In December 1985, the first year of his second presidential term, Ronald Reagan signed the Gold Bullion Act of 1985, officially authorizing the newly conceived Gold American Eagle coin. The coin would be released for the first time by the U.S. Mint the following year.
As the official gold bullion coin of the United States, the U.S. Mint issues a standard “Business Strike” version, intended for general bullion circulation, and a much smaller number of investment-grade Proof coins that are geared toward precious metals investors each year. In 1986, the coin’s first year in circulation, only a one-ounce version was released, followed by both one-ounce and half-ounce versions in 1987. Each year since, the Mint has released these initial one and half-ounce sizes, in addition to quarter-ounce and one-tenth-ounce variations. Although not necessarily reflective or the coins’ realized values, each size boasts a respective face value: $50 for the one-ounce coin, $25 for the half-ounce, $10 for the quarter-ounce and $5 for the one-tenth-ounce version. Gold American Eagles in all four denominations are legal tender and guaranteed by the U.S. government to contain the amount of gold in troy ounces as indicated in their inscriptions.
Pursuant to the Gold Bullion Act of 1985, and undoubtedly contributing significantly to the coins’ popularity, Gold American Eagles must be struck of gold mined in the United States, making it a truly American coin. Additionally, the coins are alloyed with silver and copper to produce a durable investment piece more resilient and resistant to commonplace wear and tear than purely gold pieces. The resulting 22-karat gold composition, or 91.67% pure gold, is the English standard traditionally dubbed “crown gold.” Crown gold alloys had not been used in United States coinage since 1834, making the Gold American Eagle’s inaugural run the first time in 150 years the standard was employed.
Although Gold American Eagles as we know them today came about toward the end of the 20th century, the term “eagle” dates back to the pre-1933 era of American coinage, when the country – and the world – was still on the gold standard.
Beginning in 1792 when American coinage was officially instituted by the Coinage Act of that year, the term “eagle” was a standard unit of money representing ten U.S. dollars ($10). Along with this initial $10 base unit came smaller eagle derivatives of $5 – the "half-eagle" – $2.50 – the "quarter-eagle" – and eventually, in 1849, the higher-valued "double eagle," which represented USD 20.
The Coinage Act of 1792 was the first time coinage in the U.S. was regulated and made uniform at the federal level. It was a landmark piece of legislation that, in addition to instituting American currency and creating a national Mint, established the dollar as the nation's standard unit of money. This initial act would be followed up by several subsequent coinage acts, each leaving their unique mark on the monetary system of the United States.
The Pre-1933 Eagle was produced and circulated in coin form from 1792 to 1933 and brought about some of the country’s most notable and highly revered currency designs. Perhaps the most famous numismatic work of art born out of the Gold American Eagle series is the beloved Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ double eagle design.
Early-20th century Eagles were discontinued in 1933 when then-President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Executive Order 6102 “forbidding the Hoarding of gold coin, gold bullion, and gold certificates within the continental United States.” The order was intended to curb the noted “hoarding” that was presumably fallout from the economic strain and general hardship inflicted by the Great Depression. The following year, Congress passed the Gold Reserve Act, which stripped gold coins of their legal tender status and halted the circulation and private possession of American gold coins altogether (although collector coins remained exempt from the stipulations).