Richard Hayes left a $45 million coin on the streets of Manhattan all day Tuesday, but he wasn’t particularly worried about a thief carting it off.
The coin—with Queen Elizabeth’s profile pressed onto one side and a mid-hop kangaroo on the other—is beyond the wiles of the average pickpocket. It measures nearly 32 inches in diameter and is almost 5 inches thick.
Oh, and it weighs about 2,200 pounds. (That is more than 32,000 troy ounces, for the precious-metals buffs out there.)
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Mr. Hayes is the chief executive of the Perth Mint, one of the world’s largest gold refiners. He flew to the U.S. from Australia with the world’s largest gold coin in tow, on a publicity tour for his exchange-traded fund.
What people don’t understand about gold, Mr. Hayes says, is how much it weighs—probably because Hollywood gets it so wrong. A cubic foot of iron weighs about 491 pounds. The same volume of gold tips the scales at 1,206 pounds.
To put that in perspective, the reinforced Mini Coopers that were packed with gold bars in the 2003 remake of “The Italian Job” would have tipped over backward, Mr. Hayes says. “The back springs would collapse. It doesn’t take a lot of gold to build up to a ton.”
But the plotline wouldn’t have gotten that far in the first place, he noted, because master-thief-apprentice Mark Wahlberg, steering a submersible stacked with gold, would have sunk to the bottom of a Venice canal in the opening sequence. (Paramount Pictures didn’t respond to a request for comment.)
The price of gold surged to a six-year high this month and stood at $1,411.20 a troy ounce as of Tuesday. Its run-up since the end of May has added about $3.3 million to the value of the giant coin, if it were to be sold simply for its weight in gold. The coin is visiting the Big Apple to publicize the Perth Mint’s year-old gold exchange-traded fund. More than $52 billion is currently parked in U.S. ETFs backed by gold bars stored in bank vaults, but just $133 million is in Perth’s ETF. Perth wants a larger slice of that business, and its pitch is that it is the only gold ETF backed up by a government-guaranteed mint.
Though theft would be difficult, Mr. Hayes declined to talk about security measures in place for the coin’s visit. There are instances of these types of things being stolen.
One of the six Big Maple Leaf coins made by the
Royal Canadian Mint
was lent to a Berlin museum in 2017, where it was promptly swiped. The heist made “Ocean’s 11” look way too complex: These thieves climbed a ladder, forced open a window, smashed the security case and rolled away the 221-pound coin in a wheelbarrow. Four men, including a museum guard, were arrested several months later, but the coin was never recovered.
Alex Reeves, senior manager of public affairs at the Royal Canadian Mint in Ottawa, points out that Perth’s coin may be the largest, but Canada boasts the purest. The Royal Canadian Mint refines gold to “five-nines” purity, meaning 99.999% gold. Perth says its big coin is four-nines, or 99.99%.
“It’s still pure gold, but it’s not as pure as ours is,” Mr. Reeves said.
When it came to bringing the big coin to New York—it traveled via commercial airliner—and displaying it on a pedestal at the corner of Wall and Broad streets, Mr. Hayes was much more worried about damage. The densely packed atoms of gold slide past each other easily, making the metal quite soft. His team made a practice run last week, hoisting the coin from its steel crate using a custom-made nylon and Kevlar sling and—very gently—lowering it onto its custom-made plinth.
The malleability is what makes it so difficult to mint a coin this size. That is why no other refiner has matched Perth’s feat in the eight years since they poured the big Roo, as kangaroo-printed coins are affectionately called.
The Perth Mint is one of the largest refiners in the world, turning 300 metric tons of gold into coins and bullion bars every year. The mint is government-owned and issues legal-tender bullion and commemorative coins, but not currency.
The Royal Canadian Mint produces circulating currency in addition to collectibles, like an egg-shaped painted silver coin that glows in the dark, to commemorate the 1967 Falcon Lake Incident, which the mint calls “one of Canada’s most famous UFO encounters.” They have no immediate plans to try to beat Perth with a bigger coin, Mr. Reeves said.
“The enormous cost and time to cast that amount of metal and do it properly is just not worthwhile,” Mr. Reeves said. “Clearly the Perth Mint has proven that it’s possible, but we’re satisfied with our level of achievement.”
The coin was safely packed up Tuesday evening for its journey home.
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