The United States Mint copied the much-loved $20 Saint-Gaudens gold coin design for the obverse (front) of its new American Eagle. Right of Lady Liberty, the date was in Roman numerals from 1986-91, and in Arabic numerals since. Miley Busiek’s design on the reverse shows a bald eagle landing in its family nest.
American Eagle gold coins are minted only from gold mined in the United States. The gold is 22 karat (a small amount of other metal is added for durability), but each 1/2 oz. American Eagle contains a full 1/2 ounce of pure gold.
The United States guarantees American Eagles’ gold content, weight and purity. For this reason, American Eagle gold coins can easily be bought and sold almost anywhere in the world, making these coins among the most commonly traded gold bullion coins in the world.
About Gold coins
Gold coins are one of the first few products people think of when looking to invest in gold or precious metals products. Gold is available as bullion coins and bars. Investors prefer gold coins over bars due to their portability, affordability, intricate design, etc. Jewelry is usually not a consideration for investing purposes.
Although all gold coins are circular, they vary in weight, thickness, makeup, design, etc. Based on these variables, the value of the coin changes. Invariably, the coin’s market price aligns with its gold content. The higher the amount of gold, the greater the purchase price. But some less pure gold coins could command a higher price than their purer counterparts due to their historicity and rarity.
If you have basic knowledge about gold coins and the gold investing space in general, you would have heard of the American Eagle coin. It’s one of those few bullion coins with solid state backing. It is, therefore, quite an attractive proposition to investors and general buyers alike. This article will take a deeper look at the historic coin. We’ll discuss:
- The history of the American Gold Eagle
- The Gold Eagle coin’s design
- The different variations of the Gold Eagle coin
- The proof version of the American Gold Eagle and more
If you ever wanted complete information about the American Eagle in a single guide, today is your lucky day. Keep reading to know the gold coin space, one coin at a time.
About the American Eagle Gold Coin (Development, Introduction, and History)
The U.S. Mint produced American Eagle gold coins for the first time in 1986, courtesy of the American Eagle Coin Program and the foundation stone laid by the 1985 Gold Bullion Act. Both gold and silver Eagle coins were minted as part of the initiative. The project’s scope expanded to encompass platinum and palladium bald eagle coins. The first set of platinum American Eagle coins was issued in 1997. The palladium coins were initially released in 2017.
The gold American Eagle coin isn’t the only currency to use the word “eagle” in its name. To avoid being confused with other coins with similar nomenclature, American Gold Eagles are generally referred to by their weights—for example, a “troy ounce gold American Eagle.” Moreover, the face value doesn’t correspond with the coin’s weight or actual worth. Therefore, specifying the coin’s weight becomes quite essential.
All four variants of the coin are currently in production. In 2021, 350,000 (1/10 oz.), 108,000 (1/4 oz.), 65,000 (1/2 oz.), and 665,500 (1 oz.) coins were minted. Although the production numbers are lower than in 1986, the current volumes are nonetheless significant and indicate the minting will continue.
American Eagle Gold Coins: Sizes and Dimensions
The American Gold Eagles come in four sizes/weights: one ounce, half an ounce, quarter ounce, and one-tenth of an ounce. The one-ounce variant weighs 33.9 grams and has a diameter of 32.70 mm. The coins are guaranteed to be of the weight mentioned by the U.S. government and are officially considered investment-grade bullion coins. The smallest 1/10 troy-ounce coin weighs 3.393 grams (0.109 ounces) and measures 16.5 mm and 1.19 mm in diameter and thickness, respectively.
Here are the specifics of the four coins:
Why Invest in the American Eagle Gold Coin
The American Gold Eagle is a popular gold bullion coin, being the go-to gold bullion coin for several investors and gold coin collectors. It’s state-backed and one of those few gold coins continually in production for decades. It is also IRA-approved, despite not being the purest gold coin around—more on that later.
American Eagle Gold Coin Design
The gold coin has a striking design. The obverse or front features imagery of the Statute of Liberty, taking design inspiration from the “double eagle” coin—the first coin to bear the Liberty. The design is courtesy of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, whom President Roosevelt first enlisted to overhaul American coin designs. Roosevelt was not a fan of the existing coin designs and found them hideous. Saint-Gaudens was a renowned American sculptor and artist who had completed several state-sponsored projects.
