What Does MCMLXXXVI Mean on My Gold Coin?

Roman Numerals on United States Coins

1986 $50 Gold American Eagle Bullion Coin
1986 $50 Gold American Eagle Bullion Coin. Image Courtesy of: Heritage Auction Galleries, www.ha.com

What Does MCMLXXXVI Mean on My Gold Coin?

I have a gold coin from the U.S. that has a denomination of $5, $10, $25, or $50 but the gold coin has no date on it. Instead it has something like MCMLXXXVI. What does this mean?

Answer

One of the first United States gold coins to use Roman Numerals was the 1907 Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle. The artist who designed this coin, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, was trying to revive the artistic aspect of United States coinage.

He wanted to give our coinage a more "classical" look and feel. Therefore, he used Roman numerals to indicate the coins date.

In 1986 the United States Mint started producing gold coins to appeal to precious metal bullion investors. They decided to revive the classic design of Augusta Saint-Gaudens twenty dollar gold coins. 

During the first few years of the American Eagle gold coin program, the U.S. Mint did not use standard dates on the coins. Instead, the date was given in Roman numerals.

SymbolIVXLCDM
Value1510501005001,000

Roman Numerals to Arabic Numeral Conversion

Here is a breakdown of the dates on these gold coins and their corresponding years in our more familiar Arabic numerals:

Roman Numerals

Western or
Arabic

Coin Series

MCMVII

1907

$20 Saint Gaudens (Standing Liberty) $20 Gold

MCMLXXXVI

1986

$5, $10, $25, $50 American Eagle Gold Bullion Coins

MCMLXXXVII

1987

$5, $10, $25, $50 American Eagle Gold Bullion Coins

MCMLXXXVIII

1988

$5, $10, $25, $50 American Eagle Gold Bullion Coins

MCMLXXXIX

1989

$5, $10, $25, $50 American Eagle Gold Bullion Coins

MCMXC

1990

$5, $10, $25, $50 American Eagle Gold Bullion Coins

MCMXCI

1991

$5, $10, $25, $50 American Eagle Gold Bullion Coins

MMIX

2009

$20 Ultra High Relief Gold Coin

Beginning in 1992, the dates on U.S. gold coins began appearing in normal digits on all United States coins.

Classic U.S. Gold Coins With No Date

In 1907, the U.S. Mint issued both high relief and ultra-high relief double eagle gold coins designed by legendary sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens. These coins also had Roman numeral dates on them, which appear as MCMVII.

The 1907 gold coins with Roman numerals are extremely rare.

American Eagle Gold Bullion Coins

When the American Eagle gold bullion coins were first issued, the designers tried to reproduce Augustus Saint-Gaudens' original design. This included specifying the date using Roman numerals. Just as in the original series the use of Roman numerals in the date was short-lived. Beginning with the coins issued in 1992 Western or Arabic numerals were used to indicate the date of production.

The 2009 Ultra-High Relief Saint-Gaudens Gold Coin

The U.S. Mint will issue a special one-year Ultra-High Relief Saint-Gaudens gold double eagle (twenty-dollar gold piece) in 2009. This coin will also have the date given in Roman numerals as MMIX. This gold coin is a tribute to the original ultra-high relief double eagles first issued in 1907. The "tails" sides of these coins are different than the American Eagles described above. Double eagle gold coins have the denomination spelled out as TWENTY DOLLARS.

Why Aren't Roman Numerals Used Anymore?

Although there isn't a law that dictates the use of Arabic nor Roman Numerals, the artists at the United States Mint, with the approval of the Secretary of the Treasury, may use whatever numerals they see fit.

Mostly, Roman numerals were used as a means of artistic expression. Unfortunately, most people in the United States cannot translate Roman numerals in their head. Therefore, the trend has been to use Arabic numerals since that is the standard numbering system of the United States. Someday another artist at The United States Mint may choose to use Roman numerals once again.

Edited by: James Bucki