Type 1 Versus Type 2 Gold Eagles

Posted - March 9, 2022
american gold eagles

The release of the American Gold Eagle Type 2 is easily one of the most important events of the past decade of collectable coins. While collectors had speculated for years about the possibility of an American Gold Eagle, it wasn’t until 2021 that the historic U.S. Mint finally unveiled its brand new design for the classic American Gold Eagle. The Mint released new models for both the Gold and the Silver Eagle, and these designs have been the talk of the bullion community ever since. 

Despite how excited we are about the new coin releases, these design changes present a new challenge for any collector looking to buy an American Gold Eagle. For decades, the Gold Eagle was only available in one design. But consumers from 2021 and onward need to make an important decision: which Gold Eagle Type should you buy? Luckily, we’ve done the research to bring our readers a comprehensive guide to the main differences between the Type 1 and Type 2 variants of the American Gold Eagle Coin. 

Differences between the Type 1 and the Type 2 Gold Eagle can be broken up into two main categories: aesthetic and security changes. There’s no need to be concerned about the amount of gold you’ll get with a Gold Eagle purchase; both the Type 1 and the Type 2 are struck with 1 Troy Oz. of .9167 pure gold bullion. The main differences between these coins are visual, while one major shift in the reeding provides added security. 

Keep reading to learn everything that a responsible bullion consumer needs to know about the differences between Type 1 and Type 2 American Gold Eagle Coins. 

What are Gold Eagles?

Made using .9167 pure gold, the American Gold Eagle is the official gold coin of the United States. The U.S. Mint has continuously produced these coins for over thirty years, beginning in 1986. The obverse of the coin depicts Lady Liberty as she walks away from a sunset in front of the U.S. Capitol Building. Lady Liberty holds two items in her hands: an olive branch in her left and a torch in her right. 

The American Gold Eagle remained true to its original designs until 2021, when the U.S. Mint officially announced the long-anticipated release of its Type 2 designs. The original obverse design was created in 1907 by Augustus Saint-Guadens, an American sculptor well-known for his artwork on popular American coinage. Saint-Gaudens’ classic ‘Walking Liberty’ design has been a favorite of American coin collectors for decades. 

The reverse-side design of the Type 1 American Gold Eagle depicts a male Bald Eagle flying toward a branch. He carries an olive branch in his talons and approaches a female and a baby Bald Eagle. This side of the coin also features the official motto of the United States, E Pluribus Unum. This design is far more recent than the ‘Walking Liberty’ sculpting of the obverse; artist Miley Busiek designed this scene specifically for the American Gold Eagle in 1986. 

The major change from Type 1 to Type 2 involves this design. While Busiek’s design remained the feature of the American Gold Eagle from 1986 to 2021, sculptor Renata Gordon’s work will be featured on the upcoming Type 2 variants of the classic coin. The new reverse of the American Gold Eagle features the profile of a Bald Eagle. While the eagle no longer greets us in full majestic flight, this new design features an exceptionally detailed close-up rendering of America’s bird. 

Gold Eagle Coin History

The American Gold Eagle has been minted once each year since 1986, and it has long been the most popular gold coin coming out of the U.S. Mint. The coin’s proofs were first minted only in the original 1 Troy Ounce variant. In 1987, the selection was expanded to include a ½ Oz version. By 1988, public interest in fractional denominations had grown sufficiently for the U.S. Mint to introduce both a 1/10 Oz and ¼ Oz variation. 

Bullion versions of the popular coin have always included 1/10, ¼, ½, and full 1 Ounce variants. In 2006, the U.S. Mint finally began releasing uncirculated versions of the coin. While the coins enjoyed solid runs from 2006-2008 and included 1/10, ¼, ½, and full 1 Oz versions, the mint suspended the project in 2009 and returned with severely diminished volumes in 2011. From 2011 to 2016, the U.S. Mint released only 1 Oz versions of the uncirculated American Gold Eagle. 

The history of this particular U.S. coin is marked by an impressive level of consistency. Notable spikes in mint volumes occurred two main times, once in 1998 and again in 2008. If you’ve been following our articles on American coinage, this latter spike should come as no surprise. Economic uncertainty following the 2008 recession led to a revived public interest in bullion as a form of economic hedge. Mint numbers jumped from 140,000 in 2007 to 710,000 in 2008, and then production doubled to 1,493,000 just a year later in 2009. 

As we’ve noted, the most significant change in the history of the American Gold Eagle is happening right now. The release of the Type 2 American Gold Eagle is likely to have a profound impact on global speculation concerning this already-popular American bullion coin.

Main Differences: Type 1 Versus Type 2 Gold Eagles

The differences between the Type 1 and Type 2 Gold Eagles are generally only aesthetic. However, the impacts of these changes are both visual and security-related. One common misconception is that the obverse of the Type 2 remains exactly the same as the Type 1. The reality is a bit more complicated. While the Type 2 does keep the same classic obverse depiction of Lady Liberty walking atop a hill overlooking the U.S. Capitol, the Type 2 is designed with an even greater level of detail than the Type 1. New minting technology allowed coin designers to restore a few of the original element’s of the artist’s brilliant design. 

