Traditionally, gold coins have been circulation coins, including coin-like bracteates and dinars. Since recent decades, however, gold coins are mainly produced as bullion coins to investors and as commemorative coins to collectors. While also modern gold coins are legal tender, they are not observed in everyday financial transactions, as the metal value normally exceeds the nominal value. For example, the American Gold Eagle, given a denomination of 50 USD, has a metal value of more than 1,000 USD.
The gold reserves of central banks are dominated by gold bars, but gold coins may occasionally contribute.
Gold has been used as money for many reasons. It is fungible, with a low spread between the prices to buy and sell. Gold is also easily transportable, as it has a high value to weight ratio, compared to other commodities, such as silver. Gold can be re-coined, divided into smaller units, or re-melted into larger units such as gold bars, without destroying its metal value. The density of gold is higher than most other metals, making it difficult to pass counterfeits. Additionally, gold is extremely unreactive, hence it does not tarnish or corrode over time.
Fineness of Gold Coins
Coins are usually made of an alloy as other metals are mixed into the coin to make it more durable. Fineness is the actual gold content in a coin or bar and expressed as a “per mil,” or thousandths. For example, a gold ingot identified as being .999 fine will be 999/1000 pure gold, with the other 1/1000 being an alloy.
Karat weight (K or kt) is a traditional fraction-based system used to denote the fineness of gold, with one karat being equal to 1/24 part of pure gold in an alloy. With the precision of modern assaying techniques, however, the fineness of gold ingots and bullion is more likely to appear as a decimal measurement. In this system, pure gold would be denoted as 1.000 fine. However, since absolutely pure gold is very soft and therefore not suitable for coinage or ingots, it is generally accepted worldwide that anything above .999 fine qualifies as 24K. Below is a karat weight to fineness conversion chart.
Correlation between karats and fineness
24 karats = .999 fine or above
23 karats = .958 fine
22 karats = .917 fine (the UK gold coin standard)
21 karats = .875 fine
20 karats = .833 fine
18 karats = .750 fine
16 karats = .667 fine
14 karats = .583 fine
10 karats = .417 fine
The fineness is often converted to a percent, as well. If a gold coin has a fineness of .900, that is 90.0% pure gold. If a gold coin has a fineness of .850, then the gold coin is 85.0% pure.
Coins have varied greatly in fineness through history. Notable historical standards that were closely adhered-to include the crown gold (22 karat) used in all English gold coins intended for circulation from 1526 onward, and 0.900 fine (21.6 kt), the standard for all American circulation-coins from 1837 onward.
Fineness is not the only way to value a gold coin; a great deal of value in collector coins comes from condition and rarity. To a far lesser extent, even the value of gold bullion coins is influenced by their physical condition.
Many factors determine the value of a gold coin, such as its rarity, age, condition and the number originally minted. Gold coins coveted by collectors include the Aureus, Solidus and Spur Royal.
In July 2002, a very rare $20 1933 Double Eagle gold coin sold for a record $7,590,020 at Sotheby’s, making it by far the most valuable coin ever sold up to that time (a 1794 Flowing Hair Dollar sold for over $10 million in January 2013). In early 1933, more than 445,000 Double Eagle coins were struck by the U.S. Mint, but most of these were surrendered and melted down following Executive Order 6102. Only a few coins survived.
In 2007 the Royal Canadian Mint produced a 100 kilograms (220 lb) gold coin with a face value of $1,000,000, though the gold content was worth over $2 million at the time. It measures 50 centimetres (20 in) in diameter and is 3 centimetres (1.2 in) thick. It was intended as a one-off to promote a new line of Canadian Gold Maple Leaf coins, but after several interested buyers came forward the mint announced it would manufacture them as ordered and sell them for between $2.5 million and $3 million. As of May 3, 2007, there were five orders. One of these coins has been stolen when it was on exhibition at the Bode Museum in Berlin.
Austria had previously produced a 37 centimetres (15 in) diameter 31 kg Philharmonic gold coin with a face value of €100,000.
On October 4, 2007, David Albanese (president of Albanese Rare Coins) stated that a $10, 1804-dated eagle coin (made for President Andrew Jackson as a diplomatic gift) was sold to an anonymous private collector for $5 million.
In 2012 the Royal Canadian Mint produced the world first gold coin with a 0.11-0.14ct diamond. The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee coin has been crafted in 99.999% pure gold with a face value of $300.
Precious metals in bulk form are known as bullion, and are traded on commodity markets. Bullion metals may be cast into ingots, or minted into coins. The defining attribute of bullion is that it is valued by its mass and purity rather than by a face value as money. While obsolete gold coins are primarily collected for their numismatic value, gold bullion coins today derive their value from the metal (gold) content — and as such are viewed by some investors as a “hedge” against inflation or a store of value. Many nations mint bullion coins. According to British HM Revenue & Customs investment coins are generally coins that have been minted after 1800, have a purity of not less than 900 thousandths, or have been legal tender in its country of origin. Although nominally issued as legal tender, these coins’ face value as currency is far below that of their value as bullion.
The European Commission publishes annually a list of gold coins which must be treated as investment gold coins in all EU Member States. The list has legal force and supplements the law. In the United Kingdom, HM Revenue and Customs have added an additional list of gold coins alongside the European Commission list. These are gold coins that HM Revenue & Customs recognise as falling within the exemption for investment gold coins. This second list does not have legal force.
South Africa introduced the Krugerrand in 1967 to cater to this market; this was the reason for its convenient and memorable gold content — exactly one troy ounce. It was the first modern, low-premium (i.e. priced only slightly above the bullion value of the gold) gold bullion coin. Bullion coins are also produced in fractions of an ounce – typically half ounce, quarter ounce, and one-tenth ounce. Bullion coins sometimes carry a face value as legal tender. The face value is minted on the coin, and it is done so in order to bestow legal tender status on a coin, which generally makes it easier to import or export across national borders, as well as subject to laws against counterfeiting. However, their real value is measured as dictated by their troy weight, the current market price of the precious metal contained, and the prevailing premium that market wishes to pay for those particular bullion coins. The face value is always significantly less than the bullion value of the coin. Legal tender bullion coins are a separate entity to bullion gold. One enjoys legal tender status, the latter is merely a raw commodity. Gold has an international currency code of XAU under ISO 4217. ISO 4217 includes codes not only for currencies, but also for precious metals (gold, silver, palladium and platinum; by definition expressed per one troy ounce.
Gold bullion coins usually come in 1 oz, 1/2 oz, 1/4 oz, 1/10 and 1/20 oz. sizes. Most countries have one design that remains constant each year; others (such as the Chinese Panda coins) have variations each year, and in most cases each coin is dated. A 1/10 oz bullion coin is about the same size as a U.S. dime. A 1 oz. gold bullion coin is about the size of a U.S. half dollar.
The largest legal tender gold coin ever produced was unveiled in 2012 by the Perth Mint in Western Australia. Known as the “1 Tonne Gold Kangaroo Coin” and with a face value of one million dollars, it contains one metric tonne of 9999 pure gold, and is approximately 80 cm in diameter by 12 cm thick.
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