Louis Golino at CoinWeek has posed an interesting question, in light of the success of the Royal Canadian Mint's "$20 for $20" silver coin program: Should the U.S. Mint set the face value of gold and silver coins closer to the melt value?
Right now, the 1 oz American Silver Eagle bullion coin has a face value of $1 and retail value of $27, and the 1 oz American Gold Eagle bullion coin has a face value of $50 and a retail value of $1,500. the proof versions cost more.
Golino cites recent examples by the Royal Canadian Mint and the Paris Mint attesting to the success of raising the face value of gold a silver coins closer to the melt value, then selling them at the face value. He notes that the RCM reported that the "$20 for $20" program, where 8 gram silver coins with a face value of $20 (CDN) were sold for $20, brought in 67,000 new customers. Half of these customers have purchased additional coins through the RCM site.
One possibility Golino raises, is that having a higher face value on bullion coins may make non-collectors more comfortable with purchasing gold and silver coins for the first time, especially in light of recent drops in precious metal values. One commenter noted that this approach is better used on limited edition series like the RCM and PM are doing, instead of a continuing series such as the Silver Eagles and Gold Eagles.