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As is the case with world silver bullion coins, which were covered in December, world gold bullion coins are popular with gold bullion investors and gold coin collectors. Modern world gold coins appeal both to those looking to accumulate gold and buyers who enjoy collecting such coins for their designs, low mintages, and high quality.
Graded examples of even common modern bullion coins have become increasingly popular with buyers in recent years because of the security they provide as coins that are guaranteed to be authentic, especially given the proliferation of fake coins in the marketplace in recent years.
Although many countries issue gold coins, and do so in a wide range of sizes and formats, there are ten major one-ounce gold coins that dominate the modern world gold coin market, and most of them are issued in fractional sizes and collector versions as well. The most popular sizes for these coins are one ounce, half ounce, quarter ounce, and one-tenth ounce, and the one-ounce coins are invariably the most popular ones.
American Gold Eagles — These coins have been minted since 1986 in both proof and uncirculated formats and since 2006 on burnished uncirculated planchets. They were created to meet the increased demand for gold bullion coins in the 1980’s when South African gold Krugerrands were illegal in the U.S. because of apartheid. Gold Eagles are extremely popular with U.S. buyers because of their backing by the U.S. government for the weight, purity, and gold content, which is 91.67% gold, 3% silver, and the rest copper, which makes the coins more durable than pure gold coins. They are also popular because of the obverse design, which recreates the classic Augustus Saint-Gaudens $20 Double Eagle gold coin obverse that is widely considered the most attractive American coin design of all time.
In addition to the proof and burnished versions that are sought by collectors for their high quality and low mintages, the regular bullion coins also come in half-, quarter-, and one-tenth-ounce sizes, and are collected in both ungraded and graded examples. The half-ounce bullion coins include some very low mintage issues especially from the mid-1990s, which are very rare in MS70 with one recent example selling at auction for tens of thousands of dollars. In 2006 to mark the 20th anniversary of the program a special 3-coin Gold Eagle set was released that included a reverse proof coin only sold in that set plus proof and burnished coins also available separately.
After declining in late 2014, sales of these coins got off to a strong start this January as gold spot prices took off. The bullion coins are sold through the Mint’s network of Authorized Purchasers, while the special collector versions are sold directly by the Mint to collectors at premium prices.
American Gold Buffalos — During the tenure of Edmund Moy, the last appointed Director of the U.S. Mint, the Mint vastly expanded its range of precious metal offerings, including initiating a new one-ounce gold coin series, the American Gold Buffalo, minted in uncirculated and proof finish. With the exception of 2008, when fractional proof and burnished versions were also struck, these coins have been issued since 2006 as one-ounce pieces. They are popular primarily because they provide a larger canvas version of the iconic Buffalo Nickel design of James Earle Fraser, perhaps the second most favorite coin design in American history after the Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle.
In 2013 to mark the 100th anniversary of the first issuance of the nickels the Mint issued a special reverse proof version. The 2008 proof and burnished coins of all sizes are the keys to the series, although the 2013 proof coin has a slightly lower mintage and may someday carry a higher premium unless a lower mintage proof coin is issued later.
Canadian Gold Maple Leaf — Issued since 1979 these are the first .9999 pure gold coins ever minted and are struck in fractional sizes as small as 1/10 of an ounce. In 2014 a 25 gram version was introduced. hey are especially popular with bullion investors for several reasons. First, their pure gold content makes it easy for the investor to know exactly how much gold they are getting when they buy a Gold Maple Leaf. Second, they tend to be sold for one of the lowest premiums over melt value of any modern gold bullion coin, especially in the one-ounce version, allowing the buyer to maximize the amount of gold they get for their money.
For 2015 some unique security features were added to these coins including radial lines and a small Maple Leaf privy mark. These coins are also the second oldest modern world bullion coins after Krugerrands.
Austrian Philharmonic — Created as a tribute to the famous Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, the Austrian Gold Philharmonic coin has been issued since 1989. It is also issued in fractional sizes as small as 1/25 of an ounce. It is popular for its attractive design and its 99.99% gold purity, and is one of the best-selling low-premium gold coins in the world. In 1992, 1996, and 1996 it was the best-selling gold coin in the world, according to the World Gold Council.
South African Krugerrand — First issued in 1967 to market the huge gold deposits of South Africa, the Krugerrand is not only the world’s oldest bullion coin, but has also always been one of the most popular ones. Like American Gold Eagles these coins are not made of pure gold. Instead they also include copper to make them for durable and are made from gold that is .9167% pure. The coins were made this way because they were originally intended to serve as currency.
Because it had few major competitors, especially until the Gold Maple Leaf and American Gold Eagle came along (apart from older gold coins such as British Sovereigns) by 1982 it accounted for most of the privately-held gold coins in the world. Fractional versions began in 1980 and are minted in as small as 1/10th-ounce coins. It is estimated there are 50 million ounces of gold made from Krugerrands. Proof versions in low mintages are also issued but seldom seen.
UK Gold Britannia — The Royal Mint in the United Kingdom issues three lines of gold coins: the classic British sovereign, which has .2354 ounces of gold, and has been minted for hundreds of years; the Gold Britannia, issued since 1987, in sizes between one ounce and one-tenth ounce plus special proof versions for collectors as small as 1/20th of an ounce; and beginning in 2013 Gold Lunar coins which began with the 2014 Year of the Horse (issued to correspond with the Chinese Lunar Calendar which begins in the fall of the previous year) and continued with the 2015 Year of the Sheep coins.
The Lunar series is also issued in proof versions, and in addition Lunar privy mark examples of the one-ounce Gold Britannia have been issued for the Year of the Horse, which carry a mintage of only 10,000 pieces.
