In 1985, I purchased two complete sets of the American Arts gold
medallions from the U.S. Mint at $330 per ounce for a total price of
$4,950. What is the status of these today, with regard to the
estimated mintage and any collector value beyond the current price of gold?
The American Arts Gold Medallions program was conducted by the
U.S. Mint from 1980 to 1984. Half-ounce and 1-ounce gold pieces,
featuring persons of importance in American culture, were issued every
year. The 1980 pieces have a composition of 90 percent gold, 10
percent copper; medallions from 1981 through 1984 are composed of 90
percent gold, 7 percent copper and 3 percent silver. All were struck
at the West Point Bullion Depository (now the West Point Mint) but do
not bear a W Mint mark.
The program was not considered a success, especially in comparison
to the later American Eagle gold bullion program, which debuted in
1986. Some collectors appreciate the pieces as collectibles, as they
all possess low mintages, but they’re still primarily seen by most as
The Aug. 9, 2010, Coin World featured a Paul Gilkes
article on the program. Shown here are mintages and sales figures:
1980 — Grant Wood 1-ounce: 500,000 struck, 312,709 sold, 187,291 melted.
1980 — Marian Anderson half-ounce: 1,000,000 struck, 281,624 sold,
1981 — Mark Twain 1-ounce: 141,000 struck, 116,371 sold, 24,269 melted.
1981 — Willa Cather half-ounce: 200,000 struck, 97,331 sold,
1982 — Louis Armstrong 1-ounce: 420,000 struck, 409,098 sold,
1982 — Frank Lloyd Wright half-ounce: 360,000 struck, 348,305
sold, 11,695 melted.
1983 — Robert Frost 1-ounce: 500,000 struck, 390,669 sold, 109,331 melted.
1983 — Alexander Calder half-ounce: 410,000 struck, 74,571 sold,
1984 — Helen Hayes 1-ounce: 35,000 struck, 33,546 sold, 1,454 melted.
1984 — John Steinbeck half-ounce: 35,000 struck, 32,572 sold,
While the Mint’s production figures give us a starting point,
there is really no telling how many medallions have been melted by
private hands since they were issued. Deciding whether to keep or sell
rests with Mr. Santora. With the spot price of gold averaging $1,650
per ounce recently, the total bullion value of the pieces now is about
five times what he paid in 1985.