American Gold Eagle Coin

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What is the American Gold Eagle?

The American Gold Eagle, commonly referred to simply as the Gold Eagle or the Eagle (not to be confused with a similar bullion currency of the same name with a face value of $10, issued before 1933) is a well-known bullion coin minted in both bullion and proof types (a unique feature, as some bullion coins are only minted as proofs) by the United States Mint beginning in 1986. The Gold Eagle is authorized by the Gold Bullion Coin Act of 1985 and is a legal means to amass and possess wealth in gold for investment purposes or as a hedge against the highs and lows of the economy. The Gold Eagle is well known for its striking design aesthetic beauty, which is one of the primary reasons (aside from its legal status as officially minted and sanctioned U. S. bullion) that has contributed to its popularity. Unlike other bullion coins however, the Gold Eagle is not made from pure (.999 fine) 24-karat gold, but rather from .9167 (22 karat) gold. The general composition of the Gold Eagle is an alloy of 91.67% gold, 3% silver, and 5.33% copper, resulting in a relatively harder bullion coin that allows its intricate design to truly stand out, as well as to resist relative wear and tear resulting from handling, a feature which is absent in pure 24-karat bullion coins.[1] However, due to its lower purity, the Gold Eagle is worth less than bullion coins of a purer make such as the Gold Pandas of China and the Gold Maples of Canada.

Despite this, the American Gold Eagle remains a popular form of bullion investment in the United States alongside other forms of bullion coin. While bullion investors of late tend to pass by the Gold Eagle for coins of a purer state, it is nevertheless of great interest to numismatic collectors not only for its beauty, but also for its value. Bullion investors who also happen to collect coins also seek out and purchase Gold Eagles for one of two reasons: the first being that it is a sanctioned bullion coin within the United States (where possession of large amounts of gold can be confiscated, a practice, however, that is no longer common) and is guaranteed for liquidity, purity, and fineness; and the second being its relatively cheaper price compared to gold bullion made from pure, unalloyed gold.

Unlike other gold bullion which has an-ever changing design that is usually updated every year, the Gold Eagle only has one standard design for both its obverse and reverse faces. The obverse design features a striking image of Lady Liberty designed by master sculptor and numismatic designer Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Originally made for the $20 gold Double Eagle, the Saint-Gaudens Lady Liberty was reused for the 1986 minting of the Gold Eagle bullion coins, albeit upgraded to a ‘high-relief’ design that gives the illusion of it literally popping out of the coin.[2] Depicting Lady Liberty with flowing hair, holding a torch in her right and an olive branch in her left hand, it also features a background with the Capitol building to her left side, the whole of which is surrounded by a border of stars, with the date of mintage of the coin to the Lady’s right side. The reverse side of the coin features the amazingly ornate image of a male bald eagle with an olive branch in its claws carrying it towards a nest with a female eagle and its hatchlings, the whole of which bears the legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA on the top of the coin, and the gold content and face value on the bottom. The Latin motto E PLURIBUS UNUM (From out of Many, One), and the iconic IN GOD WE TRUST phrase is seen in the left and right side of the coin respectively.[3]

The design of the Gold Eagle remains constant, with only the year of mintage and the background or the method of striking, engraving, or tooling being changed slightly in every new yearly mintage making them unremarkable for ‘set’ collection for all save the most loyal and meticulous of coin collectors. In 2009, a $20 ‘Double Eagle’ coin especially minted from .999 fine (24-karat) gold was minted by the United States Mint featuring an ‘ultra-high relief’ version of Saint-Gaudens’s original Double Eagle design. Valued originally at $1, 239, the price quickly rose to $1, 489 by late September, although the minting quickly ceased, making the coins instantly highly valuable collectors items.[4]

The Gold Eagle is also remarkable for the fact that it has a face value that is legal tender. Available in 1/10, ¼, ½, and 1 troy ounces by weight, each coin has a face value of $5, $10, $25, and $50 respectively. The coins may be used to purchase items anywhere in the U. S., but only at their face value, regardless of their intrinsic value in gold, which is only applicable once they are bought or sold as bullion, or used to for general transactions outside of the U. S. as bullion.[5]

Because the Gold Eagles are minted in both proof and bullion states, they possess mintmarks that differentiate the proofs and un-circulated mintages (‘W’ mintmark) from the bullion ones (no mintmark), although some exceptions have been found wherein bullion coins which were not un-circulated proofs bore the ‘W’ (for West Point Mint, where the coins are produced expressly for collectors) mintmark.[6] This is usually taken to suggest that proof dies were used to mint the coin, instead of regular ones, although for the most accurate and discerning of numismatists, this does not a proof coin make. The Gold Eagle can be purchased at any reliable goldsmith or jewelry store, although the United States Mint and its affiliated websites also sell the coins to any and all persons interested in its purchase as is usually sold in bulk form of at least ten to twenty coins per purchase.

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Content researched and created by Alexander Leonhart for ©

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