The American Gold Eagle minted by the United States Mint is one of the world’s most popular choices when investors and savers buy gold bullion coins. The Gold Eagle is produced in four weights which contain 1 troy oz of gold, ½ troy oz of gold, ¼ troy oz of gold and 1/10 troy oz of gold, respectively.
With their iconic imagery of Liberty and the American Eagle, Gold Eagle bullion coins embody the American ideals and values of freedom, independence and strength, and are instantly recognizable in gold markets around the world.
Produced by the US Mint (a bureau of the US Department of Treasury) and authorized by the US Congress, the gold content and purity of American Gold Eagle bullion coins is guaranteed by the US Government.
Gold Eagle bullion coins contain 22 karat gold, being a composition of 91.67% gold, and an alloy comprising silver (3%) with the remainder copper. This alloy is added to the gold to make the coins stronger and more durable, and less prone to scratches.
The actual weight of an American Gold Eagle coin is therefore slightly more than its troy oz gold content. For example, the 1 oz Gold Eagle coin has a gold content of exactly 1 troy oz, but weighs 1.0909 ozs = 33.93 grams.
Huge Production = Huge Liquidity
US Mint Gold Eagle bullion coins were first issued in 1986, and have been produced every year since 1986.
Between 1986 and February 2023, an incredible 47.64 million Gold Eagle coins have been sold by the US Mint. This comprises (in terms of coins) 22.13 million 1 oz Gold Eagles, 3.22 million ½ oz Gold Eagles, 4.70 million ¼ oz Gold Eagles, and 17.59 million 1/10 oz Gold Eagles.
Together, all of the Gold Eagles sold between 1986 and February 2023 contain a huge 26.68 million troy ounces of gold. That’s 830 tonnes of gold.
This vast production of Gold Eagle bullion coins by the US Mint makes the Gold Eagle one of the most recognizable and easy to trade gold bullion coins in the world, and creates a highly liquid market for both buying gold Eagles and selling gold Eagles, by retailers, wholesalers, and even the gold trading desks of commercial banks.
The Gold Bullion Coin Act
When the idea for a US Mint Gold Eagle bullion coin was conceived and introduced in the mid-1980s, its timing was triggered by a number of factors including:
- A steadily growing demand around the world for physical investment gold due to high inflation and economic uncertainty (where a rising gold price throughout the 1970s had spurred demand and interest in gold)
- The success of other national bullion coins such as the Canadian Gold Maple Leaf (launched in 1979) which pointed to the market potential of a US gold bullion coin
- The conclusions of the US Gold Commission in the early 1980s, which included a recommendation for the issuance of a US bullion coin
- A need to revive the US gold mining industry in the early 1980s with a new national gold bullion coin seen as a demand driver for US gold mining supply
- An opportunity to take over market share from South Africa’s Gold Krugerrand (which the US banned in October 1985 as part of sanctions against apartheid South Africa), by replacing the Krugerrand with a US gold bullion coin which would embody American ideals and be marketable both domestically in the US and abroad
The idea then became reality in 1985 when American Gold Eagle bullion coins were specifically authorized under the US “Gold Bullion Coin Act of 1985” which was passed by Congress, and signed into law by President Ronald Reagan on December 17, 1985.
The Gold Bullion Coin Act authorized the Secretary of the Treasury to mint and issue four weights of gold coins, “in quantities sufficient to meet public demand”, using domestically mined gold or in the absence of domestically mined gold, then using “gold from reserves held by the United States”.
The Gold Bullion Coin Act also prescribed the design of the coins, saying that they should feature the American symbols of ‘Liberty’ on one side, and imagery of eagles (another longstanding American symbol) on the other. The first Gold Eagle coins were minted in West Point and issued by the US Mint in 1986, and have been issued every year since, mostly at the West Point Mint. For more detail about the coin minting activities of the US Mint at West Point, see BullionStar article here.
Design Reflecting Freedom and Strength
Since its launch in 1986, the American Gold Eagle coin has had the same design on its obverse (front) face, which features a classical personification of ‘Liberty’ as a female goddess holding a torch and an olive branch walking forward with the sun’s rays behind, and the US Capitol Building in the background to the left. The coin’s year is prominently displayed to the lower right side of Liberty. The word ‘Liberty’ is encircled above the imagery.
This image of Liberty is based on the design which American sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens created for the US Mint’s $20 Double Eagle gold coin which circulated between 1907 and 1933, and represents the American values of freedom and liberty. Saint-Gaudens actually created that image at the invitation of President Theodore Roosevelt.
Between 1986 and mid 2021, the reverse face of the American Gold Eagle featured the design specified in the Gold Bullion Coin Act of 1985, namely a male eagle carrying an olive branch in flight over a nest containing a female eagle and hatchlings.
