The 14 Most Famous Gold Coins in History

famous-gold-coins

Last Updated on December 20, 2023

These famous gold coins all contain some historical significance, either in the ancient world, the middle ages or the modern world.

Gold has been a store of value, a unit of account and a circulating currency for thousands of years and despite a lot of disparagement it remains a pillar of the global monetary system.

1. The Lydian Stater

lydia-stater

The stater was the first standardised gold coin. It was minted in the Lydian empire in modern day Turkey.

Gold had been used as money prior to the emergence of the stater but it wasn’t standardised meaning that the gold had to be assayed in each transaction.

Standardising the coinage and stamping it with the seal of the sovereign was a significant development in monetary history.

The first staters, minted by King Alyattes were made of electrum, a gold-silver alloy.

2. The Croeseid

croeseid

The Croeseid is actually a type of stater, rather than a different coin in its own right.

King Croesus of Lydia was the son of King Alyattes.

The Croeseid is the name given to staters minted by King Croesus. The significance of this coin is that it was minted in pure gold, unlike the gold-silver alloy of his father.

This makes the Croeseid the first standardised pure gold coin in history.

3. The Persian Daric

persian-daric

The Daric was the gold coin of the Achaemenid (or Persian) Empire. It was named after King Darius I.

The concept of standardised coinage was adopted from the nearby Lydians who were subjugated by Darius’ predecessor Cyrus the Great.

The Daric circulated widely across Persia and the Mediterranean.

It was the standard-bearer among currencies in the Ancient World until the defeat of Persia by Alexander the Great.

4. The Roman Aureus

gold-aureus

The aureus was first minted in large quantities by Julius Caesar in 46BC during the late Roman Republic.

It continued to be issued during the Roman Empire and became the standard gold coin under Augustus.

While the silver denarius was more widely used as day to day currency, the aureus was utilised for large transactions.

It remained the standard gold coin in the Roman monetary system until it was replaced by the Solidus in 312AD.

5. The Solidus

solidus

The Solidus was introduced by Roman Emperor Constantine the Great as part of a major monetary reform after the debasement of the denarius and the aureus.

The Solidus was successful and was maintained at a fixed weight, providing some stability to the economy.

The Solidus was so successful that when the Western Roman Empire fell in 476AD, the Solidus survived several hundred years more and was a primary currency in the Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire.

6. The Florentine Florin

florentine-florin

The Florentine Florin or fiorino d’oro was introduced by the Republic of Florence in 1252. Florence had become very wealthy from trade with the East.

It was the first time gold has emerged as a significant form of money in Europe since the fall of the Roman Empire and it quickly became one of the most widely circulated coins of its time.

Such was its success that inspired several other Italian city states to mint their own versions. The Venetians were one of the first with the introduction of the Ducat.

7. The Spanish Escudo

spanish-escudo

The Escudo was a Spanish coin minted from the bounty of gold brought home from the New World.

It was created as part of a monetary reform of 1535-1537 undertaken by Charles I of Spain (more commonly known as Holy Roman Emperor Charles V).

The monarch was intending to address the debasement of the previous coinage by introducing a coin with a standardised weight and fineness.

The Escudo circulated widely throughout Spain and her colonial empire and production continued until 1864.

Also very well known was the Spanish Doubloon.

This was a large gold coin that was widely recognised and was worth two Escudos.

8. The British Gold Sovereign

british-gold-sovereign

The first gold sovereign was minted by Henry VII in 1489. However, the term normally refers to the gold coin that emerged in 1817 as part of the 1816 monetary reform that followed the Napoleonic Wars.

The 1816 reforms also placed Britain on a formal gold standard with the pound defined as 7.32238g of gold.

That made the Sovereign a powerhouse in global commerce.

Now that Britain is no longer on the gold standard, the Sovereign is minted as a bullion coin for investment purposes.

9. The Louis d’or

louis-dor

The Louis d’or was the dominant gold coin of the French monetary system of the Bourbon Kings.

The Louis d’or was first minted in 1640 in order that France might become more competitive internationally.

It was first struck by Louis XIII and continued under Louis XIV, Louis XV, and Louis XVI until it was discontinued in 1792 as a result of the French Revolution.

This coin was modelled on the Spanish Escudo.

Like the Doubloon, the French also minted a double Louis d’or.

10. The Napoleon Gold Coin

napoleon-gold-coin

The Napoleon gold coin was first minted in 1803 as Napoleon Bonaparte sought to restore sound money to France after the monetary chaos of the French Revolution.

Napoleons were struck in denominations of 5, 10, 20, 40, 50 and 100 francs.

But the term “Napoleon” is commonly associated with the 20 franc, which was 6.45g with 90% fineness.

This coin was part of a wide ranging monetary reform instituted by Napoleon that remained largely intact until the outbreak of the Great War in 1914.

11. The Krugerrand

krugerrand

The Krugerrand is a 1oz gold bullion coin that was first minted in South Africa in 1967.

It is historically significant as the first modern bullion coin to be produced for investment purposes.

This had a role in popularising gold ownership by individuals. 1oz is an accessible entry point for the individual and, while there were no alternatives, the Krugerrand dominated the market.

The success of the Krugerrand inspired other countries to create their own investment grade bullion coins.

12. The Canadian Maple

canadian-maple

The Canadian Maple was one of the first gold coins to follow the Krugerrand. It was first minted by the Royal Canadian Mint in 1979.

The significance of the Maple is that it was 24 karat gold (99.99% pure gold) as opposed to the 22 karat gold (91.67% pure gold) of the Krugerrand.

This has made the Maple one of the most popular gold bullion coins in the world and set the standard for the world to follow.

13. The Chinese Gold Panda

gold-panda

The Chinese Gold Panda is a 24 karat bullion coin first minted by the People’s Republic of China in 1982.

One of the unique things about the Panda is that the design changes each year.

The introduction of the Chinese Gold Panda was significant for several reasons. It helped to grow the precious metals industry in China as well as opening up China’s bullion market to international investors. It also represented China’s emergence as a major player in the global gold market and a growing world power.

14. The American Gold Eagle

american-gold-eagle

Gold Eagles were authorised by the 1792 Coinage Act. However, they were not produced in large quantities due to a shortage of bullion and because the silver dollar was established as the standard unit of currency.

However, the modern American Gold Eagle is a 22 karat bullion coin unrelated to its 18th century namesake.

It was first produced in 1986 as an investment vehicle rather than as a circulating currency and is one of the most popular bullion coins in the world.

The United States mint also responded to the market demand for 24 karat gold by producing the Gold Buffalo in 2006.

Conclusion

From the ancient world, to the medieval world, to the modern world, to the bullion coins of the fiat era each and everyone of these famous gold coins has a story to tell.

Each was produced in a particular set of historic and economic circumstances and reflects a particular chapter of monetary history.


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Image Credits

Famous Gold Coins by Zlataky on Unsplash

Lydian Stater is licensed under CC-BY-SA 3.0

Croeseid is licensed under CC-BY-SA 4.0

Persian Daric is licensed under CC-BY-SA 2.5

Gold Aureus is in the public domain

Solidus is licensed under CC-BY-SA 4.0

Florentine Florin is licensed under CC-BY-SA 2.5

Spanish Escudo is licensed under CC-BY-SA 3.0

British Gold Sovereign is in the public domain

Louis d’or is licensed under CC-BY-SA 3.0

Napoleon is in the public domain

Krugerrand is licensed under CC-BY-SA 4.0

Canadian Maple by Zlataky on Unsplash

Gold Panda is licensed under CC-BY-SA 4.0

Gold Eagle is licensed under CC-BY-SA 3.0

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