Fine Gold Coins
The first thing we should point out is that it is almost impossible to economically or commercially obtain absolutely fine (pure) gold. 24 carat gold would be absolutely pure. Before electrolytic refining, highly refined gold was usually .9995 fine (99.95%). If we convert this to carats, it would be 23.988 carats. London good delivery gold bars are acceptable at .995 which is "only" 23.88 carats. With electrolytic refining, it became commercially economic to produce .9999 fine gold, which works out to 23.9976 carats. the Royal Canadian Mint also produce a .99999 fine gold coin, advertised as the world's purest gold coin. this works out at 23.99976 carats. It follows from this, that it is more accurate to refer to coins by their metric fineness than as 24 carat.
In 2007, since writing this page, the Royal Canadian Mint has issued a gold bullion maple leaf which is .99999 fine. Their previous coin, a $350 Face Value Proof, was a high premium collector coin. The new coins are $200 Face Value Bullion Maples, which are being issued at a premium similar to normal gold maples. The first delivery we have had were all in blister pack card certificates, and were very slightly more expensive.
Why Fine Gold?
Why not? The original purpose of gold coins was to circulate as everyday money, therefore they needed to be durable. Coins intended purely for storage as bullion coins do not have this requirement, therefore there is no reason for not using fine gold. We should explain that in practice it is difficult to refine any substance to 100% purity, therefore fine gold is a slight approximation. It is more accurate to refer to it by its actual fineness as a proportion of "unity" (1), therefore .9999, .99999, .999, .995, .9995, or whatever.
There is a possible advantage that fine gold does not need to be alloyed, therefore removing several production stages, and it is possible that pure gold coins can therefore be produced more cheaply than alloyed ones. Add to this the fact that some people, given a choice may have preference for one type over another, then the introduction of variety is desirable. It may also be that Canada wished to appeal to a different sector of the market when it decided to issue its famous gold maple leaves in pure gold rather than 22 carat.
There is also a possibility that countries such as Canada and Australia. which both produce fine gold bullion coins (.999 or better), have done so deliberately so they could introduce import taxes or restrictions on lower purity coins, creating a protectionist effect. Alternatively, they may have realised the protectionist situation after the start of production, or have produced fine gold coins to avoid taxes on their own output. It seems quite a coincidence that the two leading countries in the issue of fine gold coins also have import duties on lower purity coins, such as 22 carat (.9166) and .900, even though these purities are long-standing traditonal coinage alloys.
Which are Which?
British Britannias, American Eagles, and South African Krugerrands are all made of 22 carat gold.
Austrian Philharmonikers, Australian Nuggets, Canadian Maples, and Chinese Pandas are all made of "24 carat" gold.
Different Standards of 24 Carat Gold Coins
The original "fine gold" bullion coins were Canadian maples. From their first date of issue in 1979 for four years up to 1982 inclusive, gold maple leaves were made of .999 fine gold (99.9). Only from 1983 onwards were they changed to .9999 (99.99) fine. The difference is only very slight indeed, but we are trying to be pedantically accurate here! As mentioned already, the new 2007 Canadian $200 gold maples are made of .99999 (5 x 9s) gold.
Manx nobles were also been made in two different standards, 22 carat gold from 1984 to 1988 inclusive, and .9999 gold from 1994 onwards.
Manx gold crowns have been made in wide variety of sizes and gold alloys, too many to try to analyse here, but most of the one ounce and fractional bullion versions were produced in .9999 gold.
In addition British Sovereigns are made of 22 carat gold, and although they predate the concept of a one ounce coin, are an excellent, but often overlooked alternative. Many other, older gold coins were made of .900 gold including French and Swiss, but this does not reduce their value to the investor.
These older coins were originally intended for circulation, and they were made in sizes and weights which suited their original purposes many years ago. Sovereigns were first issued in 1489, and have retained their current format since 1817. There are advantages and disadvantages in buying these "real" coins instead of modern bullion coins.
The minimum accepted standard for gold coins to be treated as VAT free investment gold in the EU is 900 parts per thousand, equivalent to 21.60 carats.
Can't Decide Which To Buy?
Look at our
Complete One Ounce Bullion 7 Coin Collection
Complete Half Ounce Bullion 7 Coin Collection
Complete Quarter Ounce Bullion 7 Coin Collection
Complete Tenth Ounce Bullion 7 Coin Collection
Complete 28 Coin Bullion Collection
Fine Gold Bars