This design, by Texas sculptor Miley Busiek Frost (MB), was actually chosen by members of Congress before the Gold Bullion Coin Act was drafted, and was written into the Bill before it went to the House and the Senate. Frost says that her eagle design was “a symbolic tribute to the American family, senior citizens and young people.”
Frost’s design drawing was sculpted for the reverse of the Gold Eagle by US Mint sculptor – engraver Sherl Joseph Winter (JW). Hence, on the reverse of these coins you will see the initials MB and JB.
The reverse of this Gold Eagle design also has the words “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” encircling the imagery above, and the words “E PLURIBUS UNUM” and “IN GOD WE TRUST” in smaller letters on each side, as well as the fine gold content and the coin’s face value encircled below.
Based on the specifications in the Gold Bullion Coin Act of 1985, all Gold Eagle bullion coins have a face value. This officially makes Gold Eagles legal tender. However, Gold Eagles are non-circulating legal tender since the value of their precious metal content is many times more than their face value.
The 1 oz Gold Eagle coin has a face value of $50. The ½ oz Gold Eagle has a face value of $25. The ¼ oz Gold Eagle has a face value of $10, and the 1/10 oz Gold Eagle has a face value of $5. One further design feature is that all Gold Eagle bullion coins have reeded edges.
New Eagle Head Design from 2021 Onwards
During the run-up to the 35th anniversary of the Gold Eagle having first been issued in 1986, the US Mint decided that in 2021 for the 35th anniversary, the Gold Eagle would be given a new reverse design to replace the previous family of eagles design.
The new design chosen was a close-up head portrait of an eagle. This design, which uses high detail computer design techniques, was created by US Mint artistic designer Jennie Norris (JN), and sculpted by US Mint medallic artist Renata Gordon (RG). Hence on the newer coins you will see the initials JN and RG on each side of the eagle head design.
Commenting on her new design, artist Norris said that:
“The American Eagle is such a noble bird. I was hoping to capture the intensity of his stare through the close cropping. His gaze speaks of pride and wisdom passed down through generations of time.”
On the newer coins, the words “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” still encircle the eagle head imagery on the top, and the words “E PLURIBUS UNUM” and “IN GOD WE TRUST” are now also positioned above the eagle head. The face value of the coin and the coin’s fine gold content still also encircle the imagery below, with the face value now placed in front of the gold content.
The newly designed Gold Eagles from 2021 onwards also have some important but more subtle design changes to the obverse (front) design which features Lady Liberty. The US Mint says it has gone back and taken inspiration from the original Liberty design of Augustus Saint-Gaudens.
The eye detail of Liberty has been enhanced, as have the shape of the sun’s rays and the clarity of the olive branch. Also added are the artist’s initials AG for Augustus Saint-Gaudens. The new Gold Eagle coins also have an added security feature in the form of a reeded edge variation.
The US Mint decided to launch the newly designed Gold Eagles during mid-2021, which meant that for 2021, the Mint issued two different types of Gold Eagle bullion coins, a Type 1 with the older eagles design, and a Type 2 with the new eagle design.
According to US Mint bullion sales figures, about 60% of the 1 oz Gold Eagle sales in 2021 were of the newer design, about two thirds of sales of the ½ oz and ¼ oz Gold Eagles were of the new design, and about 70% of the 1/10 oz Gold Eagle sales were of the new design.
Since 2022, all US Mint Gold Eagle bullion coins now feature the new design with the close-up eagle head portrait on the coin’s reverse, and enhanced design features of Liberty on the coin’s front.
Gold Eagle bullion coins are America’s favorite and are the most popular gold bullion coin in the United States. They are also instantly recognizable the world over in international gold markets around the world.
Minted by the United States Mint and authorized by the US Treasury, the gold purity and gold content of Gold Eagles is guaranteed by the US Government.
With its huge production volumes over its 37 year history, nearly 48 million Gold Eagle coins have been produced US Mint, representing nearly 27 million troy ounces of gold. Just with the 1 troy ounce weight, there have been over 22 million 1 oz Gold Eagles produced. This huge production and very wide holdings ensure that the American Gold Eagle bullion coin has a highly liquid market for buying and selling both within the United States and abroad.
US Mint Gold Eagles are also eligible to be held in an Individual Retirement Account (IRA). Furthermore, Gold Eagles transactions are also exempt from IRS form 1099-B when selling gold eagles to a bullion dealer.
In this time of high inflation and financial uncertainty, investing and saving in physical gold bullion is a prudent form of wealth preservation, and investing in real assets such as gold also provides portfolio diversification.
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With the classical designs of Lady Liberty and the US Eagle symbolizing the American values of freedom and strength, the US Mint’s American Gold Eagle is not just a bullion coin but also an iconic piece of American history.