Set Building - American Gold Eagles

Posted on 2/12/2015

Collecting American Gold Eagles is an attractive endeavor for a lot of numismatists.

My last article examined the fascinating phenomenon of the annual rush for American Silver Eagles that occurs in January. As mentioned, thousands of collectors are actively involved in the series. A set of American Silver Eagles are affordable and can be completed with a modest cash outlay. Silver Eagles have been produced since 1986, and there are about 40 different Mint State issues and about 35 different Proof issues. The Mint has also sold several special finish coins for collectors, including Reverse Proof and Enhanced Uncirculated. Finally, the coins contain one ounce of pure silver and have an impressive physical appearance.

This all contrasts sharply with the other coins in the Eagles series—American Gold Eagles. The coins range in size and are produced in 1/10 ounce, 1/4 ounce, 1/2 ounce and 1 ounce. The Mint began producing these in 1986 in accordance with the Gold Bullion Coin Act of 1985. The coins are guaranteed by the United States government to contain the stated amount of gold and are required to contain gold sourced in America. The obverse features a modern rendition of the Augustus Saint-Gaudens double eagle design first used in 1907. Coins struck from 1986 to 1991 are dated with Roman numerals. In 1992 the Mint switched to Arabic numerals. The reverse design is by Miley Busiek, and features a male eagle carrying an olive branch above a nest with a female eagle and hatchlings. These bullion coins are legal tender and carry face values of $5, $10, $25 and $50. Recently produced coins usually sell for a small premium to their bullion value.

Collecting a set of American Gold Eagles is a much bigger challenge than the Silver counterpart. There are over 240 different issues of American Gold Eagles in Mint State and Proof. The coins are also much harder to find in superb condition. Most of the early issue uncirculated coins were sold simply for bullion without special care to preservation. Gold is extremely soft and the coins were usually shipped in rolls. Even minimal contacts with other examples preclude the vast majority of the coins from grading MS 70. A complete set of Gold Eagles in both striking formats contains over 100 ounces of gold. This makes for a six-figure investment regardless of grade. The challenge to collecting the series is truly immense.

Regardless of the challenge, collecting American Gold Eagles is an attractive endeavor for a lot of numismatists. As mentioned above, the coins feature the extremely popular design of Augustus Saint-Gaudens. This alone is the sole reason for many collectors to purchase them. The coins are obviously a great bullion play, with many of the coins available for a relatively small premium to melt value. The coins were also struck in much smaller numbers than the American Silver Eagles and are legitimately rare coins, especially in superb condition.

There are several ways to collect this series, some of which fit the budgets of most collectors or investors. For beginners I would suggest assembling a complete set from 1986 to date of the 1/10 ounce coins in MS 69 and PF 69. The set contains over 50 coins, many of which can be purchased for less than $200 each. After this has been accomplished a collector may then choose to move on to the higher denominations as budgets allow. Gold bullion prices have been somewhat depressed for an extended period and now could be a great time to purchase bullion related coins. A complete set of any denomination is quite impressive, and will give collectors a feel for the difficulty of the task.

Another popular way to collect the series is to purchase a complete set of PF 69 American Gold Eagles. The set contains over 100 different issues, each of which is stunningly attractive. As many know, collecting vintage 1858-1915 Proof American gold coinage is an almost impossible job. Only a handful of legendary numismatists have come close to completing a set, including famous names such as Trompeter, Bass and Eliasberg. Completing a set of Proof gold eagles is expensive for the average collector but at least doable.

The same set can be attempted in Mint State. Many of the Mint State issues are actually quite scarce in MS 69 and finding these will be a challenge even for the most aggressive collector. As mentioned above, several of these have low mintages, some below 25,000 coins. One of the key dates (mintage 24,100) for the series in Mint State is the 1991 $25. The coin is listed on the NGC US Coin Price Guide for $4,700 in MS 69. There are several others as they were not carefully handled when issued, and choice coins are actually quite scarce. Again, the set is possible to assemble for anyone with patience and enough money.

As most everyone knows, coin collectors love quality and the American Gold Eagle series is no different. The ultimate challenge for this series is to collect them in MS 70 and PF 70. A complete collection of the entire series in this grade is monumentally difficult. Regardless of your financial resources it will take YEARS to accomplish. I would estimate that a complete set of American Gold Eagles in MS 70 and PF 70 would be valued at over $500,000. For collectors with more modest means I would suggest concentrating on the coins in PF 70. A set of the 1/10 ounce coins can be purchased for around $10,000. These and the other denominations are popular with Registry Set collectors.

The real challenge for the series is collecting the coins in MS 70. The American Gold Eagles struck from 1986 to around 2000 are full of serious condition rarities. Several of the coins have NGC populations of less than 10 coins. The 1989 and 1994 $50 1 ounce coins both have NGC populations of only 8 coins. The last 1989 example sold for over $25,000 auction. No examples of the 1994 have been offered in recent memory.

The coins were not carefully saved and even today, very few are added to the population reports on a regular basis. When an early roll of the coins shows up on the marketplace, most of the them have considerable marks that preclude them from grading MS 70. The coins are legitimately rare, and are very likely to remain so.

Collecting American Gold Eagles in MS 70 is extremely difficult for several reasons. Many of the coins are very rare and finding them is next to impossible. Most of the coins that have been graded at this level are in closely held collections. I could locate a dozen superb 1907 High Reliefs at a single coin show, but would see not see a single rare issue, American Gold Eagle in MS 70. The coins also very rarely show up at auction. I have not seen a single set of MS 70 American Gold Eagles cross the auction blocks—ever! This is pretty amazing considering the billions of dollars that have been sold by rare coin auction houses in the last few years. When one of the very rare issues does show up at auction, collectors of the series engage in mortal combat to seize the opportunity.

For someone with adequate funds who likes an incredible challenge, collecting American Gold Eagles will be a fun and rewarding experience. I suggest working with someone familiar with the series to assist your collecting. Many know the players involved and will be a great help finding coins to fill your set. Whether you start with a modest set of the 1/10 ounce coins or go for the ultimate challenge, you are sure to enjoy the journey.

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