updated 4/19/2005 10:30:21 AM ET 2005-04-19T14:30:21

The U.S. Mint announced on Tuesday it will begin producing a new 24-karat gold bullion coin early next year, hoping to capitalize on growing international demand for purer gold coins.

The Mint already produces the 22-karat American Eagle gold bullion coin, and Mint officials estimate the potential global market for 24-karat gold coins at $2.4 billion annually.

This will mark the first time the U.S. Mint has produced a 24-karat gold coin, a designation that means it contains 99.99 percent gold. The current 22-karat gold coin, on the market since 1986, contains 91.67 percent gold with the rest of the coin made of other alloys.

Global investors in recent years have been turning increasingly to the purer gold coin, although the American Eagle is still the best-selling gold coin in North America. The Mint estimated that currently 60 percent of global gold coin sales are of 24-karat coins, with Canada's Maple Leaf a top seller.

"There is a demand, both here and abroad, for 24-karat gold coins," said Mint Director Henrietta Holsman Fore. "We want to meet this demand by producing the highest quality and most beautiful coins in the world."

Congress authorized the sale of the American Eagle gold coins in December 1985 after then-President Ronald Reagan banned imports of the South African gold Kruggerand. The American Eagle coins went on sale in October 1986.

Before that time, the United States had not had a gold coin in general circulation since 1933.

The American Eagle coins have face values of $50, $25, $10 and $5 but they sell for much more than that with the price set by the market price of gold. The $50 American Eagle was selling for around $445 on Monday.

The gold contents range from an ounce in the $50 American Eagle to one-tenth of an ounce in the $5 coin.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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