Gold has served as money (or the value of currency) since ancient times. Greek, Egyptian and Roman civilizations used gold coins for trade and acquisition of goods and materials. The American colonies circulated a wide variety of foreign gold coins, mostly European issues. After the Revolution, the Coinage Act of 1792 established the dollar as the basic monetary unit. The approximate value of gold was $20 per ounce. In 1961 it was set at $35 per ounce. The first American gold coins were struck in 1849. This continued until 1933 when the last of the regular issue $20 St. Gaudens pieces were issued. A law was then passed (1934) which prohibited U.S. citizens from holding monetary gold. This restriction was to last until 1975. Modern gold coins were resumed in 1986 and sold as numismatic pieces. These are now available from the United States Mint (see link below). Recently, gold has flirted with the $1,000/ounce barrier, retreating to the $800 to $900 range. This article will provide information and tips for collecting U.S. gold coins.
The following will briefly summarize all of the U.S.-issued gold coins from 1849 until 1933. The first general circulating coins issued by the U.S. government were silver and copper. It was logically assumed that these would suffice for use by a young nation. Then it was decided that additional denominations of more than one dollar were needed, so small quantities of gold coins were issued. The California Gold Strike of the late 1840s changed the landscape and provided a need for twenty dollar pieces. We will now look at these beautiful coins which were minted at several facilities including: Philadephia, Dahlonega (Georgia), Charlotte, New Orleans, San Francisco and Denver.
GOLD ONE DOLLAR COIN
• Liberty Head, 1849 to 1854 (some of these issues are rare)
• Indian Head (Small Head), 1854 to 1856 (1855 D is very scarce)
• Indian Head (Large Head), 1856 to 1889 (1875 is extremely rare)
QUARTER EAGLE 2.5 DOLLAR COIN
• Capped Bust to Right, 1796 to 1807 (most of these coins are very rare)
• Capped Bust to Left, 1808 Only (one year of issue and scarce)
• Capped Head to Left, 1821 to 1834 (all years are extremely scarce)
• Classic Head (no motto on reverse), 1834 to 1839
• Coronet, 1840 to 1907 (many varities and minor design changes)
• Indian Head, 1908 to 1929 (designed by Bela Lyon Pratt)
THREE DOLLAR COIN
This Series had a very limited mintage (1854 to 1889) and was never popular or widely accepted. The 1870 S is unique with a mintage of one coin!
FOUR DOLLAR “STELLA” COIN
These absolutely beautiful “pattern” coins had a total mintage of less than 500 pieces. There were two designs: “Flowing Hair” by Charles E. Barber and “Coiled Hair” by George T. Morgan. The 1879 “Flowing Hair” is the most “common” coin of the series with 415 pieces. All are extremely rare and are usually sold by the big auction houses.
HALF EAGLE FIVE DOLLAR COIN
• Capped Bust to Right (Small Eagle), 1795 to 1798 (very scarce)
• Capped Bust to Right (Heraldic Eagle), 1795 to 1807
• Capped Bust to Left, 1807 to 1812
• Capped Head to Left (all diameters), 1813 to 1834
• Classic Head, 1834 to 1838
• Coronet (no motto above eagle), 1839 to 1866
• Coronet (motto above eagle), 1866 to 1908
• Indian Head, 1908 to 1929 (Bela Lyon Pratt)
EAGLE TEN DOLLAR COIN
• Capped Bust to Right (Small Eagle), 1795 to 1797 (all very scarce)
• Capped Bust to Right (Heraldic Eagle), 1797 to 1804 (scarce)
• Coronet (no motto above eagle), 1838 to 1866
• Coronet (motto above eagle), 1866 to 1907
• Indian Head, 1907 to 1933 (designed by Augustus St. Gaudens)
* Note: No Ten Dollar Gold was issued from 1805 to 1837 (1804 had only four specimens).
DOUBLE EAGLE TWENTY DOLLAR COIN
• Heraldic Eagle (no motto on reverse), 1849 to 1886 (designed by James Longacre)
• Heraldic Eagle “Coronet” (motto above eagle), 1866 to 1876
• St. Gaudens (high relief, Roman numerals), 1907 (very rare)
• St. Gaudens (Arabic numerals), 1907 to 1932
• St. Gaudens, 1933 (melted, save for an estimated 12 pieces)
* Note: 1849 Heraldic Eagle issue is unique and in the Smithsonian.
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