By Bullion Shark LLC ……
Although the American Gold Eagle program debuted in 1986 like the American Silver Eagle, it was established under a different 1985 law than the silver coins.
The Gold Bullion Act of 1985 that authorized the minting of American gold investment coins in four sizes (1 ounce, ½ ounce, ¼ ounce, and 1/10th ounce) came about because of a combination of lobbying efforts by gold mining interests and several years of legislative efforts by Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX). The law stipulated that the gold used to make the coins had to come from “gold mined from natural deposits within the United States” and that the coins would be made of 22 karat gold that includes small amounts of silver and copper in their alloy to make them harder.
Another reason the new Gold Eagles were made of 22 karat (.9167 pure) gold was so that the coins would compete with the South African gold Krugerrand issued since 1967, which dominated the gold coin market until 1979 when the Royal Canadian Mint introduced the Gold Maple Leaf, the first .999 pure gold bullion coin.
But from 1985 to 1994, Americans were unable to purchase gold Krugerrands because of apartheid, the South African policy of racial segregation and political oppression of the majority Black population. In addition, the 1980s were a period of great economic uncertainty after a deep recession during the first part of the decade and investors were looking for a safe haven asset made in the United States.
American Gold Eagles soon emerged as the world’s most popular gold bullion coin, but by the end of the decade, Maple Leaf coins had regained their top status with the growing demand for pure gold coins. Today, Gold Eagles dominate the U.S. gold coin market and carry the highest premiums over spot value and have the greatest liquidity of any bullion coins in this country.
From the beginning, Gold Eagle coins have been issued in both bullion and Proof in the four sizes. Then, in 2006, Burnished Uncirculated coins with a satin finish were added but only issued in all four sizes for three years until 2008. In 2009 and 2010, demand for bullion was so high that only the $50 one-ounce coin was issued, and since 2011 Proof and bullion coins of all sizes have been releases as well as the Burnished coin in the one-ounce size.
In addition, in 2006 for the 20th anniversary, the United States Mint also released some special anniversary sets, including a three-coin one-ounce American Gold Eagle 20th anniversary set with 9,996 sold that included a Reverse Proof unique to the set and a Proof and burnished example.
From 1986 through 2020 the obverse of these coins has featured the hugely popular design of a striding Lady Liberty carrying a torch from the Saint-Gaudens $20 gold coin obverse, while the reverse has featured Miley Tucker-Frost’s (formerly Busiek) design of a family of eagles that shows the male carrying an olive branch and flying above the nest with the female and hatchlings. Starting in 2021 the bullion coins will feature a new reverse design of an eagle that will soon be announced.
Gold Eagle Keys and Values
For bullion coins, the value of the current issues and many past ones is based on the value of their gold content plus a premium that varies according to market conditions. The smaller fraction coins (1/4 and 1/10th ounce) carry larger premiums than the two larger coins.
In the current market with gold over $1,900 an ounce, values for Gold Eagle bullion and proof coins are very similar on the retail and wholesale markets, including even most Proof 70 examples, making the proofs a good buy since they continue to carry high premiums if purchasing current year coins from the Mint.
While the bullion coins have since the beginning been aimed at investors, many people collect sets of the coins. Over the years, certain Gold Eagle coins have emerged as key or semi-key dates with the American Gold Eagle bullion series – including in particular the 1991 $25 half-ounce Gold Eagle coin with the lowest mintage of the series at 24,100. Ungraded examples are worth $2,500 and MS70 coins are currently valued at $8,000 or eight times their gold value.
Among the Mint State coins, there are also quite a few condition rarities that command tens of thousands of dollars in MS70 like the 1990 $5 and $10 Gold Eagles and the 1994 $50 Gold Eagle.
There are also some major variety issues that command a strong premium, including the 1999 1/10th and ¼-ounce Gold Eagle coins mistakenly made using unfinished dies intended for Proof coins during a period of intense demand for gold because of the impending Year 2000 (Y2K) computer problem. The $5 coin is worth $650 raw and $3,000 in MS70, while the $10 piece is worth $1,100 raw and $11,500 in MS70.
Among the Burnished gold coins, the lowest mintage is the 2017-W $50 Gold Eagle coin with 5,800 sold that sells for $3,000 today in MS70. The 2008-W $10 Gold Eagle coin with 8,883 made is also popular and currently brings $800 raw and $1,500 in MS70.
The 2006-W $50 Reverse Proof Gold Eagle coin with 9,996 minted has maintained a solid premium since it was released in the 20th-anniversary three-coin set originally issued for $2,600. The set today is worth over $7,000 with the Reverse Proof commanding $3,000 or more.
Among Proof coins, the lowest-mintage issues have changed over time, but because sales have been trending downward for years (likely due to the increasing premiums the Mint charges for them), there are no major keys today. In the past, certain dates like the 2012 coins temporarily were worth more when they became the lowest mintage coins at the time.
But on November 5, the U.S. Mint will release the first-ever privy marked Gold Eagle with a “V75” privy to mark the 75th anniversary of World War II. This coin will carry an astonishingly low mintage of 1,945 coins to coincide with the year the war ended and will be not only the lowest Proof issue but also by far the lowest mintage Gold Eagle ever and is likely to maintain that status going forward.