The Liberty statue on the American Eagle is forward-facing, holding an olive branch in one hand and a torch in another. In the background, near the coin’s base, is the imagery of the United States Capitol structure and the rising sun's rays. The design takes heavy inspiration from the Saint-Gaudens $20 gold coin. Over time, the lady Liberty design has had minor, not very noticeable, changes in subsequently minted coins. From 1986 to 1991, the currency used Roman numerals to denote dates. Starting in 1992, Arabic numerals were adopted.
The reverse side of the coin depicts two eagles—one eagle is sitting in its nest, and the other is carrying an olive branch and heading toward the nest. The design symbolizes America’s family tradition and unity. The words “E Pluribus Unum” and “In God We Trust” are inscribed on the left and right sides, respectively. The former is a Latin term, meaning “Out of many, one.” It’s America’s traditional motto that appears on several other coins.
The American Eagle Gold Coin Design Changed in 2021
The reverse design was altered a bit beginning in 2021, portraying a close-up image of the American male bald eagle. The fresh design, courtesy of designer Jennie Norris, commemorates the coin’s 35th anniversary and shall be the standard design in the future. Note that the coin designs are identical across weights, except for the patterns denoting the coins’ face value. Not to mention, the print is less legible and more refined on the smaller currencies compared to the bigger denominations.
Gold Eagle Coin Metal Contents
The gold American Eagle coin is a 22-karat (91.67%) gold coin. Struck in the United States, the other metals used are copper (5.33%) and silver (3%). The non-gold metals lend the coin rigidity and strength or wear resistance. The copper and silver mix also gives the coin a slightly reddish hue, which is easily discernible when compared side-by-side with a 24-karat gold coin.
Why are Gold American Eagle Coins Not 24K?
There’s no official statement on why American golden eagle coins are 91.67% pure gold only and not purer. However, it’s believed the coins were minted to replace the South African Krugerrands, which were also 22K. The Krugerrands were canceled in America in 1985 due to the West's economic sanctions against South Africa for the country’s apartheid policy.
Another plausible reason for the 22K constitution could be that American Eagle coins are for general use and not purely collector-focused. A 24K gold would be too soft for regular use or commerce. The gold alloy lends the coin durability, helping it look as good as new for longer. Although the proof variant of the coin wasn’t meant for circulation, it still stuck to the 22K composition to stay true to the original coin’s ethos.
American Eagle Gold Proof Coin
The U.S. Mint also makes uncirculated and proof American Gold Eagle coins. For the uninitiated, proof Gold Eagles are minted for coin collectors. They are made with polished blanks and on specifically designed dies. High-tonnage presses are used to provide a crisp “proof coin” finish.
Uncirculated coins, as the name suggests, do not enter public circulation. They, therefore, tend to be in mint condition, too, like the proof variants, but lack the detailing and finishing of a proof coin. In other words, uncirculated coins could be rough at the edges. The West Point Mint, a U.S. Mint facility, makes proof American Eagle gold coins. The uncirculated variants bear the “W” mint sign.
The proof versions are made in relatively fewer numbers to uphold the coin’s scarce image. They were made a year after the standard versions. Even then, only the 1/2 oz. and 1 oz. variants were minted. All four sizes came in proof quality only from 1988. The uncirculated versions are even more scarcely produced. They were first released in 2006 (all sizes). None were minted in 2009 and 2010. And starting in 2011, only the 1 oz version is made.
American Eagle Gold Coin Value
Talking about the actual price, that varies with the variant, dealer, condition, etc. For instance, a 2022 one-ounce American Gold Eagle brilliant uncirculated coin costs approx. $2,520. A regular one-ounce coin will set you back around $1,900. A 0.5-ounce American Gold Eagle coin usually costs around $1,000. The price also depends on availability and demand. The proof American Gold Eagles could come for a sizable numismatic premium over their regular price. The least expensive American Gold Eagles are the 1/10th ounce gold bullion coins.
Note: The face value of the gold American Eagle coins is symbolic. The actual cost of the coins is based on the spot gold prices, condition, type (proof, uncirculated), buyer demand, etc., which fluctuate daily, like the value of most precious metals or commodities attached to them.
