This week the Wall Street Journal published an article about the jumbo-sized Taj mahal gold coin being marketed in the U.S. by the Franklin Mint.
Even though I stifled it, I have to admit I was slightly miffed when my photographer and I arrived at the Franklin Mint's Midtown offices only to discover that the coin we'd come to see—the 2.2-pound, solid gold Taj Mahal, with 60 Cartier diamonds—was in transit from the New York Stock Exchange, where Walter Kole, the Mint's chief numismatist, was showing it off on CNBC.
Which isn't to suggest that there wasn't more than enough visual stimuli to keep us occupied until the currency arrived. To be honest, I'm not sure what the Franklin Mint is, or does. I know it markets coins—I've seen the ads all over the place—but its Holiday Collection 2010 includes a Steuben pelican, Major League Baseball team Christmas tree ornaments (also Steuben) and a Michelle Obama doll, of which there happened to be one in a case for us to admire, right beside a couple of lifelike Jackie Kennedy dolls.
I'll say this for the Franklin Mint: It's got the doll-making thing down. If I was in the market for a Michelle Obama doll in a little black dress, I wouldn't even consider looking elsewhere. It really resembles the first lady, all the way down to her pearls and gold Rolex, though when the Taj Mahal's entourage finally arrived, Gwynne Gorr, the Franklin Mint's chief marketing officer, told me it's not a Rolex. It's a Cartier.
In any case, by the time we finished admiring all the great stuff in cases and on pedestals, the Taj Mahal coin was ready to be viewed, having been installed behind velvet ropes, with stern-looking security guards on either side. Mr. Kole invited me to slip behind the ropes; he even allowed me to handle it.
Manufactured in France by the Monnaie de Paris, the coin is lovely, but at the size of a tea saucer it probably wouldn't be convenient to carry in your pocket. And while crime in New York City has plummeted over the years, it would be a sad day if you got mugged the morning you decided to take your coin for a stroll in the park.
This scenario isn't altogether fantastical. Included in the price—€100,000 (approximately $140,000), even though it's got a face value of €5,000 to qualify as legal tender—is a lovely leather carrying case designed by Goyard. The case, boasting 24-carat hardware, contains a coin loop—a magnifying glass to look at your purchase up close—and there's also a little leather travel case if you want to take it away for the weekend, or if pro-democracy demonstrators are crashing the gates of the palace and you need spare change to tide you over at the Ritz in Paris while you negotiate the terms of your extradition.
By my calculations, 2.2 pounds of gold, even at today's hysterical prices, wouldn't cost more than $50,000. But apparently what you're paying for is the workmanship and the exclusivity. "It also contains 60 handset diamonds," Mr. Kole noted, "and there are only 29 in the world."
They hadn't sold many yet, but my understanding is that few U.S. customers had been given the opportunity to ogle it in person. "I expect after today," Mr. Kole said. "It just got here."
I was the first—if you didn't count the folks at CNBC and just about everybody else at the New York Stock Exchange. "It showed up nice on the screens of the metal detectors," somebody said.
To read the complete article, see:
Mysteries of the Mint
Wayne Homren, Editor
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