US Coins

American Arts Gold Medallions

The American Arts Gold Medallions predated the American Eagle bullion coin program. Shown is the 1980 half-ounce gold piece featuring Marian Anderson.

Images courtesy of

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?

Richard Santora

Address withheld

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 bullion pieces.

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, 718,376 melted.

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, 102,669 melted.

1982 — Louis Armstrong 1-ounce: 420,000 struck, 409,098 sold, 10,902 melted.

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, 335,429 melted.

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, 2,428 melted.

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.

Community Comments