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Win Big with Small Eagles

(Image courtesy usacoinbook.com.)

(Image courtesy usacoinbook.com.)

When it comes to collecting gold, in the U.S. we tend to think of the classic series of once-circulating gold coins, or perhaps the modern 1-ounce bullion Eagles. They all do have some interesting stories wrapped around them, but they all also seem to be expensive. But off the mainstream, we might do well to remember that all the way back to 1986 the United States Mint has been producing three gold bullion coins much smaller than the 1-ounce big guys, including the little 1/10-ounce pieces. And these small gold pieces still have some big potential, assuming we choose to get serious about them.

Regular Issues

A lot has been written about how the price of U.S. gold Eagles is related to, or coupled with, the price of gold metal. To be fair, we can say this is true, but only to a certain extent. What are called the regular issues, not the proofs, are those that were made to trade – not to circulate, but to trade as a known amount of gold. In 1986 and in 1987, the only issue of the 1/10-ounce pieces were those regular issues, just like the 1/4- and 1/2-ounce pieces. Only the big, 1-ounce Eagles were made both as a regular issue and in a proof version, the latter aimed at collectors.

So, with well more than 30 years of production now under its belt, the United States 1/10-ounce gold Eagles can certainly be considered a collectible series. There are no big rarities within this stretch of years, which means all of them ought to have pretty much the same base price. But there is a bit more to it than just finding the dates. What we mean is that there are plenty of “W” mintmarks, for the West Point issues, as well as “P” mintmarks of Philadelphia, for the proofs. Concerning the “W” mintmarks, when gold trades at $1,800 per ounce, the value of these little gems is going to be $180 each.

Before we either rejoice or groan at the price of the regular issue 1/10-ounce gold Eagles, let’s talk just for a moment about what can be called a surcharge. This means that a dealer has to sell a coin for slightly more than it is worth, and buy it for slightly less, simply because they have to make something in the transaction. So if a dealer is buying at 90 percent of the value and selling at 110 percent, all they are really making is that small margin between the two numbers. We mention this because it is a lucky collector who can land a 1/10-ounce gold Eagle right at that $180 spot price. Be prepared to pay a little more. That being said, a collection isn’t all that hard to build. It takes some patience, but that’s what collecting is all about.

Proof Issues

The people in charge at the Mint right when the Eagle program was unveiled were no fools and realized that proof issues were something collectors might really go for. It did take until 1988 for the Mint to start pounding out proof versions of the 1/10-ounce Eagles, whereas they had made proofs back in 1986 for the big, 1-ounce pieces. But after putting those first twinkling little gold pieces on the market, the Mint never looked back. They have come out every year since. Up to 1993 they were made at the main facility in Philly, then starting in 1994 the proofs came from West Point, up the Hudson.

Collecting proof 1/10-ounce gold Eagles is something of a different game from collecting the regular issues. The price tags are no longer connected to the value of the precious metal in the coin. They always cost some premium. But this is simply because we are talking proofs, the best that the Mint can produce.

With this as a background, it’s fair to ask just what proof 1/10-ounce gold pieces do cost. Curiously, the answer is not neat and simple. Most price guides list these coins in grades such as PF-69 and PF-70, simply because they have never circulated and have always been well-housed in sturdy cases. But any piece that is not encapsulated by a third-party grading company can cost much less than those posted grades. And if we think about it for a moment, any piece that has not been encapsulated and given some “official” grade is still going to be a gorgeous looking bullion coin. The savvy collector will probably hunt around and see just how close to the prices of the regular pieces that they can get.

Burnished Offerings

Believe it or not, there is actually more to the 1/10-ounce U.S. gold Eagles than the regular issues and the proof issues. For three years starting in 2006, there existed what are called burnished uncirculated pieces. This means the finish is more of a matte than the shiny finish of a regular issue piece. For some, this distinction is a tiny one. For others – for those among us who wish to make as complete a collection as possible – this difference in finish means this is a variety that is different from the others. This in turn means they are something further to add to a collection.

How Far Out of the Mainstream?

The United States’ gold Eagles are just one of many gold bullion programs in the world. Amidst all this gold, however, there remains a stream of small gold pieces that appear to be rather under-collected. The 1/10-ounce gold Eagles are a series with a lot of promise.