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The American Gold Eagle is the flagship gold bullion coin of the U.S. Mint. It was authorized by Congress in 1985 and was first issued in 1986. Unlike many other gold bullion coins minted around the world, the Gold Eagle is struck from 91.67% pure (.917 fine) gold, also known as 22-karat gold. The rest of the alloy is made up by silver (3%) and copper (5.33%), which not only gives these coins a slightly darker hue than most of their .999 fine gold counterparts around the world, but also renders them firmer and more durable as coins.
Though they are struck from 22-karat gold, each Gold Eagle still contains 1 troy ounce of pure gold content, for a gross weight of 1.09 troy oz. They are designated as legal tender in order for the coins to be backed by the full faith and credit of the U.S. government for the weight and purity of their fine gold content. Their .917 fine gold purity also harkens to history, as 22-karat gold is sometimes called “Crown gold,” because this was the same fineness standard used for the british gold sovereign coin.
The obverse design of the American Gold Eagle was adapted from the legendary saint-gaudens double eagle, a $20 u.s. gold coin that circulated during the early 20th century. created by the world renown sculptor augustus saint-gaudens just before his death in 1907, the design shows lady liberty marching forward to the top of a hill that overlooks the u.s. capitol building. liberty holds a torch high in her right arm, with an olive branch in her left hand. it is fitting that this design was chosen for the modern american gold eagle, as it was the first non-commemorative legal tender gold coin issued by the u.s. mint since the great depression.
The reverse design is of more contemporary vintage: created by artist Miley Busiek, the scene shows a bald eagle returning to his nest with an olive branch clenched between his talons. His young eaglets reside in the nest, protected by their mother’s wing. The design communicates the importance of family values in American culture, and is an interesting departure from most other U.S. coin reverse designs that feature just one eagle.
In the interest of cost-conscious collectors and investors on a small budget, the U.S. Mint offers the American Gold Eagle in a variety of fractional sizes. Each of these different sizes bears the exact same obverse and reverse design (to scale), but is designated with a different legal tender denomination. The following sizes of the Gold Eagle are minted annually:
The denomination of these coins is purely symbolic, done for the reasons stated above, considering that the intrinsic value of the underlying gold content in the coins far exceeds the stated face value.