The pre-1933 gold coin denominations from the United States Mint refer to a set of gold coins that were minted and circulated in the United States before the gold recall of 1933. These coins played a crucial role in the nation’s economy, trade, and currency system.
The Coinage Act of 1792 established a 22-karat purity level for US gold coins that saw the US Mint use 91.67% gold in its metallic alloy, while allowing for no more than 4.167% silver and 4.167% or up to 8.33% copper (depending on the amount of silver in the alloy).
In 1834, Congress passed the Coinage Act of 1834 to keep gold content in American coins in-line with the overall value of gold. It had become common practice to export US gold coins overseas during this period to melt them down because the gold value was so much higher than the face value. The Coinage Act of 1834 reduced gold purity in American coins to .8922 purity.
In 1837, the passage of the Coinage Act of 1837 stabilized gold purity in US gold coins for the remainder of the circulation use of these coins. At this point, the gold-copper alloy was balanced at 90% gold-10% copper. This continued through 1933.
The double eagle was the largest denomination of gold coin produced by the U.S. Mint. It was first introduced in 1850 and went through several design changes over the years. Notable designs included the Liberty Head design, which featured Lady Liberty on the obverse and a heraldic eagle on the reverse, and the Saint-Gaudens design, considered one of the most beautiful coin designs in U.S. history. The Saint-Gaudens double eagle featured a dynamic depiction of Liberty on the obverse and an American eagle in flight on the reverse.
The eagle coin had a $10 face value and was introduced in 1795. Like the double eagle, it underwent various design changes throughout its history. The original designs featured a depiction of Liberty on the obverse and an eagle on the reverse. The designs evolved to reflect changing artistic and aesthetic sensibilities.
The half eagle was introduced in 1795 and had a $5 face value. Its designs, similar to other gold coins, changed over time. Some prominent designs included the Turban Head, Classic Head, and Liberty Head motifs. The Liberty Head half eagle design, with a profile of Liberty on the obverse and an eagle on the reverse, was particularly iconic.
The quarter eagle was the smallest denomination of pre-1933 gold coinage, with a $2.50 face value. It was first minted in 1796 and, like other gold coins, underwent design changes over the years. Notable designs included depictions of Liberty and the American eagle.
Introduced in 1849 and available through 1889, the US $1 Gold Coin featured three unique obverse designs and two reverse iterations:
The $3 gold coin was introduced in 1854 and used in circulation through 1889. The coin was known for its unique denomination. It was originally intended to facilitate the purchase of sheets of 100 postage stamps, which cost $3 at the time. The coin’s design featured Liberty as a Native American princess on the obverse and a wreath with the denomination on the reverse. These coins featured two reverse iterations: one small dollar and one larger dollar. This refers to the inscription of the world DOLLARS on the reverse. The initial design in 1854 featured a smaller stamp of the word dollars, while the text was increased in size start in 1855.
Both the $1 and $3 gold coins were relatively small in size and had limited circulation due to their unusual denominations. While they may not have been as widely used in everyday transactions as other gold coins, they have become valuable and sought-after collectibles today. Their distinct designs, historical context, and scarcity make them fascinating pieces of American numismatic history.
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