Gold coins have always been more than just a means to a transaction. Gold is a precious metal, whose value by weight often eclipses a coinâ€™s numismatic worth, especially if that coin is old and its surface has been worn with use. Thus, in uncertain economic times, some people rest a little bit easier knowing that at least a part of their nest egg is feathered with a few gold coins.
Just about every country has issued a gold coin at one time or another, whether they are minted for investment purposes, as with bullion coins like British sovereigns or Chinese gold pandas, or for use as currency, as was the case with 19th-century Spanish reales and $20 American double eagles. In just about all cases, the amount of gold in a coin corresponds directly to its denominationâ€”the higher the number on a coin's face, the greater the amount of gold within. For example, the 1/2 amani coins in circulation in Afghanistan during the 1920s contained just 2.7 grams of gold, whereas the 5 amani coins struck in 1920 boasted more than 20 grams, or .67 troy ounces. For comparison, U.S. $20 double eagles minted between 1850 and 1933 contained .9675 troy ounces of gold, while the largest 19th-century Spanish reale contained just under 1/4 troy ounce of the precious metal.
Other world coins contained even greater amounts of gold. Between 1861 and 1957, Egypt produced four coins (three versions of the 500 ghrish, plus a 5-pound denomination in the mid-1950s) with more than a troy ounce of gold in them, while 5-pound pieces stamped in Great Britain from 1838 to 1968 were almost as gold-laden. Other countries to mint coins with more than a troy ounce of gold in them include Czechoslovakia (the 10 dukatu, 1923 - 1951), Hungary (the 500 forint, 1961), Iran (the 5 pahlavi, 1931 to 1979), Mexico (the 50 pesos, 1905 - 1959), Peru (the 100 soles, 1950- to 1970), and Turkey (the 500 kurus, 1861 to 1993).
In some cases, the amount of gold in the same denomination plummets over time, as occurred with France's 100-franc coin. From 1848 until 1914, when minting of that French coin ceased, it contained .9334 troy ounces of gold. When the denomination was revived in 1929, the gold content dropped to just .1895 troy ounces.
In general, most ancient Greek and Roman coins were made of bronze, but some of the higher denominations were struck of gold. Ancient Greek gold coins of the 4th and 3rd centuries BC include the stater, a tetradrachm depicting Ptolemy I, an octodrachm of Arsinoe (Ptolemy II's wife), and a pentadrachm of Ptolemy II himself. Ancient Roman gold coins of the 2nd and 1st centuries BC include the stater, aureus, and binio.