From the very first issue of US coins until 1933, the United States Mint issued a number of different gold coins into circulation. The most prominent of these was the US Eagle denomination, but the US Mint also produced a relatively short-lived gold dollar coin as well. These coins were all struck with the same level of purity after 1837 and featured designs that remain popular with investors and collectors today. From certified coins to varied-condition options, it is still possible to get your hands on Pre-33 US Gold Coins at JM Bullion.
From 1795 to 1833, all US gold coins produced by the US Mint featured 22-karat gold content then-known as English crown gold. The coins were required under US law to feature 11/12 pure gold and 1/12 alloy. That same US law required the alloy to consist of only silver and copper, with silver capped at no more than half of the alloy in the coin by weight. During this period, all US gold coins had 91.67% gold content with some combination of silver and copper. Silver could comprise no more than 4.167% of the total weight of the coin, while copper could represent the additional 4.167 at a minimum or up to a maximum of 8.33% as a sole alloy.
In 1834, the United States Mint lowered the gold content in its coins. This was done in large part because the high volume of gold content in US coins at the time made it profitable for merchants to export US gold coins and melt them down outside the country. From 1834 to 1836, all US gold coins had 89.92% gold content by weight.
In 1837, Pre-33 US Gold coins were stabilized at a fineness level that would continue all the way until the end of gold coining in 1933. For all gold coins, the gold content was now set at 90% of the weight, with 10% made up of an alloy of silver and copper. Initially, from 1837-1840, the US Mint defined the proper alloy mixture as no more than 5% silver with any acceptable balance of copper up to 10%. By 1841, silver had been completely removed as an alloy and all Pre-33 US Gold Coins featured 90% gold content and 10% copper.
The most common Pre-33 US Gold Coins are those from the US Eagle denomination. When the US Mint began issuing the new US dollar-based currency in 1794 and 1795, there were five base units in use that included the mill, cent, dime, dollar, and the eagle. The base unit of the US Eagle was equivalent to $10 (USD), therefore the addition of the Half Eagle, Quarter Eagle, and Double Eagle equated to $5 (USD), $2.50 (USD), and $20 (USD) face values on the coins. The US Eagle, Half Eagle, and Quarter Eagle were all introduced in 1795. With occasional gaps in production, the Eagle was available until 1933, the Half Eagle until 1929, and the Quarter Eagle until 1929. The Double Eagle was introduced in 1850 and discontinued in 1933. These brilliant gold pieces went through various design programs, with the designs initially shared across all denominations through the end of the 19th century, and distinctive, separate design collections issued in the early 20th century to the different denominations.
Another notable change in the coins over time was the diameter of the coins as the purity levels of gold and the metallic alloys within changed (as mentioned earlier). These changes in diameter included:
Due to the influx of gold into the US Treasury as a result of the California Gold Rush, starting in 1849 the US Mint introduced a US Gold Dollar coin. This coin was available at the same time the US silver dollar was in production, but had its own unique design elements that separated it from the silver dollar in appearance, and eventually separated it visually from the coins of the US Eagle denomination. The US Gold Dollar weighed in with .04837 Troy oz of gold at the 90% gold, 10% copper mixture. The coins went through three obverse designs and two reverse designs during a 40-year production run that ended in 1889. Originally, the US Gold Dollar had a diameter of 12.7 MM, but with the introduction of its second design series, the diameter increased to 14.3 MM.
The real history of pre-1933 US gold coins dates all the way back to the end of the 18th century. The Coinage Act of 1792 was the legislation which first sanctioned the production of US coinage. Not only did the Act tell the newly established US Mint to produce coins, it also specified what coins would be produced, as well as what their face values were to be.
Two years after the Act was passed by Congress, the first US gold coins rolled off the production line. Throughout the early parts of the 19th century, the US Mint was much more focused on the production of its more standard, silver coins. It wasn’t until the 1830s and 1840s that the Eagle, Half Eagle, and Quarter Eagle gold coins became more widely produced and circulated. The Act of 1792 mandated that the Quarter Eagle carry a face value of $2.5, the Half Eagle a face value of $5, and the Eagle a face value of $10.
At the time of their minting, the gold content of these coins was more or less in line with the coin’s intrinsic worth. Nowadays, however, the legal value is dwarfed by how much the gold content alone would fetch on the open market. The California Gold Rush of the late 1840s and early 1850s kicked the production of gold US coins into overdrive as the US Mint was provided with a heavy surplus of gold from the scores of mines popping up all over the western United States.
Former circulation US gold coins are often referred to as Pre-33 Gold due to the changes that took place in US currency during the Great Depression. Faced with sinking economic vitality and financial distress in the early years of the Great Depression, the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt separated the nation’s currency from the gold standard for the first time in the nation’s history, embarking on a new model for fiat currency. As a result, the United States Mint ceased production of all forms of gold coinage in the country and has never again struck a circulation gold piece. At the same time, President Roosevelt ordered the confiscation of all circulating gold. Americans were to return their gold coins to the bank in exchange for paper money. The federal government collected the coins and melted them down into bullion coins to bolster the federal gold reserves to be stored at the new Fort Knox Gold Bullion Depository. This occurrence alone makes it extremely hard to believe that so many pre-1933 gold US coins are still on the market today.
Due to the ever-rising rarity of most pre-1933 US gold coins, their availability at JM Bullion can best be described as limited. Because these coins have been out of production for more than 80 years now, there is by no means a steady stream of them and, more often than not, when they’re sold out they’re sold out. Add this extreme rarity to the inordinately high demand for these coins and you have just given yourself as good of a reason as ever to get your hands on pre-1933 gold coins.
As is always the case, all of our certified coins will ship in their protective plastic slabs while all other raw coins will be protected by a vinyl coin flip and safely secured for shipping. All purchases over $199 will be dispatched free of charge and will be fully insured to protect against the unlikely occurrence of damage or loss.
We encourage JM Bullion customers to contact us with questions about Pre-33 US Gold Coins at 800-276-6508. You can also connect with us online using our live chat and email address features. For questions about payment options, we recommend reading our Payment Methods FAQ for quick answers to common questions. You can reach out to us for further clarification on any payment-related inquiries.