New 'Golden' U.S. Dollar Is Already
Paying Its Way; Mint Urges Americans to Use, Not Keep, the Coins
The Washington Post, 14 March 2000«back | home
By Stephen Barr
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 plans to leave the Mint within the next month or so, having stayed
past the normal five-year director's term. During his tenure, he improved
relations with the union that represents Mint workers, cut the number
of political appointees and converted the Mint from annual congressional
appropriations to self-funding from a share of the agency's profits (the
typical quarter, for instance, costs only 4 cents to make).
The Mint also 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 Sacagawea, 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 the
test of 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-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. Some stores were out within
a few hours. . . .
"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," Diehl
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.
Diehl had sought a retail partner as a way to get around the banking
community's skepticism toward a new dollar coin. The banks, after all,
had been stuck with thousands of Susan B. Anthony dollars piled up in
their vaults for years.
His maneuver did not please smaller banks, which could not respond to
customer demand, and the Mint set up a program to ship the coin directly
to them. "We think it will wind up being a big success for the monetary
system," said John Hall, a spokesman for the American Bankers Association.
© 2000 The Washington Post Company
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