Few gold objects sport as much appeal as gold coins. While gold jewellery and sculptures hold their own special intrigue, gold coins continue to compel people around the world to buy, trade them, collect and sell them en masse.
In this article, you’ll learn about the history of gold coins and how to analyze and care for them effectively, and we will dive deep into listing which coins are playing star roles thanks to their impressive value and uniqueness.
Gold coins were believed to have their origin story in ancient Greece circa 540 BCE when the king of Lydia, Croesus, buffered Greece against its foes. While gold was used in commerce centuries earlier, evidence suggests the king was the first rule to issue and gold and silver coins of standard weights and values, according to Gold: Nature and Culture (pp 97).
The book goes on to explain, “Coins make a metal, such as gold, easier to use in trade because their standardized shape and weight indicate a set numerical value. Before coins existed, gold could be used for trade, but the receiver would have to weigh the gold to know much value it had, and might have to know how to test it for its precious metal content.”
As gold coins became linked to nation-building, other regions also adopted them as a form of currency, such as the empires in Rome, Egypt and China.
Turning to today, what should you look for in a gold coin’s attributes? There are two ways to measure the purity of gold coins: Karat and fineness. Karat is referred to most commonly as a way to measure gold purity, with 24 karat considered to be purest form of gold since it contains 24/24 parts of gold. Similarly, 22 karat gold features 22 parts of gold and two parts of other metals such as zinc or silver to make it more durable while making jewellery, for example.
Understanding a coin’s karat can help you divy up your gold according to the karat markings. Websites such as Muzeum and Toronto Gold – who advertise their prices per gram per karat – offer you a rounded picture of the potential value of your gold without ever entering the door.
Fineness is another ingredient to be aware of if you want the full picture of gold purity. Fineness refers to the weight of precious metal (such as gold) in proportion to the total weight (which includes alloy and impurities). This aspect of gold is measured in units of parts per 1,000. Even “pure” gold can contain trace amounts of mixed impurities which the manufacturer may not have removed, or been unable to remove.
Another under-rated characteristic is the “strike” of a coin, which refers to the crispness, sharpness, and depth of the image that has been placed onto the coin. Such strikeness can vary even among uncirculated coins, but most often strike is more noticeably deficient in coins that have circulated for years or even decades.
Also, the value of coins relate to their rarity. Several scales have been developed for the definition of the rarity of a particular coin, with the most common being the “Sheldon rarity scale” and the “Universal rarity scale.”
When it comes to the types of coins that are valuable, rare and worth selling if you come across them, or buying if you’re a keen collector, several come to mind:
The sovereign British gold coin was born in 1817 and was a common circulating coin until the First World War. One side of the Sovereign bore the profile of the reigning monarch when the coin was struck while the reverse featured the symbolic depiction of St. George Slaying the Dragon.
When Edward VIII came to the throne in 1936, there was no question of issuing sovereigns for circulation, but some coins were prepared as part of the traditional proof set of gold issued in the Coronation year. With a bust of King Edward by Humphrey Paget and the date 1937, these sovereigns were not approved by Royal Proclamation before the King’s abdication in December 1936, and are considered pattern coins. Extremely rare, one of these beauts sold in 2014 for £516,000 ($664,000 US), setting a record for a British coin at auction.
It’s also worth noting this coin has been highly scrutinized by governing bodies to ensure its legitimacy. The weight and quality of its 22 karat gold is verified at the Trial of the Pyx, an exacting independent trial dating back to at least 1282, and has guaranteed to five decimal places by the 1971 Coinage Act.
The 1 oz Gold Maple Leaf coin, first issued in 1979, is known as legal tender in Canada and carries a face value of $50. These coins are composed of 99.99% pure gold.
Similar to many Royal Canadian Mint coins, the obverse of the 1 oz Gold Maple displays a right-profile view of Queen Elizabeth II designed by coin artist Susanna Blunt, where there will also be inscriptions of “ELIZABETH II,” “50 DOLLARS,” and “2019.”
The reverse of the coin features the maple leaf design that gives these coins their name. A tiny textured maple leaf, a security measure from the Royal Canadian Mint, is just visible under the larger one. The coin’s year of issue can be found on the small leaf under magnification, and the engravings “CANADA,” “FINE GOLD 1 OZ OR PUR,” and “9999” are also found on the reverse.
