In 1986, the United States Mint threw its hat into the ring by introducing
the American Eagle into the market place in the great international bullion coin
race. It seems no one ever acknowledged it was a race, but it was a race
for the money of the Coin Collector and the investor none the less. The
first major bullion coin to sweep the international coin market was the South
African Krugerrand in 1967. Americans were almost oblivious to its release
because they were not permitted, under an Executive Order instituted by
President Franklin D. Roosevelt, to own gold bullion. By the time that law
was reversed, United Nations' sanctions were in place against South Africa for
their Apartheid Law thereby preventing the Krugerrands exposure to Americans
until 1989. Not only did the United States observe the U.N. sanctions, but
so did many of the other countries worldwide. This left a huge vacuum
within the investment market, and it was one many countries decided to fill.
One of the first was Canada with the Maple Leaf, but finally the United States
realized that there was a place for the American Eagle Coins too.
The first of the American Eagle coinage released into the marketplace
was the Silver Eagle, a single one troy ounce, .999 fine coin, and four Gold
Eagle coins, a 1-ounce, 1/2-ounce, 1/4-ounce and 1/10-ounce troy, that are .9167
fine. The obverse designs chosen for the Silver and Gold Eagles were those
lauded as the most beautiful in American coinage. The Silver Eagle copied
that of the Walking Liberty Half Dollar (1916-1947) designed by Adolph A.
Weinman. The reverse of the Silver Eagle depicts a rendition of the
heraldic eagle designed by John Mercanti. The obverse of the Gold Eagle is
based on the design of Augustus Saint-Gaudens' $20 Gold piece (1907-1933).
The reverse of the Gold Eagle displays what is called a "family of eagles"
designed by Mrs. Miley Busiek and engraved by Sherl J. Winter. From 1986
through 1991, the dates displayed on the Gold Eagles were in Roman numerals,
and converted to Arabic numbers in 1992. For the first year of issue, the
only proof coins produced were the one-ounce Silver Eagle and the one-ounce Gold
Eagle. In the second year, the proofs that were produced were the
one-ounce Silver Eagle, and the one-ounce and 1/2-ounce Gold Eagles.
The distribution of the American Eagle Coins to the general public is unique
among all the bullion coinage worldwide. Although the proof coinage is
sold directly to the consumer by the U.S. Mint, on a first come first served
basis, the uncirculated coinage is not. The U.S. Mint has set up a fairly
complicated application structure whereby only a select few Coin Dealers qualify
to purchase the uncirculated issues directly from the mint. These
qualified Dealers purchase the coins for the spot price of the metal
plus a small premium. All other Coin Dealers and the general public must
purchase the uncirculated American Eagles that have been distributed through
these qualified Dealers. In most cases, the uncirculated American
Eagles have traveled through the hands of two or three or more Coin Dealers
before reaching the collector. Many Coin Dealers feel it is an unfair
system of distribution which favors a select few, and demonstrates a total
disregard for the Coin Collector or consumer, but it is the system that the
government has created in which we all must work.
In 1997, the U.S. Mint introduced the Platinum Eagle in the 1-ounce,
1/2-ounce, 1/4-ounce, and 1/10-ounce sizes with a composition of .9995 fine
platinum. The obverse depicts a portrait of the bust of the Statue of
Liberty designed by John Mercanti, and the reverse, which changes annually,
features the American bald eagle against various backgrounds. Within the
past couple of years, there have been rumors of the U.S. Mint discontinuing the
platinum series just as many other countries have done; however, this is only
conjecture, and if the mint remains true to form, they will not announce the
last year of issue prior to the release for fear it will create a collectible
within the market place resulting in increased values.
The American Eagle coinage is one of the more successful programs instituted
by the U.S. Mint, and has a loyal following worldwide. The eagles are
struck at the Philadelphia, San Francisco and West Point facilities, and can be
identified through their mintmarks, or lack of a mintmark. It has
fulfilled a need, and has competed successfully against the Canadian Maple Leaf,
the China Panda, the Australian Nugget (Kangaroo), the South African Krugerrand
and Natura, as well as the British Britannia. For additional information
on the American Eagle Coin Series or for mintage numbers visit the U.S. mint
website at www.usmint.gov.