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All About Gold Coins from Antiquity to the Present

Throughout recorded history, gold has been valued by man as a precious substance for use in making all kinds of objects, from very large sculptures down to small coins and jewelry pieces which can be easily held in the hand.

While gold has been shaped into almost every conceivable kind of representation known to man from ancient times onward, its usage in coins and as currency only dates back to about 600 B.C. This was of course, not so much because of any question of suitability, but simply because up until that time, coins had not come into usage as a form of negotiable currency.

History of Gold Coins

In the sixth century, the Persian Empire owned a great deal of the known supply of gold in the world, and from it they produced huge quantities of gold coins which were called ‘darics’, in honor of the fourth king of the Persian Empire.

Almost none of these coins has survived to the present time, but they are frequently depicted in images of the period. The great city of Carthage in North Africa was also heavily involved with striking gold coins, while on the Iberian Peninsula, the Phoenician Empire also produced a high volume of coins made of gold and silver.

From these first appearances in Asia minor, coin usage spread gradually throughout Europe, although few states actually created their own gold coins, preferring to use the Persian darics instead. Especially in the city-states of Greece, darics were the most widely used coins.

With the rise of the Roman Empire, silver coinage dominated in the fourth and third centuries BC, until Rome began accumulating tremendous wealth through all its conquests. Many of the huge deposits of gold taken from the Iberian Peninsula and that which was held by Carthage, were thus transferred to the Roman Empire.

The first known Roman gold coin was struck in 215 BC, for the purpose of financing the second Punic war against Carthage. During the second and first centuries BC, Roman generals were granted the privilege by the Roman Senate of striking coins from captured silver and gold in order to pay their armies for service.

The very first Roman gold coin struck in huge quantity was known as the aureus, and it was struck to commemorate a military victory. After Julius Caesar became dictator in the late first century BC, he continued to strike gold aureus coins, and after him the Emperor Nero increased the coinage of gold by continuing to strike the aureus, and adding a gold quinarius, which had half the value of an aureus.

Both of these coins were struck with nearly pure gold, and were issued in huge quantities. For the next several hundred years, gold coins were produced in greater quantities, although they rarely achieved the purity of the aureus and quinarius coins typical of the early Roman Empire. With the decline of the Roman Empire and the rise of the Byzantine Empire, gold became much more scarce in Western Europe, and the quality of gold coins also declined considerably. High quality gold coins began to be struck in larger quantities in France with the accession to power of Louis IX, and this trend was continued by his successors.

In England, the first regular gold coinage was introduced in 1344 by Edward III, and the famous sovereign gold coins introduced by Henry VII came along around 1500. Other countries throughout Europe introduced their own gold coins, and by the time of the Renaissance, there was a general flowering of the art of gold coin production, in terms of volume and of design intricacy.

During the colonial age, gold and silver from the world flowed into Europe like a river, which supported a booming coinage there, while at the same time the coinage mint in Mexico City produced the new world's first gold coins in 1536. By the time the 1700’s rolled around, ducats were the most prominent gold coins issued by several European countries, and it was shortly after that, that the Golden Age of gold coins began in Europe.

Following Napoleon's downfall and before the outbreak of World War I, gold coins were circulated widely in European countries, with the world at peace, and commerce flourishing throughout the land.

During the 19th century, Russia became a major producer of gold coins, and then in the 20th century gold coinage fell victim to economic pressures, and the minting of gold coins for regular commercial use was discontinued. In modern times, various bullion coins, proofs, and commemoratives are struck by countries around the world, but none of these are used commercially, and few of them are issued in great quantity.

Gold Coins Stacked

Types of Gold Coins

When seeking to enhance your portfolio or to add to your IRA-eligible gold coin collection, the primary types of gold coins you have to choose from are gold bullion coins, proofs, special limited editions, and rare gold coins. Gold bullion coins include those minted in the United States after the year 1933, the most common of these being gold Buffaloes and gold American Eagles.

