Eagle (United States coin)

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The 1932 Eagle, designed by Augustus Saint-Gaudens

The eagle is a base-unit of denomination issued only for gold coinage by the United States Mint based on the original values designated by the Coinage Act of 1792. It has been obsolete as a circulating denomination since 1933. The eagle was the largest of the four main decimal base-units of denomination used for circulating coinage in the United States prior to 1933, the year when gold was withdrawn from circulation. These four main base-units of denomination were the cent, the dime, the dollar, and the eagle, where a dime is 10 cents, a dollar is 10 dimes, and an eagle is 10 dollars. The eagle base-unit of denomination served as the basis of the gold quarter-eagle (US$2.50), the gold half-eagle (US$5), the eagle (US$10), and the double-eagle coins (US$20).

With the exceptions of the gold dollar coin, the gold three-dollar coin, the three-cent nickel, and the five-cent nickel, the unit of denomination of coinage prior to 1933 was conceptually linked to the precious or semi-precious metal that constituted a majority of the alloy used in that coin. In this regard the United States followed long-standing European practice of different base-unit denominations for different precious and semi-precious metals. In the United States, the cent was the base-unit of denomination in copper. The dime and dollar were the base-units of denomination in silver. The eagle was the base-unit of denomination in gold.

The United States' circulating eagle denomination from the late 18th century to first third of the 20th century should not be confused with the American Eagle bullion coins which are manufactured from silver (since 1986), gold (since 1986) or platinum (since 1997).

Years of production, and composition[edit]

The 22 kt crown gold standard, but with over 6% silver[edit]

Quarter eagles were issued for circulation by the United States Mint from 1796 until 1929; half eagles from 1795 until 1929; eagles from 1795 to 1933; and double eagles from 1850 to 1933, although for each of these ranges of years there were occasional gaps in production. The diameter of quarter eagles was 17 mm; of half eagles 21 mm; of eagles 27 mm; and of double eagles 34 mm.

Originally the purity of all circulating gold coins in the United States was the traditional English crown gold standard of 22 karats (11 parts gold to 1 part alloy). The weight of quarter eagles was 67.5 troy grains (4.37 g); of half eagles 135 troy grains (8.75 g); of eagles 270 troy grains (17.5 g). This resulted in a gold content of 0.516 troy ounces for the eagle.

Gold content drops to a low of 21.58 kt or 89.92% in 1834[edit]

In 1834, the mint value of gold to silver of 15:1 (6.11% silver) was changed to 16:1 (5.73% silver) and the metal weight-content standards for both gold and silver coins changed, because at the old ratio and content, it was profitable to export and melt U.S gold coins. Also, the gold proportion was dropped from 22 karats (.9167 fine) to 21.58 kt (.8992 fine).

The enduring 90% gold 10% copper standard of 1837 for circulating US coins[edit]

1891-CC eagle

In 1837 a small change in the fineness of the gold (increased to exactly .900 fine) was made, and all silver was completely removed; this was in keeping with English tradition, where gold sovereigns then (and now) contained no silver. The new 1837 standard for the eagle was 258 troy grains (16.718 g) of .900 fine gold (with the alloy remainder for all U.S. coins after 1837, to .100 copper and no silver), with other coins proportionately sized.[1] The 1837 standard resulted in a gold content of only 0.9675 troy ounces of gold per double eagle and 0.48375 troy ounces for the eagle. It would be used for all circulating gold coins until U.S. gold coin circulation was halted in 1933.

Post-1982 eagle modern commemorative coins[edit]

As part of its Modern United States commemorative coins program the United States mint has issued several commemorative eagle coins. In 1984, an eagle was issued to commemorate the Summer Olympics, and in 2003 to commemorate the Wright brothers first flight at Kitty Hawk. The pre-1933 .900 fine gold standard was restored, this would also be used in half-eagle gold commemoratives as well. The coins would be identical in fineness and size to their pre-1933 counterparts of the same face value. In 2000 a unique eagle, the 2000 Library of Congress bimetallic ten dollar coin, was issued commemorating the Library of Congress; it consisted of equal weights of an approximately 1/4 oz .9995 fine platinum core and a .900 fine gold outer ring.

List of designs[edit]

  • Turban head 1795–1804
    • Turban Head, small eagle 1795–1797
    • Turban Head, large eagle 1797–1804
  • Liberty Head (Coronet) 1838–1907
    • Coronet, without motto 1838–1866
    • Coronet, with motto 1866–1907
  • Indian Head 1907–1933

See also[edit]


  1. ^ [1] Gold coin collector historical composition info. Accessed July 9, 2009.

External links and references[edit]