American citizens could not legally own gold bullion coins until January 1, 1975. The United States repealed President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Executive Order for American citizens to turn in all of their gold coins that were not collector’s coins.
What sparked that change of heart. Well more than 40 years had passed since the ban was first enacted and the United States government watched South Africa launch the very first gold bullion coin – the Krugerrand in 1967. It became popular all over the world – except in the United States, of course. American citizens should have the right to own gold bullion!
Twelve years later, in 1979, Canada, our largest trading partner in the world issued their own gold bullion coin – the Canadian Gold Maple Leaf. It, too, was extremely successful. In fact, it rose to the top of the bullion charts because South Africa was dealing with the apartheid issue which made Canadian bullion more palatable for socially conscious gold buyers.
China watched success in the West and launched its own gold bullion coin – the Chinese Gold Panda in 1982. Now there was increased competition in the world market. By 1985, the United States surprised the bullion world – not by releasing a gold bullion coin (finally!) but by simultaneously also releasing a silver bullion coin as well. The coins would come to the marketplace by 1986.
The American Gold Eagle bullion coins were offered in four sizes to fit every budget:
- 1 ounce ($50 face value);
- 1/2 ounce ($25 face value);
- 1/4 ounce ($10 face value);
- 1/10 ounce ($5 face value).
The gold used to strike these coins must come from newly mined gold from American mines. Like the very first, historic American gold coins, circa 1795, these coins are .9167 fine gold. Later, U.S. gold issues were .900 fine, but the first issues were .9167. These coins, of course, are backed by the full faith and credit of the United States and these coins are alloyed with silver and copper for durability. The coins weigh more than one troy ounce to compensate for the alloy, but each of these coins contains one troy ounce of fine gold.
The obverse of the American Gold Eagle is a credit to Augustus Saint-Gaudens, who designed the original $20 Gold Double Eagle coins from 1907 to 1933. It featured Miss Liberty striding forward, a torch in her right hand, olive branches in her left. The rays emanating from a rising sun are behind her as is the United states Capitol Building. Above her on the upper periphery is the word “LIBERTY.” On the field on the lower right side is the date. The dates of these coins between 1986 and 1991 were expressed in Roman numerals instead of Arabic numbers. But that all changed in 1992 as the American public complained that Roman numerals were too confusing. The Saint-Gaudens’ coin is referred to as a “Saint” in honor of the designer, Saint-Gaudens, it is often considered “the most beautiful American coin of all time.” Saint-Gauden’s design has certainly withstood the test of time for appeal.
The reverse of the coin did not follow Saint-Gaudens’ design. The reverse features a male bald eagle landing in a nest, carrying an olive branch in his talons, where a female eagle and her eaglet are awaiting his arrival. This was designed by sculptor Miley Busiek and to the right of the eagles is the phrase “IN GOD WE TRUST,” while to the left is “E PLURIBUS UNUM.” On the upper periphery is “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,” and on the lower periphery is inscribed with “1 OZ FINE GOLD – 50 DOLLARS.”
These coins are considered bullion coins and once struck they are automatically placed in tubes with a red cap (20 coins to a tube) and 25 tubes are placed in a red plastic “Monster Box” which contains 500 coins. These coins are sold to the public through 13 dealers who comprise the United States’ Mint’s Authorized Purchasers (APs). The APs distribute those coins to their retail and wholesale clients and the U.S. Mint does not sell any to the public.
While the United States Mint does NOT distribute the bullion coinage; it does, however, distribute the Proof versions of the American Gold Eagle as well as certain of the Uncirculated versions of this same coin. Coins without a Mintmark were struck at the Philadelphia Mint while those bearing a “W” mintmark were struck at the West Point minting facility.
The American Gold Eagle Proof coins are often sold in sets of one of each denomination and weight for that year. A 4-coin set would include a 1 ounce, ½ ounce. ¼ ounce and 1/10th ounce coins for a particular year.
Another variation of American Gold Eagles that the U.S. Mint sells direct to the public are Burnished Gold Eagles. They are struck at the West Point Mint and bear a “W” mintmark. These coins are like their Uncirculated counterparts except that they are struck on special planchets that provide a matte-like finish. The details are visible in this finish with very little glare. They have been struck since 2006.
One of the scarcest American Gold Eagle Bullion coins was struck in 2020. With a total mintage of only 1,945 coins, the 2020-W American Gold Eagle with the Privy Mark celebrating the 75th Anniversary of the end of World War II was in extremely HIGH DEMAND when offered for sale and still in great demand.
The American Gold Eagle Bullion coins, both Uncirculated and Proof specimens are allowed to be held in Individual Retirement Accounts and are a very popular addition to Precious Metals IRAs of all types.