Pre 1933 US Gold

Before gold coins were removed from circulation in 1933, a variety of designs were struck on American gold coins. The value of pre-1933 US gold coins is based on the coin’s gold content, its condition, and its rarity. Many pre-1933 US gold coins have been graded, which is also known in the numismatic industry as "certified." The two best known coin grading services are Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC) and Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS).

Design Variety In Pre-1933 US Gold

Nineteenth-century and early-twentieth-century US gold was minted in many denominations and in several designs. Most Pre-1933 coins are identified by their denomination and referred to according to it. The coins are referred to as follows: $20 denominations are referred to as “Double Eagles,” $10 face value are referred to as “Eagles,” $5 face value are referred to as “Half Eagles,” and $2.50 face value are referred to as “Quarter Eagles.”

These coins are also identifiable by the Saint-Gaudens, Liberty or Indian Head designs. Quarter Eagles, Half Eagles, and Eagles all feature either a Liberty or an Indian Head design. Double Eagles are the only coins which exclude the Indian Head design and instead depict the Saint-Gaudens Liberty and original Liberty Head designs. Not to be confused with the Indian Head nickel or Gold Buffalo design, Indian Head Eagles don’t feature an effigy of a once-living Native American. Instead, Indian Head eagles, quarter-eagles, and half-eagles depict a rather well-adorned Native American illustration.

Liberty Head Design

All of the classic 19th-century US gold coins, across all denominations, used one form or another of the Liberty Head motif. These depictions of Lady Liberty helped the United States Mint achieve the ideal of uniformity that was then popular throughout Europe. This desire for a uniform theme for a nation's coinage, as well as the classical artistic style used in gold coin designs of the 1800s, can be traced all the way back to the Ancient Greeks and Ancient Romans. The style is therefore referred to as "Greco-Roman."

The Liberty Head (or simply Liberty) designs show a profile portrait of Lady Liberty facing left with the face tilted slightly upward. This differs from the European tradition of having the bust face right, and may be a subtle message of America's rejection of monarchy. Most European powers of the time featured the image of the country's monarch on their respective gold coins. The US Liberty gold coins also bear the inscription "LIBERTY" along the bridge of Miss Liberty's tiara (or coronet) on the obverse (front) design rather than using the name or titles of the king, queen, or emperor seen on foreign coins from this era.

The original Liberty Head motif that appeared on quarter eagles, half eagles, and eagles in the 1840s was designed by Christian Gobrecht, who was the Chief Engraver of the US Mint at the time. Although Gobrecht is probably best-known for his Seated Liberty design that appeared on various denominations of US silver coins, some collectors may be surprised to learn that his Liberty Head design continued to grace three gold coin denominations ($2.50, $5, and $10) until 1907.

Birth of the Liberty Double Eagle

Gobrecht passed away in 1844 and was succeeded as Chief Engraver by James B. Longacre. A few years later, the California Gold Rush would give Longacre a great opportunity to leave his mark on American coinage. Indeed, it would be a lasting impression that continues to captivate collectors to this day.

Due to the massive influx of gold coming from California in 1848 and 1849, the Congress decided to authorize a brand new coin denomination that first saw circulation in 1850: the Double Eagle. As the name of the denomination implies, it was worth twice a gold eagle coin. The new $20 denomination soon became one of the most admired gold coins in the world at the time.

Although the gold double eagle was intended for circulation and regular commerce, the actual fate of these coins most often involved sitting in vaults as bank reserves or as bulk payments for America's debts overseas. For this reason, a number of well-preserved hoards of Liberty Head double eagles have been discovered in recent years, especially stacked up in European bank vaults where they had been sitting idle for many decades.

Indian Head Eagle Design

In the early 1900s the Executive office, in other words, President Theodore Roosevelt, decided that United States coinage was in need of some rejuvenation. Roosevelt called for new artists to submit new coin designs. Subsequently, Roosevelt commissioned Saint-Gaudens to create a few designs for US coins.

The Indian Head eagles design has quite an interesting story behind it. Saint-Gaudens, the chief designer for this new era of American coins, originally drew a portrait of Lady Liberty for the obverse of the $10 gold coins. However, when Roosevelt was scrutinizing the Saint-Gaudens illustrations, he proposed something unexpected and unprecedented. Roosevelt wanted to have some sort of nod to the Native American, so he suggested adding a distinctive Native American headdress to the Liberty portrait. Because he admired Saint-Gaudens’ work, but also wanted to honor Native Americans, Roosevelt asked Saint-Gaudens to make the addition while still keeping the original face, combining the two different symbolic traditions for something "picturesque" and "uniquely American." Eventually, the changes were made and the Eagles we know today are referred to as Indian Head Eagles.

Post-1933 quarter-eagles, half eagles, eagles, and double eagles contain a variety of designs which aren’t exclusive to the Saint-Gaudens, Liberty, or Indian Head designs. However, none of these more contemporary issues were made as circulating currency, and instead are commemorative legal tender produced after 1982. This is because all US gold coins were ordered to be confiscated and melted beginning in 1933, which has made many of these remaining pre-1933 coins far rarer today.

Gainesville Coins’ inventory of pre-1933 US gold coins is constantly being updated, so check back often to see our latest offerings. We carry a wide range of dates and grades for pre-1933 US gold.