The American Eagle gold coin—available in 1/10 oz, ¼ oz, ½ oz, and and 1 oz denominations—stands tall as the leading gold bullion coin, even more popular than the Canadian Maple Leaf and the South African Krugerrand.
The American Eagle gold coin’s purity and metal content is backed by the United States Government. This backing is why the Gold American Eagle is accepted in investment markets worldwide, why it can be placed in an IRA, and why it currently persists as one of the most popular gold bullion investment coins.
Although the American Eagle gold coin is officially legal tender for the payment of all debts, anyone using it for its face value is at a disadvantage because of its high actual value, resulting from its certified metal content with government backing. It has been shown to serve the payor better as a collectible, although this does come with capital gains tax unless the coin is held in an IRA.
The United States Congress sets the rules and guidelines for American Gold Eagle production, including the rule that these coins must be produced exclusively from gold that is mined in the United States.
Because the term “eagle” can also refer to ten-dollar gold coins from pre-1933, and because one of its denominations corresponds to a face value of ten US dollars, the metal weight in Troy ounces is always indicated when naming a Gold American Eagle.
The Gold American Eagle was first authorized for production by the Gold Bullion Coin Act of 1985, signed into effect by President Ronald Reagan, with mandated bullion coin sales whose margins would be used to pay off the national debt.
Production moved quickly and the Gold American Eagle coin was then debuted in the following year (1986) by the United States Mint. Gold American Eagle coins are minted at the West Point Mint Facility, formerly known as the West Point Bullion Depository.
The bullion version of this coin has been available since 1986, minted each year following the rules Congress set out; again, because proceeds from this coin are used against the national debt, its production is critical.
In 2008 and 2009, the US Mint saw a gold and silver bullion shortage as there was a run on these precious metals in response to the dollar weakening as part of the recession. Sales of gold bullion were limited. The proof version of the coin was minted every year since 1986 except for 2009, while an uncirculated version was minted every year since 2006 except for 2009 and 2010.
Crown gold, or the type of gold alloy used in a Gold American Eagle is 91.67% gold, which is a step above the 90.0% gold mix that had been routinely used for US gold coins since 1834.
The US government guarantees the gold weight, content, and purity of the American Eagle gold coins that it mints. While confirming the coins’ value, this guarantee has kept these coins attractive in worldwide investment markets and even lets them be placed in IRAs.
The American Eagle gold coins range in denominations, with face values that span from $5 to $50 USD legal tender. Most people would likely advise against using these coins for their face value, however, since their gold content has tended to make their actual value much higher.
The actual value of these coins depends primarily on the market price of gold, although there is also a small premium that covers both coinage costs as well as the cost of distribution.
These coins are made from 22-karat crown gold alloy, which is 91.67% gold that is exclusively mined in the United States. 3% of the alloy is silver, and the balance is copper; this alloy helps the coin resist wear.
The obverse side of the coin features a design sourced from the $20 gold coin that President Theodore Roosevelt put into effect, designed by Augustus Saint-Garden. With the goal of visually referencing ancient Greco-Roman coins, these coins featured Lady Liberty with her hair flowing in the wind, bearing a torch in her right hand and an olive branch in her left. The torch stands for liberty while the olive branch stands for peace.
Along with a raised rim on both sides, the American Eagle gold coin has a reeded edge. This adds a layer of complication to the design which, in turn, makes these coins more difficult to counterfeit. Coin reeding began as a way to prevent the edges of coins from being shaved down, as these shavings could then be pooled, melted, and sold. Although accurate weight measurements can now be obtained to check that coins are intact, reeding still persists as a design element.
The extant reverse side of the coin was designed by sculptor Miley Busiek and features the American bald eagle, a key emblem of the United States. A male eagle carrying an olive branch (again, a symbol of peace) flies above a nest with a female eagle who protects her hatchlings.
A redesign of the reverse side of the American Eagle gold coin is planned for 2021, and will incorporate more detailed anti-counterfeiting measures. This redesign will first debut in newly minted bullion coins.
There are particular inscriptions on each side of the coin as well. From 1986 to 1991, Roman numerals were used for all numbers on the coin; since then, the US Mint has switched to Arabic numerals.
The obverse side of the coin says “LIBERTY” across the top, the mint year and mint mark denoting where the coin was minted, and the initials of the coin designer.
The reverse side of the coin reads “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” across the top, the two mottoes “IN GOD WE TRUST” and “E PLURIBUS UNUM”, the engraver’s initials, and then the weight and face value across the bottom of the coin.