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 weight planchets.
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.
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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.