The first Gold Certificates, which were literally "as good as gold," were authorized in 1863 but not printed until 1865. Their use at the time was exclusively for transactions between banks; a general-circulation Gold Certificate came along in 1882.
As works of engraved art, Gold Certificates are right up there with their Silver Certificate cousins—some would say they are even more beautiful. Some of the most striking characteristics about the pre-1928 notes are their golden highlights on the front and fully golden backs.
In 1933, the Gold Reserve Act was passed, causing the Federal Reserve to transfer its stash of gold bullion and Gold Certificates to the U.S. Treasury. It also made it illegal for U.S. citizens to own most forms of gold (jewelry being the obvious exception), including Gold Certificates. The law was designed to prevent the runs on banks that were deepening the country’s banking crisis, but at the same time, it allowed the government to get its hands on as much gold it could.
It took just over three decades until it was once again legal for U.S. citizens to own a Gold Certificate, which, not coincidentally, is when there was a resurgence of interest in this storied collectible.