Whether you are an investor or a potential collector, knowing which gold coins are the most popular will save you from making costly mistakes that could ruin what should be a pleasant and rewarding experience.
There are several advantages to buying the most commonly traded gold coins, not the least of which is that greater competition among sellers results in significantly lower premiums than you are likely to pay for less popular coins. The flip side is that there will also be more ready buyers when the time comes to sell.
About Gold Bullion Coins
In compiling this list of the ten most popular gold bullion coins, considerable weight was given to those that have had long and rarest consistent mintages. Such coins are the most abundant and their track records are well established. One-ounce is the most heavily favored weight for gold bullion coins by far and that is the standard weight of each of the coins listed here. However, many of these coins are available in fractional weights as well as for price-conscious buyers for their coin collection.
Although popularity is a subjective trait, and consequently difficult to gauge, there is surprisingly little debate over which coins belong on the top half of the list. Beyond that things are not so clear.
Modern collectible gold bullion coins, for example, are often considered to belong in a separate class. Two are included here, however, because without question both are immensely popular.
Finally, rounding out any list means selecting from a fairly large pool of less popular, but still commonly traded gold bullion coins. The last three are a good representation of that pool, but others such as the French Gold Rooster, Swiss Gold Franc, and Mexican Gold Peso are often found on other lists as heritage auctions.
The World’s 10 Most Popular Gold Bullion Coins
Top Picks, Unlimited Mintage
- American Gold Eagle
- American Gold Buffalo
- South African Krugerrand
- Canadian Maple Leaf
- Austrian Philharmonic
Top Picks, Modern Collectible Series
- Chinese Panda
- Australian Gold Kangaroo
Worthy of Mention
- Austrian Gold 100 Corona
- Mexican Gold Libertad
- British Gold Britannia
Each of these gold bullion coins is described in detail below.
1. The American Gold Eagle
American Gold Eagles are the most popular 22-karat gold coins in the world and they account for over 80% of the gold bullion coins purchased in America from coin dealers. Gold Eagles are minted in gold piece weights of 1/10, ¼, ½, and one ounce with face values of $5, $10, $25, and $50 dollars respectively. These coins contain 91.67% gold, 5.33% copper, and 3.0% silver, an alloy that provides durability as well as beauty.
All American Gold Eagles share a common design in high relief. The obverse is a stunning tribute to Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ masterpiece, the 1907 Double Eagle, one of the most beautiful coins ever struck. Lady Liberty, her hair blowing in the wind, seems to stride off the surface holding an olive branch in her outstretched hand and a torch in her right.
On the reverse, in a dramatic symbol of family tradition and unity by sculptor Miley Busiek an eagle with an olive branch clutched in his talons descends to his mate and her hatchlings.
The American Gold Eagle stands alone as the premier gold bullion coin and the availability of fractional weights make it possible for even people on a tight budget for precious metals to enjoy these iconic American coins.
2. The American Gold Buffalo
In mintage since 2006, the American Gold Buffalo was the first 24-karat (0.9999 fine) gold coin ever struck in America and is among the world’s most pure gold coins according to the U.S. Mint. The Buffalo is minted only in one-ounce weight with a face value of $50 the only exception was 2008 when 1/10-oz, ¼-oz, and ½-oz coins were also minted. An uncirculated ½-ounce Gold Buffalo was also packaged with an uncirculated ½-ounce Gold Eagle in the 8-8-08 Double Prosperity set for coin collectors.
The American Gold Buffalo carries on the James Earle Fraser design for the Indian Head (or Buffalo) Nickel introduced in 1913. Fraser used the combined features of chiefs from three different American Indian tribes - Big Tree, Iron Tail, and Two Moons - as a model for the stern, chiseled face of an Indian warrior on the obverse is.
The buffalo depicted on the reverse is thought to be Black Diamond, a bison living in the New York City Central Park Zoo at the time. As the story goes, Fraser had someone distract Black Diamond while he sneaked in close enough to sketch the animal in profile.
Both the obverse and reverse of the American Gold Buffalo recreate Fraser’s design in stunning detail and relief, making the coin an instant and perennial favorite.
3. The South African Krugerrand
Introduced in 1967, the South African Krugerrand was the first legal tender gold coin struck for the purpose of private gold ownership. The reverse portrays a Springbok (literally “jumping antelope” in Afrikaans), the national symbol of South Africa under white minority rule. The bust of Paul Kruger, the last president of the Republic of South Africa, is on the obverse.
