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The first gold Eagle coins were minted in the 19th century, in $1 denominations. Silver shortly became the most popular metals for one-dollar coinage, so the US Mint increased the values of gold coins to $2.5, $5, $10, and even $20 starting in 1849, after the start of the California gold rush.
Today’s Gold Eagle coins are minted with a $50 face value on the one-ounce coins. Fractional coins have corresponding values of $25, $10, and $5, for the ½ ounce, ¼ ounce, and 1/10-ounce coins, respectively. This strikes a nerve with many investors because gold’s inflation adjusted value over the past 40 years should be around $2000. So, why does the US Mint insist on putting $50 per-ounce price tags on coins that are worth exponentially more? Well, let’s look at the back-story.
Pre-1933 coins had face values of $1-$20. One-ounce Double Eagle coins bear that $20 marking, and at the time of their minting were worth about $20 each, since gold’s market price was around that very same value. However, the government froze the gold market, and demanded that holders of gold coins return them for a 20$ cash reimbursement. After this confiscation was enacted, the government raised the price of gold to $35 per ounce, exploiting many safety-seeking gold investors.
Although we can’t be sure, precedent shows that the nominally marked $50 Gold Eagles could become risky holds for investors who prefer a palpable back-up plan in case the economy bottoms out.