These are available in different weights, ranging from 1/10 of an ounce to 1-ounce coins. The smaller coins could hypothetically be used for bartering, or for liquidating small amounts of gold to obtain cash; the larger coins, being much more valuable, would generally be kept for the long-term in such a scenario.

Other countries also mint bullion coins in varying quantities, and these can vary in purity and weight. Ever since gold was first minted into coins thousands of years ago, there have been rare gold coins which survived the passage of time, although obviously the further back in history one goes, the fewer there are of those early gold coins.

The day-to-day usage of gold coins was completely discontinued in 1933 when President Roosevelt issued paper money in exchange for gold coinage. American coins made of gold are available in many different sizes and weights, and even from many different mint sources, and all of these factors will affect their value, and how much you would pay to acquire them. When dealing with rare gold coins, it is best to have a thorough knowledge of the particular coins you are dealing with, because some of these can be very expensive indeed.

Gold Coins of Today

Since no gold coins are used today in the conduct of commerce anywhere in the world, the primary usage of gold bullion coins is based on the idea, supported by historical evidence, that gold will retain value, even during hard economic times and afterwards.

Rare coins on the other hand, are not always purchased and kept for the financial advantages which accrue from them, but in many cases are sought out simply because private collectors have a fascination for them, and wish to own them as rare and beautiful expressions of human production.

The gold coins of the world today are bought and sold by a great many private companies, as well as some of the mints in some countries which actually produce the coins. Many private collectors have acquired personal collections over the years, and there is a fascination for the practice which has not diminished since ancient times.

People collect coins for all of the following reasons:

  • The rarity and beauty of some coins which have been masterfully struck
  • The challenge of finding that one perfect coin
  • Passing on the asset to their children and grandchildren
  • Value of the precious metal content
  • Researching coin history has some surprising educational benefits
  • Satisfaction of engaging in a beloved hobby

Coin sellers play a significant role in supplying high-quality coins to customers or collectors, sometimes via brick-and-mortar store operations, and sometimes via website or phone sales.

Some coin dealers offer a very broad range of coins, going way back to centuries-old pieces, while other dealers tend to specialize in certain kinds of coins or those from a specific historical era. In this way, many of the world’s most appealing coins can be made available to both serious collectors, and those who are looking to gold coins to help diversify their portfolio and protect their wealth. Many gold coins are gold IRA-eligible, subject to IRS regulations.

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Gold Coin Grades

Gold coins are graded just like other coins made from other metals: by evaluating the wear they have undergone during their circulation lifetime. As you might expect, gold coins with very little wear are graded much higher, and they are much more valuable than those which have undergone more obvious wear. However, it is still possible for a low-grade coin which is extremely rare to have a much higher value than a high-grade coin which isn't quite so rare.

Coins today are graded by independent specialist companies who rate each coin on a 70-point scale from “Poor”, meaning they’re scarcely identifiable, to MS-70, which is the perfect coin. Each coin is then sealed in a plastic ‘slab’ for its protection and preservation.

Grading companies also give special recognition to “Proof” coins, which have been struck with extra care, often with manual intervention, from a press operating at low speed and with greater striking pressure, with multiple strikes, resulting in extra sharp detail, and a mirror finish to the background.

Are Gold Coins Right For You?

The thrill of owning gold coins remains as intense today as it was all the way back to ancient times, and probably more so. Gold coins are no longer used in commerce, and are not commonly exchanged to pay for goods and services, which keeps them out of the public eye and makes them seem even more rare. While the market value of gold coins fluctuates constantly, they are known and treasured for retaining their value through human history. For their beauty, their rarity, and their monetary value, gold coins are still one of the most desirable assets in existence.

For all of your inquiries about gold coins, or when you’re considering a purchase of gold coins, we'd like to think the metal asset firm which will serve you best is Rosland Capital. We pride ourselves on customer service and helping our customers make the best purchase decision for their individual situation. Get in touch with us today to learn more about buying gold coins.