The United States gold and silver bullion coin program began with the release
of the American Eagle gold bullion coins on Oct. 20, 1986.
The American Eagle gold coins are produced in sizes and
denominations of 1-ounce, $50; half-ounce, $25; quarter-ounce, $10;
and tenth-ounce, $5.
The gold bullion coins are composed of .917 fine gold. The 1-ounce
pieces are produced with guaranteed weight planchets, each containing
a full ounce of gold. The fractional pieces are produced with average
Designs on the gold bullion coins include a modified Saint-Gaudens
Striding Liberty design on the obverse and the Family of Eagles design
by Dallas sculptor Miley Busiek (now Miley Frost) on the reverse.
In addition to the Uncirculated gold bullion coins, a Proof 1-ounce
version was issued starting in 1986. Proof versions of fractional
American Eagle gold coins (half-ounce, quarter-ounce, tenth-ounce)
were offered in subsequent years.
MORE: CoinWorld.com's precious metals basics
The American Eagle 1-ounce silver bullion coin, with a $1 face
value, was issued during first-strike ceremonies Oct. 29, 1986. The
silver coins contain 1 troy ounce of .999 fine silver. The design has
Adolph A. Weinman’s Walking Liberty design on the obverse and the
Heraldic Eagle design of John Mercanti on the reverse. A Proof version
was also offered starting in 1986.
Originally, the American Eagle silver bullion coins were minted
exclusively from silver held by the Strategic and Critical Materials
Stockpile formerly maintained by the Defense Logistics Agency under
the direction of the Defense National Stockpile Center (termed the
“National Strategic Stockpile,” for short). By the early 2000s,
though, this supply of silver was running short. Congress enacted
legislation in 2002 allowing the Secretary of the Treasury to purchase
silver on the open market.
Authorizing legislation for the American Eagle gold coins specified
that its gold must come from newly mined U.S. gold, unless it is not
available. The Treasury Department used gold reserves for the program
start-up and purchases gold on the open market when available in the
United States and from countries that are signatories to the General
Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.
Congress authorized a third American Eagle bullion coin program a
decade after the silver and gold coins were introduced. On Sept. 30,
1996, President Clinton signed into the law the authorization for the
U.S. Mint to begin striking platinum coins. The first American Eagle
platinum coins were struck in 1997. At that time, countries including
China, Russia, Australia, Isle of Man and Canada, among others, had
already been striking platinum coins for many years.
The U.S. platinum coins went on sale June 6, 1997, in denominations
of $10, $25, $50 and $100—the latter being the highest denomination
coin ever struck by the U.S. Mint. All of the platinum coins to date
have been struck at the U.S. Mint at West Point; Proof versions
therefore bear the W Mint mark. Platinum coins, because of the
hardness of the metal, must be struck several times in order for their
designs to strike up properly.
All American Eagle silver, gold and platinum coins are sold by the
U.S. Mint to a select number of authorized purchasers, who buy the
bullion pieces from the Mint at the cost of the metal in each coin
plus a premium, and then sell the coins to dealers and collectors at
an additional premium. The Mint sells the collector versions of the
coins directly to the public.
The Mint added a new type of collector American Eagle silver, gold
and platinum coin to the mix when it struck Uncirculated versions
bearing the W Mint mark in 2006 and sold the coins at premiums above
their bullion value. The Mint termed these as “Uncirculated” coins and
at the same time stopped using the word “Uncirculated” in reference to
its bullion coins, which had previously always been marketed as
“Uncirculated” (the bullion versions simply became “American Eagle
Hobbyists frequently termed these new collector Uncirculated
American Eagle coins as “Burnished Uncirculated” due to their method
of manufacture and to differentiate them from the previously struck
Uncirculated bullion coins. Burnished Uncirculated strikes were
produced from 2006 to 2008.
The American Eagle bullion coin program underwent a number of
changes in 2009, most of them unwelcomed by collectors. High demand
for precious metals, deriving from fears over an economic downturn in
the United States and elsewhere, led to record sales for the American
Eagle silver bullion coin and recent highs for the gold coin.
Since the American Eagle silver and gold programs’ debut in 1986,
the Mint had been required to meet the demand for the bullion versions
of the coin. No such requirement existed for the collector versions.
In order to meet demand for the American Eagle gold and silver
coins, the United States Mint focused its attention on the 1-ounce
versions and diverted all planchets to the bullion program. This
latter decision led the Mint to suspend Proof strikes in 2009 in favor
of bullion-only strikes. The Mint also suspended the collector
Uncirculated program. Late in 2009, the United States Mint did strike
small numbers of the fractional gold bullion coins; they sold out quickly.
Many collectors of Proof American Eagle silver and gold coins were
angered with the decision to suspend Proof production in 2009. Some
vowed to stop collecting the Proof coins if and when the Mint resumed
production. The Mint did resume when Proof strikes for the American
Eagles silver and gold coins in 2010. When this book went to press,
sales figures for the 2010 coins were incomplete, making it difficult
to judge whether collectors had kept their vows against buying the
For American Eagle platinum coins, the situation in 2009 was
reversed, with the Mint ceasing production of bullion and Uncirculated
platinum pieces, but continuing with Proof platinum strikes. In fact,
the Mint went further, discontinuing fractional platinum coins in both
2009 and 2010. As of early 2011, no American Eagle platinum bullion
coins of any size had been sold since late 2008; Mint officials were
noncommittal on whether the program would be resumed.
The above is an excerpt from the eighth edition of the
Coin World Almanac
, published by Amos Media Company in 2011.