How to Tell the Difference Between the Size and Value of U.S. Gold Coins

As a leading gold coin dealer in Atlanta, we frequently hear from individuals that are interested in selling U.S. gold coins, but oftentimes there’s a disconnect between the type of coin that the individual has available for sale and the coin that they’ve described to us.  This isn’t completely unexpected, especially for individuals that are new to buying or selling gold coins, as the United States has produced various types of gold coins throughout its history.  In fact, some gold coins can have the same face value but differing purities and gold content, based on the year in which the coins were minted.  The purpose of this article is to provide a brief history of some of the most frequently bought and sold U.S. minted gold coins, and offer some insight in hopes that sellers of gold coins can benefit from this information and increase their chances of a successful transaction.

Liberty Gold Coins (1840 – 1907)

You can’t have a discussion of U.S. minted gold coins without mentioning the word “Liberty.”  Not only is the term “Liberty” associated with our nation’s history and a symbol of freedom, but the image of Lady Liberty is prominently featured on most U.S gold coins.  While various images of Lady Liberty ordain most U.S. minted gold coins, both old and new, only one coin is technically referred to as a Liberty gold coin.  In fact, it’s more commonly referred to as a Liberty Head gold coin. These coins were minted from 1840 – 1907 and display a side profile of Lady Liberty on the obverse of the coin and an eagle with a shield on the reverse side.

Four denominations of Liberty Head gold coins exist, including a $2.50, $5, $10 and $20 coin.   They roughly equate to 1/8, 1/4, 1/2 and 1 ounce of gold, respectively.  The coins are composed of 90% gold and were used as lender tender until 1933.  Below is an image of a $20 Liberty Head gold coin:

$20 Liberty Head Double Eagle

St. Gaudens Double Eagle (1907 – 1933)

The St. Gaudens Double Eagle is quite possibly the most beautiful U.S. gold coin ever minted.  It’s also well recognized throughout the world, and is sought after by coin collectors and gold bullion investors alike.  The face value of the coin is $20, and the gold content is slightly less than one troy ounce of gold. The obverse of the coin features a front profile of Lady Liberty walking with a staff in hand, and the reverse displays a side profile of a flying eagle.  These coins were minted from 1907 – 1933, after which time the U.S. made it illegal to own and use gold bullion coins as legal tender.  This law was eventually overturned in 1974.

St. Gaudens $20 Gold Coin

Indian Head Gold Coins (1908 – 1933)

Indian gold coins were minted from 1908 – 1933 and are available in three denominations, including $2.50, $5 and $10.  As with the Liberty Head gold coins, this roughly translates into an 1/8, 1/4 and 1/2 ounce of gold, respectively.  The $2.50 Indian Head gold coin is the most popular and typically contains more collectible or numismatic value than the larger denomination coins.  While the $5 Indian Head gold coin also has some collectible value, the $10 Indian Head gold coin is more or less considered a gold bullion coin, unless you happen to have a key date coin or an uncirculated specimen of this coin.  The images on the $2.50 and $5 Indian Head gold coins vary slightly from the $10 Indian Head gold coin.  The $2.50 and $5 Indian Head gold coins feature a Native American wearing a headdress on the front and a perched eagle on the reverse.  The $10 Indian Head gold coin features a side profile of Lady Liberty wearing an Indian Headdress on the front and a perched eagle on the reverse.

Indian Head Gold Coin

American Gold Eagles (1986 – current)

While prospective gold coin sellers may refer to their gold coins in various ways, the most common American gold coins that are bought and sold in the U.S. are American gold eagles.  The inaugural year of production for American gold eagles was in 1986.  Four denominations of these coins exist, including $5, $10, $25 and $50 gold coins.  While the coins can be used as legal tender, as was the case with the aforementioned gold coins, the gold value of the coins well exceeds the face value, so it would be in your best interest to sell your gold eagles for the gold value as opposed to the face value.

While some of the denominations of American gold eagles are similar to the previously mentioned coins, the gold content varies.  The four denominations of gold eagles of $5, $10, $25 and $50 equate to a 1/10 ounce, 1/4 ounce, 1/2 ounce and 1 ounce of gold respectively.  One of the most common errors made is with respect to the $5 American gold eagle, as it’s frequently confused with the $5 Liberty Head gold coin.  This can be an unexpected surprise, especially when you were expecting to be paid for the equivalent of a quarter ounce of gold, only to find your in-person offer is that for a 1/10 ounce gold coin.

American Gold Eagles

In summary, it’s important to understand the types of coins in your possession and how they translate into the gold weight before selling your gold coins.  Pay special attention to the features noted above, and when in doubt, provide the date of the coin and the face value to your gold coin dealer.  This will help to resolve any question as to the type of gold coin that you have in your possession.

Tony Davis
Tony Davis