Like the American Gold Eagle, the Krugerrand is struck from 22 kt gold/copper alloy for improved durability. For the first 13 years the Krugerrand was minted only in the one-ounce weight, but beginning in 1980 weights of 1/10, ¼, and ½ ounce have also been produced.
Krugerrands have been so consistently popular with investors over the years that more than 1500 tons of these gold bullion coins have been struck to date.
4. The Canadian Maple Leaf
It is the Royal Canadian Mint’s obsession with purity, not the design, which earns the Canadian Gold Maple Leaf its spot on the list. The typical Gold Maple Leaf is struck from 99.99% pure gold, but a few special issues have contained 99.999% (“five nines”) pure gold, the only gold bullion coins ever minted with that purity.
The Canadian Gold Maple Leaf was introduced in 1979 in direct competition with the Krugerrand. It's a simple design, featuring Queen Elizabeth II on the obverse and a maple leaf on the reverse has never changed. Gold Maple Leafs are produced in weights of 1/20 ounce ($1), 1/10 ($5), ¼ ounce ($10), ½ ounce ($20), and 1 oz ($50).
When the Royal Canadian Mint launched a new series of five-nines 1-oz bullion coins in 2007, it also unveiled a monstrous 100-kg (3,215.1 troy ounces) Gold Maple Leaf of the same purity with a face value of $1 million. At least five of these coins are known to have been produced.
By 1983 the Canadian Gold Maple Leaf had become the most popular 24-karat gold bullion coin in the world and today it is one of the most heavily traded of all gold bullion coins.
5. The Austrian Gold Vienna Philharmonic
The 24-karat Austrian Gold Vienna Philharmonic has been a favorite in Europe since it was first struck in 1989. The coin is unusual in that it was originally denominated in Austrian shillings but since 2002 it has been the only regularly issued gold bullion coin denominated in Euros. At nearly 1 ½ inch, the Philharmonic is also the world’s largest diameter one-ounce gold bullion coin.
The obverse of the Gold Vienna Philharmonic features a montage of a cello flanked on each side by violins in front of a Vienna horn, bassoon, and harp. The reverse portrays the Great Organ in Vienna’s Golden Hall, the venue of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.
According to the World Gold Council, Vienna Philharmonics were the best-selling gold bullion coins in the world in 1992, 1995, and 1996, and they remain immensely popular today.
6. The Chinese Gold Panda
The Chinese Gold Panda was the first gold bullion coin intended to have immediate numismatic value. Since they were first struck in 1982, the yearly mintage of Chinese Pandas has been strictly limited. Produced in 0.999 fine gold, each year features a different panda design on the reverse (with the one exception of 2001, which carried over the 2000 design.)
The obverse of the Chinese Gold Panda portrays the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests at the Temple of Heaven in Beijing. The Peoples’ Republic of China is inscribed in Chinese across the top with the year of mintage on the bottom. While keeping the same theme, the obverse was redesigned in 1992 and then again in 2000.
The universal appeal of the panda bear, collectibility, limited production, and the availability of fractional weights down to 1/20 ounce combine to make the Chinese Panda worthy of its position on the list and is an excellent choice for budding collectors.
7. The Australian Gold Kangaroo
The Australian Gold Kangaroo is another collectible series with limited mintage. The Kangaroo was introduced in 1990 to replace the Gold Nugget, Australia’s standard gold bullion coin since 1987. That coin was named for its depiction of the Welcome Stranger nugget, which at 2,284 ounces is the largest nugget ever found. From 1990 until 2008 the word “Nugget” still appeared on the obverse.
The beautifully rendered 24-karat Australian Gold Kangaroo features a unique frosted design that gives it a two-tone effect. On the obverse, a bust of Queen Elizabeth II faces to the right. Each year a unique variation on the kangaroo theme is featured on the reverse.
The one-ounce Australian Gold Kangaroo has a face value of $100. Fractional denominations of $5, $15, $25, and $50 are also produced in weights of 1/20, 1/10, ¼, and ½ ounce respectively. The Perth Mint also introduced the concept of “jumbo” gold coins with the Kangaroo, including a one-kilogram gold bullion coin that is the largest in regular production.
The Australian Kangaroo has been a popular choice for gold bullion coin investment since first introduced in 1986. Along with the Lunar Series, which ended in 2007, the Kangaroo is also a favorite with collectors.
8. The Austrian Gold 100 Corona
The Austrian Gold 100 Corona was among the first products available to Americans when the ban on private possession of gold was lifted and being 0.900 fine (21.6 karats), they are one of the most durable gold bullion coins available. Coronas are slightly lighter than most gold bullion coins, weighing 0.9802 ounces.
