Bullion Coins: American Platinum Eagle
By the mid-1980s world demand for citizen ownership of precious metals was growing, particularly for silver and gold. Responding to the production and sale of silver and gold coins by other countries such as Canada and South Africa, Congress authorized the U.S. Mint to begin producing gold and silver bullion coins through the authority of the Bullion Coin Act of 1985. Platinum Eagle coins were added to U.S. government bullion offerings in 1997, initiated as part of the Omnibus Consolidated Appropriations for Fiscal Year 1997 (P.L. 104-208 proof; P.L. 99-61 bullion). Though estimated to be 15 times more scarce than gold, and expensive to refine, platinum bullion has for several years tracked at only about double gold’s price. Four different sizes of Platinum Eagle coins are offered by the Mint, all in 0.9995 purity: the one ounce, with a $100 face value (the highest face value of any U.S. coin); the half-ounce, with a $50 face value; the quarter-ounce, with a $25 face value; and the tenth-ounce, with a face value of $10.
As with silver and gold bullion coins produced by the U.S. Mint, the face value makes the coins legal tender for commerce, but the actual value is the metal content, which is worth much more than face value. A May 1, 1997, press release from the Mint noted a price for the four-coin proof set at $1,350, for coins with a total face value of $185. As expected, prices for the platinum coins have increased significantly since introduced over a decade ago. Platinum Eagle bullion coins are available both in Mint State (called Bullion by the U.S. Mint since 2006) and Proof, the former primarily though not exclusively the coins for metals investors and the latter purchased primarily by collectors. The series is unusual in that except for 1997, proof coins have a different reverse than the bullion coins, and a different reverse for each year. The obverse of the Platinum Eagle, called a “portrait of Liberty looking to the future”, has been the same for all years. From 1998 through 2002 the platinum proof reverses featured “Vistas of Liberty”, each coin showing an eagle flying through the landscapes of five regions of the United States.
For the 2006 through 2008 proof and bullion coins, the reverse displays “The Foundations of Democracy”, each year representing a different branch of the federal government: legislative, executive, and judicial, in that order. The years between the two series have reverse vignettes representing America. The obverse was designed by Mint Sculptor/ Engraver John Mercanti; the reverse for the early years of the bullion series, and 1997 proof coins, was by Mint Sculptor/ Engraver Thomas D. Rogers Sr. Another unusual feature is the use of incuse design elements on the proof coins, where the design elements are below the surface of the coin rather than raised above it. This is most noticeable on the E PLURIBUS UNUM inscription on the obverse. Platinum Eagle bullion and proof coins have been minted at Philadelphia and West Point Mint. Bullion coins prior to 2006 did not have a W mintmark; the location of the W mintmark on the proof coins varies each year.
The obverse of the Platinum Eagle displays a forward-facing view of the head and partial shoulders of the Statue of Liberty National Monument, located in New York. LIBERTY curves inside the flat rim above Liberty’s crown, the letters separated by and/ or overlapped by the spikes of the crown. The date is to the right, with IN GOD WE TRUST below, the motto in three lines. The designer’s initials JM are to the left, tucked into the space between the shoulder of the upraised right arm and the braids or ribbons descending from under Liberty’s crown. E PLURIBUS UNUM follows along the lower left of the rim, overlaid on Liberty’s gown. The 1997 reverse features a soaring eagle in the center, in flight above a partial disc of the earth, behind which is another partial disc, this of the sun, with rays extending outward to the eagle. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, in two lines, is at the top above the eagle, and to the center right, .9995 PLATINUM 1 OZ. in three lines. The designer’s initials TDR are at the bottom right, at the edge of the earth disc. After 1997 the reverse design changes yearly on proofs, as does the placement of the text, the location of the W mintmark, and the location of the initials of the designer(s).
As with silver and gold, platinum Eagles were introduced as bullion coins but are also collected for their numismatic interest. Unless by accident or unknown intent, these coins do not circulate. Tens of thousands of tenth-ounce, quarter-ounce, half-ounce, and one ounce coins have been certified as Mint State and as proof, though the number of certified coins varies by date. Greater numbers are certified as MS69 and PR69, and to a lesser extent MS70 and PR70, than as other grades. Nearly all certified proof pieces have received the Deep Cameo designation. Prices of platinum Eagles tend to follow bullion prices, with an added premium for the certification; fractional coins are proportionally more expensive than full one ounce coins (that is, ten tenth-ounce coins cost more than a single one ounce coin). Some “perfect” 70 examples have an additional premium, particularly the MS coins dated 1997 through the early 2000s, and are expensive to very expensive; the jump in price between 69 and 70 coins is often very great. Other higher priced issues are the 2004 proof issues (all denominations) and, to a lesser degree, some First Strike pieces and the 10th Anniversary coins.
Designer: Obverse, John Mercanti; soaring eagle reverse by Thomas D. Rogers Sr., other reverses by various designers.
Circulation Mintage: Fewer than 100,000 total of all denominations per year since 2000 (slightly more than 100,000 pieces in 2001), with a high so far of nearly one quarter million coins in 1998. The mintage for a few recent years has been below 50,000 pieces.
Proof Mintage: Generally about half the bullion mintage for each year for each denomination, though fewer than ten thousand combined pieces per year in recent years.
Denomination: $10.00; $25.00; $50.00; and $100.00 (all are worth more as bullion)
Diameter: 16.5 mm; 22.0 mm; 27.0 mm; 32.7 mm; all have reeded edges
Metal Content: 99.95% platinum
Weight: 3.112 grams (0.1 ounce); 7.78 grams (0.25 ounce); 15.56 grams (0.5 ounce); and 31.12 grams (1.0 ounce)
Varieties: A few designated, including First Strike and Early Releases; 10th Anniversary Set; and $50 reverse proof.