Buying American Gold Eagle Coins
The American Gold Eagle coin attracts both gold coin investors and collectors. Although the U.S. Mint continues to make the American Gold Eagle in significant numbers, it is not as widely available as one may assume. Not all financial institutions or banks have the coin ready for sale. A lot of them do not.
Only gold bullion coin brokers and dealers with specialized knowledge and wherewithal to procure the Gold Eagles in large numbers have the coin available for sale to the public. The proof variants are available for purchase at the U.S. Mint. The gold bullion coin can be bought from authorized distributors only. The coins are sold individually or in sets.
The gold coin buying process is relatively straightforward and not fraught with unnecessary red tape or long-drawn procedures. The payment can be made through cash, check, credit card, cryptocurrency, or wire transfer. Some payment methods could attract an extra nominal fee, and some sellers may not provide all payment options. And depending on the retailer, the coins can be bought online or at a brick-and-mortar store. Some could operate purely online.
American Gold Eagle Prices and Where to Buy
The prices of the coins vary with the variant, dealer, condition, etc. A 2022 one-ounce American Gold Eagle brilliant uncirculated coin, for instance, costs approx. $2,520. A regular one-ounce coin will set you back around $1,900. A 0.5-ounce American Gold Eagle coin usually costs under $1,000. The price varies with availability and demand. The proof American Gold Eagles could come for a sizable numismatic premium over their regular price. The least expensive American Gold Eagles are the 1/10th ounce gold bullion coins.
Look for the best prices gold American Eagles, but also don’t get swayed by price alone. In other words, grow cautious if a dealer sells the coin very cheaply. If the price is too reasonable to be true, steer clear. Buy from established, trustworthy retailers. Don’t buy your gold American Eagles from strangers online or on obscure websites. Deal with reputed gold coin dealers and not all-purpose e-commerce sites. Look for sellers who have affiliations with various industry organizations.
Buying the coin from a recognized, trustworthy dealer is critical due to the fake coin issue. Detecting a counterfeit gold American Eagle coin is not that complex. But a dishonest seller will likely not acknowledge or take the fake coin back and process a refund. Buying gold coins from the right places is, therefore, critical.
Which American Gold Eagle Variant Should You Purchase?
There’s no best or perfect American Gold Eagle coin. The correct coin variant to buy could differ depending on your investment goals (short-term, long-term) and how much you’re willing to spend. Besides choosing the weight, you must also select between proof coins and brilliant uncirculated or bullion coins. Both types qualify if you want to buy American Eagle coins for an IRA (individual retirement account).
The bullion American Gold Eagle coins are popular among investors due to the lesser price tag. They also offer better value if the goal is purely bullion investment. Proof and brilliant uncirculated coins suit people who collect gold coins as a hobby and don’t care much about the value quotient. If you are new to investing in gold coins and have a limited budget, begin with the one-tenth-ounce gold coin.
However, the smallest, least expensive coin isn’t the best value. The costs to procure the gold, create the dies, market and distribute the item, etc., don’t go down with the coin’s size. Therefore, the bigger the currency, the smaller the maker’s markup and the greater the value derived for the buyer. The best value-for-money is the troy-ounce variant.
Investing in American Eagle Gold Bullion Coins Through an IRA
Like a gold IRA, a self-directed IRA (SDIRA) helps add diversity to a stock-focused investment portfolio. Gold coins and bars are not allowed in a traditional IRA but can be included in SDIRAs. Regular IRAs do not entertain “collectibles,” which gold and other precious metals are. But not every gold item can be a part of the IRA. Only a handful of gold items, including the American Eagle gold coins, can do.
Since precious metal IRAs require the assets purchased to be held at a depository, you cannot keep American Eagle gold coins bought under an IRA in your home or elsewhere not approved by the IRS. Also, a minimum number of gold coins must be purchased to open an SDIRA. For example, if your IRA firm sets the required minimum amount at $10,000, you’ll have to buy American Eagle gold coins worth $10,000 to set up the account. You can also buy a few American Eagles and other IRA-eligible gold coins and bars provided the total worth is $10,000 or more.
The gold American Eagle coin is undoubtedly a bullion coin with tremendous historical significance and a pull among investors. Whether it’s your very first foray into gold coins or you’ve invested in quite a few rare coins in the past, the American Eagle coin continues to be hot. The different variations and the multiple price points make it accessible to many potential buyers.
