On November 10, 1978, President Jimmy Carter signed the legislation authorizing the American Arts Gold Medallion Series. The bill, in part a response to the Treasury’s announcement of gold sales from the National Gold Stockpile, sought to encourage U.S. citizens to own gold. Initial sales were of 400-ounce bars, which some members of Congress recognized as out of reach for most Americans. To encourage citizens to purchase the gold, smaller units were proposed – ultimately half ounce and ounce weights. Designs originally proposed featured patriotic motifs, but the law ultimately passed mandated designs paying tribute to significant American artists. Over the objections of Treasury officials, Congress passed this legislation as part of an omnibus banking bill and President Jimmy Carter signed it into law.
From 1980 to 1984 half-ounce and ounce gold medals commemorating the following notable American artists were struck and issued: Grant Wood, Marian Anderson, Mark Twain, Willa Cather, Louis Armstrong, Frank Lloyd Wright, Robert Frost, Alexander Calder, Helen Hayes, and John Steinbeck.
For reasons which may be elaborated on in a future blog, the American Arts Gold Medallion series is not regarded as a success, though many see it as a forerunner to the popular American Eagle series, as well as gold commemoratives, (which reappeared during the Arts Medallions’ lifetime in 1984). Reporting for Coin World, Paul Gilkes characterized the medallions as a “launching pad” for future U.S. bullion series like the American Eagle which debuted in 1986.
Americans Arts Medallions regularly come up for sale in our weekly Precious Metals Auctions, where bidding is based on a percentage of their melt value.