The U.S. Mint first struck gold coins for general circulation in 1795. In 1933, in the heart of the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt made it illegal for U.S. citizens to own gold. Gold coins were removed from circulation and returned to the U.S. Treasury and millions were melted into gold bars. It took over fifty years for American gold to return to circulation.
In 1985, the U.S. Congress authorized the U.S. Mint to begin minting American Eagle Bullion coins. The bullion was launched to compete with world bullion coins including the Canadian Maple Leaf and the South African Krugerrand, and offer investors a convenient way to add a small amount of physical gold to their investment portfolios. The value of these coins is tied directly to their metal value, although in some cases (where mintages were low) a collector market has developed.
American Eagle Gold Bullion Coins are minted following the durable, 22-karat standard for circulating gold coinage. Each coin contains its full, stated weight of pure gold, which by law, must come from newly-mined U.S. sources. Silver and copper are added to increase the coin’s durability and to help resist scratching and marring.
American Eagles are one of the United States’ only official investment grade gold bullion coins. Their weight, content and purity are guaranteed by the U.S. government. These coins are welcome in major investment markets worldwide and can even be included in an Individual Retirement Account (IRA).
There are four sizes of American Eagle Bullion coins: 1/10, 1/4, 1/2, and 1 troy oz coins. All four are identical except for the markings on the reverse side indicating weight and face value. The face values of $5, $10, $25, and $50 are their legal values reflecting their issue and monetized value as coins. While they are legal tender at their face values, these face values do not reflect their intrinsic value which is much greater and is mainly dictated by their troy weight and current metal prices.
Gold Eagles minted 1986-1991 are dated with Roman numerals. In 1992, the U.S. Mint switched to Arabic numbers for dating Gold Eagles.
The obverse design is 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 U.S. Capital in the lower left.
In the early 1900s, Theodore Roosevelt chose Saint-Gaudens to redesign America’s coinage. That commission led to the creation of a coin that is widely considered America’s most beautiful and was the basis for the current American Eagle. Saint-Gaudens’ $20, or double-eagle, gold piece was first produced in 1907. However it took several attempts during 1907 to perfect the design.
Saint-Gaudens first produced an ultra high-relief $20 gold piece that took up to 11 strikes to clearly produce the fine details. Only 20 or so of these coins were minted in 1907. Besides the striking difficulties, the Ultra High Reliefs also did not stack properly and were deemed unfit for commerce. However, their rarity makes them highly sought after; one sold in a 2005 auction for $2,990,000. A high-relief version was then designed, which, although requiring eight fewer strikes than the Ultra High Relief coins, was still deemed impractical. 12,317 of these were minted, and are currently among the most in-demand U.S. coins. The coin was finally modified to a normal-relief version which remained in production until 1933.
The family of eagles design found on the back of the American Eagle is from American sculptor Miley Tucker-Frost and was inspired by a three-dimensional sculpture she created in the late 70s after researching the American Bald Eagle in Wyoming.
After several years, she was inspired to name the sculpture “Together, a New Beginning,” after a line from Ronald Reagan’s acceptance speech at the 1980 Republican Convention.
While talking to the Montgomery County Coin Club in 2002, Ms Tucker-Frost described the road her sculpture took to becoming part of the American Eagle design.
A friend of Ms Tucker-Frost, who was active in the Texas Republican Party, successfully lobbied for her sculpture to be the official commemorative piece for President Reagan’s first inauguration. A bronze casting of it sat in the Oval Office for the eight years of his Presidency.
At the inaugural ball, an ambassador told Ms. Foster-Tucker that her design should be used on a coin. Then she read about the establishment of the Gold Commission to explore the possibility of US gold bullion coin issues. The seed of the idea took root.
Ms Foster-Tucker began designing a coin that reflected her belief that “Families are the greatest asset in this country.” On her line drawing of a family of eagles, based on her sculpture, she added the caption “a symbolic tribute to the American family, senior citizens and young people.”
Next stop, was the U.S. Mint, where her design was received with praise, but she was warned it would need Congressional approval. Over the next five years, Miley went to countless meetings testifying about her design’s symbolism before Congressional and Senate hearings. And she described how she overcame several last-minute roadblocks, including an objection by Canada based on fears that a US gold bullion coin would cut into Canadian gold sales. She explained that she called Joe Rogers, the US Ambassador to France, who then contacted the French Embassy and got them to talk with the Canadian Prime Minister over the phone, which helped defuse this problem.
Ms Foster-Tucker said that the bill endorsing her design passed unanimously in 1985. The first coins were struck at West Point, and at the initial ceremony Miley and her two sons each had an opportunity to strike one, which they received as mementos of the occasion.
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