The Austrian Coat of Arms featuring a crowned double eagle is portrayed on the reverse with the motto, Viribus unitis (with united forces), inscribed on the edge. The obverse bears the likeness of Franz Joseph I, Austrian Emperor from 1848 to 1916.
Modern Austrian Gold 100 Coronas are restrikes of the mintage year 1915 and they are no longer minted or promoted. However, due to their relative obscurity Coronas carry unusually low premiums, which makes them appealing to bargain hunters and worthy of a spot on this list.
9. The Mexican Gold Libertad
The Mexican Gold Libertad carries on the country’s long tradition of exquisite gold coinage. The 0.999 fine Gold Libertad has the same design as its predecessor, commonly called the “Onza”. On the obverse Winged Victory, grasping a laurel wreath in her right hand to symbolize victory and broken chains in her left to symbolize freedom stands atop a Victory Column. In the background are the volcanoes Popocatepetl and Iztaccihuatl, names for two Aztec lovers in Mexican folklore. The reverse portrays the Mexican coat of arms.
Both the Onza and the Libertad contain the same quantity of pure gold, but the Onza is 10% heavier than the Libertad because it has a 10% added alloy mix to fortify the coins. Both are unusual among modern bullion coins in that they bear no denomination and therefore are not legal tender.
Beauty, rich cultural significance, and availability in fractional weights as small as 1/20 ounce make the Mexican Gold Libertad a good choice for any collection or portfolio.
10. The British Gold Britannia
The Gold Britannia is unusual for British coinage in that it is struck from 22-karats, rather than 24-karat, gold. From 1987 through 1989 the balance of the content was copper and from 1990 onwards it has been silver. As with all British coins, the obverse of the Gold Britannia bears the likeness of Queen Elizabeth II. The reverse bears a variety of depictions of Britannia, the female personification of the country wearing a centurion’s helmet and armed with a trident and shield. The symbol dates back to the 2nd-century Roman occupation.
The variations in the design of the obverse, each stunning in its own right, make the Britannia a worthwhile part of any collection as well as a sound investment for numismatists.
Beyond The List
New gold bullion coins with mint marks are introduced almost every year, and many are certain to be future contenders for a list such as this, many of them from the United States. Much as they did in the late 19th century, countries are vying to produce the most beautiful coins in the world, not merely silver dollars. A great many other, equally beautiful coins exist in relative obscurity. Whether you are a collector or investor, or a little of both, the possibilities are as endless as they are rewarding.
It’s important to remember that rarity is always relative to what is currently available. This puts coin collecting in a difficult area. For example, you might have one of five Portuguese coins from a particular era in the world. But, what happens if there is a significant discovery? The ‘pirate’s chest’ cliche tends not to happen, of course; but it could. And, a large haul of valuable coins like U.S. coins such as liberty head nickels and dollar coins might well take a lot of value from the coins you own.
Demand is also something to consider. Like all areas of collecting, trends come and go in the coin world, and what’s popular one year may not be the next. The good news is that you can keep up to speed by reading the current coin collecting press. Also, listen out to exciting developments at auctions around the world.
A quick search on Google will quickly tell you which are the most valuable coins in the world right now, whether a half eagle or a liberty head. They are rare, so they are unlikely to be the sort of coin you will find down the back of your sofa. If you are going to buy them, it’s going to cost you upwards of millions. That said, you do hear the odd story of rare coins being found in the ground turning up in house clearances and the like.
America is home to many of the world’s most expensive coins. The Flowing Hair Dollar is currently in the number one spot, and it’s worth over $7 million. There are rich pickings from all over the world, however. The Edward III coin from the UK was minted for six months way back in 1343 and fetched almost $7 million at auction. There are only two others that exist, as far as anyone knows. So, if you happen upon one of these coins, you can guarantee there will be a lot of interest.
Another good bet is to look at early African and Indian coins. In 2012, an old Indian coin fetched the equivalent of almost $30,000 at an auction. And, ancient Roman and Greek coins from anywhere in the world can offer limitless potential for high returns. Regardless of the cost, holding something that some ancient soul once used to buy groceries is rather special.
There’s no doubt that investing in rare foreign coins can bring you lucrative returns. But, as with all other kinds of investment, it’s all about timing. You will need an interest in collecting coins, too - and it’s not something you should go into purely to make money. Coin collecting can be a lot of fun, but there may also be serious money at stake. But, by focusing on building up your collection, you should make it large enough to avoid any risks of the price of one coin dropping too much.