The sun rays that appear behind Lady Liberty are restored in the Type 2, providing a sleeker image. Additionally, the U.S. Mint notes an added “subtlety” to Lady Liberty’s eyes, allowing her piercing gaze to take on a renewed visual power. The obverse side of the Type 2 also pays homage to the original artist behind the design; Saint-Gaudens’ initials are prominently featured on the Type 2 obverse. Finally, the olive branch design is restored to its original glory, adding a renewed level of detail to the classic American symbol. 

On the reverse, the big changes are even more evident. While the original Type 1 American Gold Eagle featured three eagles in their natural habitat, the Type 2 takes a much closer, intimate approach to depicting the majestic bald eagle. We’re given a side profile of the animal, a full view of its eye, neck, and beak. This is where the level of detail possible with contemporary mint technology really begins to shine. Each of the feathers on the bird’s neck are exquisitely detailed, and even the rough texture of its head and neck are rendered brilliantly against the .9167 pure gold. 

The final major change from the Type 1 to the Type 2 is an important one for collectors who are concerned with the security of their coins. As you probably already understand, counterfeiting is one of the most significant problems facing the gold bullion coinage market. The U.S. Mint understands this and employed a new anti-counterfeiting method with the Type 2. While the Type 1 American Gold Eagle featured flat borders, the Type 2 includes a reeded edge. To the uninitiated, this may seem like no big deal. But reeded edges can be a killing-blow for counterfeiters, and the addition to this coin provides a new degree of protection for investors and collectors. 

Which Gold Eagle is Better?

It’s impossible to say which Gold Eagle is better. Most collectors already know the global popularity of the American Gold Eagle. The coin has been a staple of the U.S. Mint’s offerings since 1986, and its popularity is unlikely to wane. To the contrary, the highly-anticipated release of the American Gold Eagle Type 2 might actually revitalize public interest in the coin. Because of this, you really can’t go wrong with either edition of the Gold Eagle. 

Still, gold coins are large investments. You want to know whether the Type 2 American Gold Eagle is a better investment than the Type 1. The Type 1 clearly has the advantage where longevity is concerned. The Type 1 has been produced continuously for over three decades, and its legacy of popularity among global coin traders can’t really be matched. Many investors and collectors might appreciate the tradition of getting their hands on a Type 1 Gold Eagle. 

The design differences between the Type 1 and Type 2 are also worth considering. It’s tough to overlook the impressive detail and beauty of the Type 2 American Gold Eagle. The textured minting of the reverse side eagle is incredible, and new minting technology has allowed Lady Liberty on the obverse to appear in an unprecedented level of exactness. If you’re a coin collector who wants the most visually beautiful coins possible, then the Type 2 is probably your best bet. 

On the other hand, some investors might prefer the antiquated look of the legacy design. While the obverse of the Type 1 American Gold Eagle lacks the fineness of the Type 2, we still tend to love the look of the older art. Where collectability is concerned, uncirculated or lightly circulated Type 1 coins may be the better option. This is a classic dilemma that coin collectors face. Do we go for the shiny new coin or the classic and aged option? This is a decision you’ll need to make on your own. 

The final difference to consider if you’re debating between the Type 1 and the Type 2 is all about security. Counterfeits aren’t particularly common for the American Gold Eagle, but counterfeiting is a constant threat for nearly every bullion coin. The reeded edge of the Type 2 decreases the likelihood of counterfeits becoming a problem for a given circulation run of the coin. 

How to Spot Counterfeit Gold Eagles

If you’re wondering about the authenticity of a legacy Type 1 Gold Eagle, classic methods of verifying legitimacy reign supreme. If you have a Type 1 you suspect to be fake, compare its visual features, weight, and size to the details listed on the official website for the U.S. Mint. Because all Type 1 Gold Eagles should look and weigh the same, differences between your coin and the coin the U.S. Mint displays should tip you off to a counterfeit. 

The Type 2’s additional security features make it even easier to identify counterfeit coins. If your Type 2 American Gold Eagle has flat edges, it is a fake. If your American Gold Eagle lacks the obverse-side artist’s initials, it is a fake. Again, comparing your coin to the information found on the American Gold Eagle Type 2’s U.S. Mint page is a good way to ensure that you haven’t fallen victim to a fake. 

Final Thoughts: Comparing the Type 1 to the Type 2 American Gold Eagle

Regardless of your decision to go with a Type 1 or a Type 2 American Gold Eagle, you’re sure to secure an incredible coin with a special place in the history of American coinage. As 2021 ushers in a new generation of this classic coin, buying a Type 2 is a way to secure your place as one of the first collectors to experience the biggest change in the Gold Eagle’s history. 

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