What is it about the Olympics that excites and thrills people all over the world? Even coin collectors have been privy to Olympic Games fever thanks to the 1976 Montreal Olympics commemorative coins, available at 14 or 22 karats.
The 14K coin is 27 millimeters in diameter, weighs 13.3 grams and features a raised, beaded edge around its circumference. It contains 7.91 grams of gold, so to calculate the value of the coin just multiply the current spot price of gold and multiply that number by 7.91.
The 22K 1976 Olympic gold coin is 25 millimeters in diameter, weighs 16.97 grams, also features a raised, beaded edge and boasts 15.56 grams of gold.
Hungarian-Canadian sculptor Dora de Pédery-Hunt designed the coins, and she is best known for crafting the effigy of Queen Elizabeth II that was used on Canadian coinage in 1990. Throughout her career, she designed more than 600 medals and also created a series of small bronze sculptures commemorating Canadian heroes.
Making a Mint
The Royal Canadian Mint has a sterling reputation for launching stunning gold coins, and we’ll focus on several from the 1970s and 1980s that are worth noting.
The 14-karat coin honouring the 75th Anniversary of The Normandy Campaign (D-Day at Juno Beach) is a special product due to its depiction on the face of the gold coin. A boot print is a solemn reminder of the sacrifice Canadian soldiers made on that fateful day.
As the Mint’s website explains: “This powerful coin design honours the Canadian soldiers who landed on Juno Beach and helped secure an Allied foothold in Western Europe. Although their boot prints in the sand have long washed away, their imprint on history will endure forever.”
The 1978 Canadian “unity coin” features migrating geese on its face, which we’ve seen on sale on eBay for as high as $1,400 per, with a case.
Other gold Canadian coins in the 1980s commemorated the National Parks Centenary (1985), the International Year of Peace (1986) and the Bowhead Whale (1988).
The more valued Royal Canadian Mint gold coins in the 1990s include 1998’s 90th anniversary of the Royal Canadian Mint coin, issued at $1000 with a mintage of 1,999. The other notable coin of that era is the 1999 Golden Slipper coin, also issued at a price of $1,000. The Pink Lady’s Slipper flower is the floral emblem of Prince Edward Island.
We would be remiss not to mention the well-known Aviation Collection: a two-series set of 20 coins released biannually over 10 years and culminating in 1999, the 90th anniversary of flight in Canada. The collection stands out because the coins of the Aviation Collection were the first Canadian coins to offer 24-karat, gold-plated cameo portraits.
And in 1999, the Royal Canadian Mint got creative as the new millennium approached. It made its signature Gold Maple Leaf with a high-tech version of the bullion coin, featuring a stunning maple leaf hologram, a first for the Mint. As its website explains: “The innovation consists in striking the hologram directly onto the coin’s surface, instead of producing and applying it in separate steps.”
Let’s say you have a slew of gorgeous gold coins but you’re unsure how to handle them. Thankfully, the Royal Canadian Mint offers handy advice for any coin collector, which is especially vital if you plan on eventually selling your gold coins at some point.
The Mint recommends that when you handle your coins to…
USE COTTON GLOVES
- Skin oils and dirt hurts your coin’s finish and value. Don’t handle coins with bare hands and instead, use cotton gloves.
- Avoid latex or plastic gloves, as their powder or lubricants could damage coins.
HOLDING YOUR COIN
- Always pick up coins by the edges, between the thumb and forefinger.
- Never hold a coin by touching the obverse or reverse surface.
- To avoid damage should it be dropped, hold your coin over a thick, soft towel.
- Limit talking over the coin: tiny, almost invisible drops of saliva can create impossible-to-remove spots.
CLEANING YOUR COIN
- As a general rule: unless you are an experienced specialist, there is no need to clean your coins.
- Even wiping coins with a soft cloth may damage their finish and reduce their value.
DISPLAYING YOUR COIN
- Use small, PVC-free plastic bags or slabs (sealed, hard plastic cases) for valuable collector coins.
- For coins of lower value, place them in acid-free paper sleeves or envelopes, tubes, or folders or albums.
- Arrange an appropriate level of insurance in case of theft or fire/water damage.
Have a question?
Looking to find out the value of your gold coins? Want to know the best place to sell your gold coins or where to sell your gold bullion?