That said, American Eagles aren’t the only coins worth their salt. There are quite a few that could grab your fancy or suit your gold investing goals. Here is a list of the best 1 oz gold coins we curated, which includes the American Gold Eagle. If your interest in American Gold Eagle coins is for inclusion in your IRA, you may want to know more about the coins mentioned in the link above.
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Are American Gold Eagles allowed in a gold IRA?
Yes, American golden eagle coins are permissible for gold or precious metals IRAs. Although gold IRAs require their coins and bars to be 99.5% pure (almost 24 karats), American Gold Eagles are excused.
Why are gold American Eagle coins not 24K?
There’s no official reasoning behind the decision to keep American golden eagle coins 91.67% pure gold. However, it’s believed the coins were minted to replace the South African Krugerrands, which were also 22K. The Krugerrands were canceled in America in 1985 due to the West’s economic sanctions against South Africa for the country’s apartheid policy.
Another plausible reason for the 22K constitution could be that American Eagle coins are for general use. A 24K gold would have been too soft and changed shape and form during commerce. The gold alloy lends the coin durability, helping it look as good as new for longer. Although the proof variant of the coin wasn’t meant for circulation, it still stuck to the 22K composition to stay true to the ethos of the currency it was based on.
American Gold Eagle Coin vs. Buffalo Coin: What’s the difference?
The primary difference between American Eagle and American Buffalo gold coins is the latter’s 24-karat makeup. The coins have different designs too. The Buffalo coin has a portrait headshot of an American Indian on the front and the American bison’s image on the rear.
The Buffalo gold coins were minted in response to several American coin buyers/investors gravitating to non-U.S. gold coins, such as the Canadian Maple Leaf, due to the American Eagle coins not being 100 percent pure gold. The U.S. government wanted to cash in on the buyer sentiment toward 24-karat gold coins and came up with the Buffalo coins to divert attention to U.S. gold. Talking about which one to buy out of the two depends purely on your preferences.
Gold Eagle Coin vs. Gold Maple Leaf Coin: What’s the difference?
The Canadian Gold Maple Leaf coin is a 24-karat gold coin. The primary difference between it and the American Gold Eagle coin is that it’s purer and is also a Canadian coin. Both coins are great investment coins. However, the Canadian Maple Leaf usually sells for a lesser premium, making it ideal for investors with a limited budget and appreciation on their minds.
The Canadian coin is the older of the two, first issued in 1979. The American Eagle coins were initially released in 1986. Talking about design, the Maple Leaf coin features the profile image of Queen Elizabeth II on the front and the maple leaf on the reverse, accompanied by several other design nuances on both sides.
How can you tell a fake American Gold Eagle?
If you know how a real American Gold Eagle coin looks, have experience handling them, and have one to compare, it could be pretty straightforward to spot the fake. The fake coin’s design may be the same, but there could be some discrepancies in the details. For instance, the Liberty statue’s face would look different. The date inscription on the obverse may not be in the correct spot. It could be set slightly higher or lower than usual. The fake coin would lack depth in its details, unlike the original.
The coin’s gold color could be different or not the correct tone, discernible particularly at the edges. Since American Eagle gold coins are not pure gold, they could look slightly coppery. The fake coins could ignore that truth and look more yellow gold, similar to a 24-karat piece.
The fake coin’s weight will likely be identical to the original coin. Since that’s the first thing most people check and because it’s easy to replicate, the fake coin makers don’t miss out on that part. The diameters will also be the same. The counterfeit coin will sound flat when dropped on a floor or struck against another gold or precious metal coin. On the other hand, the real coin will make a long ringing sound.
If you have scientific purity testing equipment, the test results will be instant and not subject to interpretations. But note that most tools check the surface and do not get any deeper, which means a coin with a gold covering may pass the test. Since testing tools are not always foolproof, it’s sensible to employ the above testing methods to decide.
What is an American Gold Eagle coin worth?
The worth varies depending on your American Gold Eagle coin’s size or weight. The 1/10 oz. coins are the smallest and, therefore, the most inexpensive in the collection—usually selling for around $230 (as of October 2022). The 1 oz. coin trades for about $1,840. Of course, based on demand, the worth of these coins could be significantly higher but lower than their melt prices.