The American Gold Eagle is an official gold bullion coin of the United States. Authorized under the Gold Bullion Coin Act of 1985, it was first released by the United States Mint in 1986 and has been produced in large numbers ever since. Offered in 1/10 oz, 1/4 oz, 1/2 oz, and 1 oz denominations, these coins are authorized by the United States Congress and guaranteed by the U.S. government to contain the stated amount of actual gold weight in troy ounces. By law, the gold must come from sources in America, alloyed with silver and copper to produce a more wear-resistant coin.
While most gold bullion coins are struck in fine gold (0.999), including the US Mints own Gold Buffalo bullion coin, the Eagle is struck in crown gold, an old English standard more commonly known today as 22 karat. It’s a fineness shared with another old stalwart, the South African Krugerrand. Crown gold fell out of use in the US in 1834 as they moved to 0.900 fineness in 1837. The American Gold Eagle marked the reintroduction of 22kt gold with its fineness of 0.9167.
One of the biggest selling gold coins in the world, it still doesn’t enjoy the dominance its silver sibling has. Competitors such as the Canadian Maple Leaf, the Austrian Philharmoniker and the South African Krugerrand all enjoy sales numbers in the same range or higher. Some important markets buy other other coins where tax laws favour purer gold, like Canada for example. It does remain however, an important indicator of market conditions in bullion form.
This is a super looking coin, based on a century old design, thus evoking a sense of continuity in American financial history. From its debut in 1986 it has changed in nothing more than the minutist detail, so while it’s a coin we’d recommend anyone to have an example of, it isn’t really one to evoke collectors interest in having a new one every year. It’s a similar problem to the aformentioned trio of competitors and the reason for the popularity of bullion coin series with annually changing designs. The Royal Mint understood this when the Britannia stopped changing and remained with the 1987 Philip Nathan design. They had the foresight to compensate with their Shengxiao Lunar and Queens Beasts gold bullion ranges. Equally the Royal Canadian Mint offers interesting alternatives to the ubiquitous Maple. There’s no such alternative from the US Mint as their Buffalo range also has a fixed design. Sadly, the US Mint is constrained tightly by the US government and lacks the flexibility to rapidly innovate like its competitors, so don’t expect more gold bullion variety in the near future. Irrespective of that, this remains a design classic with a long numismatic history.
The design of the American Gold Eagle has long risen to classic status, embodying the national identity of the United States. The sheer ubiquity of the coin, enjoying huge sales numbers over the last 30 years, as well as a design that hasn’t changed in any meaningful way have seen to that.
The reverse design by monumental sculptor Miley Busiek (now Miley Tucker-Frost) features a male eagle carrying an olive branch flying above a nest containing a female eagle and her hatchlings. The inscription ‘UNITED STATES OF AMERICA’ sits at the top, with smaller inscriptions ‘IN GOD WE TRUST’ to the right and ‘E PLURIBUS UNUM’ (out of many, one), to the left. At the bottom is inscribed the composition and denomination. The initials ‘MB’ and ‘JW’ represent the sculptor Miley Busiek and the original engraver Joseph Winter.
The obverse design features a rendition of Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ full length figure of Lady Liberty with flowing hair, holding a torch in her right hand and an olive branch in her left, with the Capitol building in the left background. A ring of small stars circumnavigates the coin. The design is taken from the 1907 $20 Saint-Gaudens gold coin which was commissioned by Theodore Roosevelt to create coins like those from ancient Greece and Rome. At the top is inscribed ‘LIBERTY’. The only other inscription is the date. From 1986 to 1991, AGE’s were dated with Roman numerals before switching to the current standard number system with the 1992 coin launch.
Identical in design to the bullion coin, the proof versions are struck with a mirror background finish to a far higher standard. In 2006 the mint offered a reverse-proof version with the same high quality, but with the mirrored and frosted portions of the design reversed. It was only available for one year. The proof coin is available in all four sizes, including a set in a collectors box.
The obverse of the proof coins carries the mintmark ‘W’ to denote it was struck at the West Point facility. Mintmarks do not appear on the bullion coin. Proof coins are sold in presentation boxes with certificates of authenticity. In 1986 only the one-ounce coin was sold as a proof, the half-ounce joining it in 1987 and the last two sizes in 1988. To collector anger, no proof coins were issued in 2009 and it remains the only year since the introduction of the coin to have no numismatic representation.
In 2006 the US Mint decided to offer an uncirculated version of the four coin sizes as well. This is basically a bullion coin struck on specially burnished planchets for a higher quality. They also carry the ‘W’ mintmark. They are still offered today although none were made available in 2009 or 2010. Since 2011, only the one-ounce is offered in this finish.
A beautiful ultra high relief brilliant prooflike variant with a modified reverse and obverse design was also offered in 2009 and while strictly speaking not an American Gold Eagle as such, is well worthy of attention (images further down). Weighing an ounce but just 27.0 mm in diameter, although 4 mm thick, it’s actually a more faithful example of the original Saint-Gaudens vision as he designed the coin to be struck in high-relief but the mint lacked the technology to do so at the time. A total of 115,178 were sold.
|AMERICAN GOLD EAGLE|
|DENOMINATION||$50 DOLLARS (USD)||$25 DOLLARS (USD)||$10 DOLLARS (USD)||$5 DOLLARS (USD)|
|COMPOSITION||22kt 0.9167 Gold (91.67% gold 3% silver 5.33% copper)|
|WEIGHT||33.93 grams||16.965 grams||8.483 grams||3.393 grams|
|SIZE||32.7 mm||27.0 mm||22.0 mm||16.5 mm|
|THICKNESS||2.87 mm||2.24 mm||1.83 mm||1.19 mm|