The first coins struck by the U.S. Mint in denominations of a dollar or more were composed primarily of gold. These coins featured different sizes and designs, with changes to each denomination over the years. Gold coins were first minted in the 1790s, with production ending in 1933 when gold was phased out of American coinage.
Several different denominations of gold coins were issued, the smallest of which was the gold dollar. The quarter eagle was worth $2.50, while the half eagle was worth $5. An eagle had a face value of $10 while the double eagle was worth $20. The mint also issued a $3 gold coin during the later half of the 19th century and a $4 gold coin in 1879 and 1880.
The “Capped Bust” design was used for several gold coins during the first years of production, beginning in 1796. This coin featured a profile of Lady Liberty facing to the right that included her head and shoulders and a hat covering her head. A bald eagle was on the reverse. This design gave way to the “Capped Head” on which Lady Liberty faced to the left, and only her head was visible. The “Indian Head” design was used for many of the gold coins of the early 20th century. This coin depicted a Native American in profile wearing a headdress. The last double eagle produced from 1907 to 1933 is simply called the “Saint-Gaudens” after its designer, Augustus Saint-Gaudens. This coin, featuring a walking Lady Liberty with flowing robe and an eagle in flight on the reverse, is often considered one of the most beautiful American coins.
The percentage of each coin that is made of gold also differs somewhat. Gold comprises 90 percent of the gold dollar, compared to 10 percent copper. The first quarter eagles contained nearly 92 percent gold and 8 percent silver and copper. This was later changed to 90 percent gold and 10 percent copper. The same was true of half eagles and eagles, as initial coins contained 92 percent gold. The $3 and $4 coins, as well as double eagles, were always composed of 90 percent gold and 10 percent copper.
Gold dollars are among the smallest coins ever struck by the U.S. Mint with a diameter of 15 mm. Quarter eagles initially had a diameter of 20 mm, but this was later reduced to 18.2 mm. Three-dollar pieces were produced with a diameter of 20.5 mm. Half eagles first measured 25 mm in diameter, but this was steadily reduced over the years, ending with the Indian Head design measuring 21.6 mm in diameter. The first eagles were 33 mm in diameter, but all other issues were reduced to a 27-mm diameter. The double eagle was slightly larger at 34 mm in diameter.
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