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Dollar Coin Pays Off for the Mint

March 20, 2000|From Washington Post

WASHINGTON — Philip N. Diehl, director of the U.S. Mint, leaves no doubt that he thinks the new "golden dollar" coin has made a glittering debut. Now, he just needs to get Americans to spend it.

"The coin is such a hot product that people are holding and seeking big quantities of them," he said.

But Diehl hopes to get Americans in the habit of making change with the golden dollar. He has doubled monthly production of the coin, and by month's end, Diehl said, the mint will ship out a half-billion of the coins.

"It took the Susan B. Anthony 14 years to reach a half-billion. We'll do it in less than 14 weeks," he said.

The mint clearly hopes the golden dollar coin will wipe away the tarnish left by the Susan B., generally judged a flop because it was just too similar to the quarter.

The debut of the golden dollar and the earlier, celebrated 50-state quarter program, which introduces a new quarter with a distinctive state design every 10 weeks, serve as symbols of a revamped and re-energized mint under Diehl's direction.

The mint has jumped into the Internet world. It sold $26 million of coins and related goods at its Web site in the fourth quarter of 1999, even though the agency ran out of products in December and missed part of the peak gift-giving season. Diehl expects the Web site to set a record this month, selling as much as $40 million in coins and goods.

The golden dollar bears an image of Sacajawea, the Shoshone woman who helped guide explorers Lewis and Clark across the rugged West. Diehl calls the coin "a killer product" that has renewed interest in the mint and coin collecting. Although the coin is made of mostly manganese and brass, Diehl defends the use of "golden" as appropriate because it meets Webster's definition.

To encourage use of the golden dollar, the mint this month launched a $40-million advertising campaign featuring the dollar-bill George Washington, who makes the pitch on television, radio and the Internet that the dollar coin is convenient to use. Actors play Washington in different scenes, but all use George's face--lifted off the greenback and brought to life by computer animation. The TV spots are aimed at urban and suburban dwellers ages 18 to 49, the group the mint needs to accept the coin.

The ad campaign follows the stashing of golden dollars in boxes of Cheerios and in the cash registers at 3,000 Wal-Mart stores. When the mint shipped the dollar coins to Wal-Mart, the agency also sent a promotional mailing to 90 million households in the neighborhoods around the stores.

"That lit a fuse on the first day those coins hit the market," Diehl said. "Most of the stores I heard about sold out of their first 10-day to two-week supply in a matter of a few days. . . . It generated literally thousands of local newspaper, radio and television stories because of the lines forming at the Wal-Mart stores. And when the Wal-Mart stores ran out, people began calling their banks."

By Feb. 11, two weeks after the first coins were in circulation, the mint received 12,600 orders from banks around the country, he said.

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