Gold sovereigns are probably the most widely traded gold coin in the world because they have been around so long and are accessible to buyers of modest means because of their small size. They are also issued in proof and in larger sizes for collectors, and in some years like 2011 and 2014 special double sovereign were released.
Gold Britannias were initially made of .917% pure gold and were alloyed with copper, but in 1990 they were alloyed with silver, and starting with the 2013 issues they have been struck in .9999 pure gold, which is especially popular with buyers in foreign countries.
Among the major world bullion coins Britannias have typically not been as widely sold in the U.S., especially in their fractional versions, but in 2014 they began to be more widely available. For 2015 the reverse design’s background was changed from a brilliant to a matte design as with the silver version.
Mexican Gold Libertads — Issued since 1981 these coins are struck in pure, 99.99% gold and since 1991 in fractional sizes as small as 1/20th of an ounce. The coins bear the same gorgeous designs as their silver counterparts and are also issued in proof. Their chief distinction among other world bullion coins apart from their stunning designs is their incredibly small mintages often as low as several hundred each for the uncirculated and proof examples. In 2014 the proof versions hit a new low of only 250 coins per denomination except for the half ounce coin of which 300 were struck.
If these coins carried premiums that truly reflected their scarcity they would cost multiples of what they normally sell for, especially if purchased soon after they are first released. They typically sell out very quickly at the limited number of major dealers who distribute them and are very hard to find after that. With the increase in their popularity among collectors and the rise of the middle class in Mexico the market for these coins should continue to grow, especially in Mexico and the U.S. They are perhaps the ultimate “sleeper” modern bullion gold series that has great potential for long-term price appreciation apart from their gold content.
2015 Libertads are the only major world gold bullion coin that is not available by the beginning of the year and are usually issued sometime in the spring.
Chinese Gold Pandas — Minted since 1982 Gold Panda coins are struck from 99.99% pure gold and are issued in fractional sizes as small as 1/20th of an ounce. The coins from the first couple years were issued in very small mintages as low as a little over 13,000 and many sell for a substantial premium. Those issues are really collector rather than bullion coins at this point in time. In recent years mintage levels have been increased for all sizes of Gold Pandas to accommodate the growing Chinese and global markets for them, and the half- and quarter-ounce coins currently have the lowest mintages. These coins have a huge following in China and around the world and are beloved for their images of cuddly Pandas that are different each year.
In 2015 as with their silver counterparts the weight and purity of the gold coins was removed from the design. There are also special five ounce, twelve ounce and kilo versions issued in very small numbers, many of which are extremely rare and valuable, particularly because the maturity of the Chinese coin market has helped push prices up for such issues.
Australian Gold Lunar Series — The Perth Mint in Australia has been issuing two series of 12-piece Lunar coins in silver and gold beginning with series 1 (1996-2007) and continuing with series 2 (2008-present). A different animal in the Chinese Lunar calendar is depicted each year on these coins. As with the silver coins where only the one-ounce version has a pre-set mintage limit, the gold one-ounce coin is also the only one in that series that has a mintage limit, which is 30,000 each year. The other coins are struck to demand during the period they are available from the Mint, and that still results in many coins which have low mintages compared to most world bullion issues. However, the one-ounce gold coins are the most sought-after and carry the largest aftermarket premiums. In addition, certain animals tend to be more popular than others, and dragon coins are especially popular in Asia and Europe.
The 2015 Lunar series 2 coins depict the Year of the Goat and bear a different image than their silver counterparts. They range in size from kilos down to 1/20th of an ounce.
Australian Gold Kangaroo — Starting in 1987 the Perth Mint has issued gold coins that bear the image of the iconic Australian kangaroo, though the first coins in the series depicted gold nuggets. These coins have been issued in sizes as small as 1/20th of an ounce and as large as over 32,000 ounces, the world’s largest gold coin. But the most popular coins in the series are struck in the typical four sizes of ounce, half ounce, quarter ounce, and one-tenth ounce. Their mintages vary greatly by year, and a different kangaroo image is used each year. There are also proof versions.
The major modern world bullion coins discussed above offer the buyer a wide range of options. Some coins such as American Gold Eagles, Canadian Gold Maple Leafs, and Austrian Gold Philharmonics can be purchased for very low premiums over their gold content, but are also widely collected by year even in their bullion form. Others such as Chinese Gold Pandas and the various Australian Gold coins combine changing designs with mintages that are lower than the U.S., Canadian, and Austrian coins, which over time results in higher values for many of these coins. And as mentioned Mexican Gold Libertads have the lowest mintage of any major bullion coin, and if the buyer purchases them when they are first available and gives it time, they will often see a significant appreciation in their investment, and those higher premiums also serve as a useful hedge against fluctuating gold prices.
||Louis is an award-winning numismatic journalist and writer specializing on modern coins. He has been writing a weekly column for CoinWeek since May 2011 called “The Coin Analyst,” which focuses primarily on modern U.S. and world coins and developments at major world mints. In August 2015 he received the Numismatic Literary Guild’s award for Best Website Column for “The Coin Analyst.” He is also a contributor to several magazines, including Coin World, where he writes a bimonthly feature;The Numismatist, the American Numismatic Association’s monthly publication, where he writes a monthly column on modern world coins; and American Hard Assets. He began writing about coins in 2009. He is a founding member of the Modern Coin Forum hosted by ModernCoinMart and has written articles for MCM since 2014. He has collected classic and modern U.S. and world coins since he was about 10 and first joined the ANA in the 1970’s. He was previously a congressional relations specialist and policy analyst at the Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress and a syndicated columnist and news analyst on international politics and national security for a wide variety of publications. He has been writing professionally since the early 1980s.|