The House gave its approval Tuesday to a presidential look for the $1 coin, moving it a step closer to becoming the first 24-karat gold bullion coin in history.

"Not only will it be a moneymaker for the federal government, but it will also be a fun, educational tool to turn all of us into history buffs," said Rep. Mike Castle, R-Del., the bill's sponsor.

By a vote of 422-6, the House approved a plan for the U.S. Mint (search) to begin selling the coin early next year, bearing the faces of U.S. presidents and first ladies.

The issue now moves to the Senate, where Sen. John Sununu, R-N.H., is expected to introduce a similar bill.

Officials at the Mint say the coin could be a financial boon, in part by winning a larger share of the world market. They estimate that the potential global market for 24-karat gold coins is about $2.4 billion annually.

That market is dominated now by Australia, Austria, Canada, China, Singapore and Mexico, whose 24-karat coins account for about 60 percent of global gold coin sales.

Castle said the government also would save as much as $5 billion over a decade -- money that it would otherwise borrow by issuing Treasury bonds. The coin would be sold far above face value, keyed to the world price of gold.

The new coins are expected to sell for about the same price as American Eagle (search) coins with similar levels of gold. The only difference will be that the new series will be pure gold without alloys mixed in.

The Mint currently produces 22-karat gold bullion coins in its American Eagle series, but it has been finding that international investors, especially in Asia, prefer the purer coins.

The American Eagle coins have face values of $50, $25, $10 and $5 but they sell for much more than that.

Before the American Eagle gold coin went on sale in October 1986, the United States had not had a gold coin in general circulation since 1933, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt took the country off the gold standard and ordered the withdrawal of the gold coins then in circulation.