exceeded any projections the agency made, Pope said. Sales have topped $1.5 billion, placing approximately $187 million in profits in the U.S. Treasury, she said.
"I like it so well I wish it were my own business," said Pope, a former Republican state legislator from Ohio who has headed the Mint since 1981.
During that time the Mint, at the urging of Congress, has sharply boosted its sales of coins to collectors and investors, two distinct markets that the Mint has tapped with a $10 million-a-year advertising campaign.
The gold coins were the product of what Pope describes as a "strange coalition" of members of the Congressional Black Caucus, upset with South Africa, supporters of a return to the gold standard and representatives of the gold-mining states.
The result has been "an American success story," the Mint proclaimed in a videotape presentation. It said the new coins have helped set off a boom in the American gold mines, as well as create a commodity that has sold slightly better overseas than in the United States.
It hasn't hurt that some of the agency's advertising has gone to foreign sales, Pope said, displaying a photo of a Hong Kong tram painted with the gold coins. That was a pitch, not for the foreign investor, she said, but the average worker in the British colony who likes to place his gold "under the mattress."
The gold coins come in four weights and face values: a $50 coin with 1 ounce of gold, a $25 coin with 1/2 ounce, a $10 coin with 1/4 ounce, and a $5 coin with 1/10 ounce. In addition there is a $1 silver bullion coin with one ounce of silver.
All are sold by a network of coin and investment dealers based on the market price of the metals. The Mint sells hand-polished proof sets of the coins to collectors at a fixed price.
Pope said her only surprise has been that sales of the coins have not soared dramatically during the stock market's recent plunge.
"Let's put it this way: it hasn't hurt," she said.