WASHINGTON (AP) – The U.S. Mint unveiled the nation’s first 24-karat gold coin Tuesday, hoping to capture a sizable share of the global market for pure gold coins.

The new American Buffalo coin will be produced at the Mint facility in West Point, N.Y., where officials held a first-strike ceremony.

“This American Buffalo gold coin will appeal to both investors who choose to hold gold and to others who simply love gold,” said Deputy Mint Director David A. Lebryk.

The coin, by order of Congress, features the classic designs that were on the nickel from 1913 until 1938. The design consists of a buffalo standing on a grassy mound on one side and an American Indian on the other side.

Mint officials hope the American Buffalo will overtake the Canadian Maple Leaf, which is the top seller among 24-karat coins.

The purer gold coins now account for about 60 percent of the global market, a share that has been growing as many investors have expressed a preference for the 24-karat coins, which contain 99.99 percent gold, compared to the 22-karat coin, which contains 91.67 percent gold.

The American Buffalo will contain one ounce of gold and will be slightly larger and thicker than a Kennedy half dollar. The coin will be designated a $50 piece but the actual price will be determined by the market price of gold.

The Mint will offer two versions of the coin, a bullion coin for investors and a proof coin aimed at collectors. The proof coin has a finer finish and a higher-quality strike.

The Mint had initially indicated the proof coin would sell for $875 per coin but late Monday changed the price to $800 to reflect that gold has fallen slightly in value since the preliminary price was picked. The price will be adjusted periodically.

The Mint will sell the bullion coins to designated dealers who will distribute the coins to a network of several thousand local dealers – coin shops, banks and investment firms.

Collectors can buy the proof coins directly from the Mint starting on Thursday by going to the Mint’s Web site at www.usmint.gov or by calling 1-800-USA-Mint.

AP-ES-06-20-06 1626EDT

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