U.S. News

Looking to Buy Gold? Grab a Sack of Quarters First

Carter Dougherty, The New York Times

If gold is the ultimate sanctuary for small investors who have taken furious flight to quality, then Thomas Geissler may have invented the ultimate vending machine.


After creating an online platform for trading precious metals this year, his small company has hit on a frontier beyond the Internet: the seemingly endless line of devices at airports and train stations that spit out cigarettes, condoms, toothpaste and candy bars in exchange for a little cash. But his machines will allow customers to buy small chunks of gold.

Mr. Geissler’s argument centers on gold’s role as the investor’s last bulwark against inflation. As the Federal Reserve, the European Central Bank and the Bank of England print vast amounts of money to combat the worst economic downturn in a generation, prices are likely to rise.

“No one knows how these experiments of the central banks will work out,” Mr. Geissler said. “When you close your eyes, you can’t possibly imagine that this will go well.”

Within three months, Mr. Geissler’s company, TG-Gold-Super-Markt, plans to have “a substantial number” of machines up and running in Germany, Austria and Switzerland with hopes for 500 around the world. He is aiming for a franchise model in which clients buy the machines, which cost 20,000 euros, or about $28,000, and then pay to have them serviced by TG-Gold.

The company, based in Reutlingen, near Stuttgart, is showing off a prototype in Frankfurt, but it has more to do before 500 machines can grace the world’s tougher neighborhoods. The machines will be tested with explosives to make sure they are resistant to theft, Mr. Geissler said.

“They’ll be outfitted like an armored vehicle,” he said. “We’re going to put them in places like Russia, and the boys are not exactly demure over there.”

Customers will be able to buy 1-, 5- and 10-gram pieces of gold, and Canadian Maple Leafs and South African Krugerrands, each a tenth of an ounce. A one-gram piece, the size of a child’s fingernail, now costs about 30 euros, or $42.

The concept of gold dispensers came to Mr. Geissler as he pondered how to advertise the online marketplace for precious metals that Infos, his Internet fund trading platform, introduced in May.

“Over a good glass of Bordeaux we came up with the idea of doing a promotion using the machines, and it flowed from that,” Mr. Geissler said.

Mr. Geissler estimates the market in Germany alone at 150 tons of physical gold each year, the demand for various paper forms of it being even greater. He also pointed to the great demand for gold as the financial crisis intensified after Lehman Brothers collapsed last September.

Even if it does not take off as a business, it is hard to dispute that Mr. Geissler has touched a nerve in an uncertain financial environment.

His system allows prices to be updated every few minutes, and it has a camera to monitor purchases to confirm adherence to the law. The product is dispensed in a handsome box.

In addition, Mr. Geissler does what everyone loves to do these days, take a swing at the banks: In short, he said, they can be undersold.

“The banks have an oligopoly,” he said. “Generally, oligopolies wait too long to compete, and by then it is too late.”