When the California Gold Rush made the United States a wealthy country almost overnight, the federal government realized that it could use its new resources to simplify huge transactions by minting gold coins in large denominations. Because pretty much everyone still distrusted paper money, large payments were usually made in coins, thanks to their inherent value as precious metal. The largest gold coin at the time was the eagle (worth $10), which could make big transactions cumbersome.
Thus, in February 1849, Congress passed the Gold Dollar Bill, which authorized the U.S. Mint to begin coining $20 gold coins. Because it was worth twice as much as the eagle, this new coin became known as the double eagle.
Double eagles were minted from 1850 to 1933. In this period, the coin appeared with two major designs: the Liberty Head design (1850 to 1907) and the Saint-Gaudens design (1907 to 1933).
James B. Longacre designed the Liberty Head double eagle coin. The obverse featured a profile of Lady Liberty wearing an elaborate coronet. On the reverse was the eagle, with a motto ribbon on each side.
This design underwent two major changes. In 1866, with religious sentiment riding high after the Civil War, “In God We Trust” was added within a circle of stars over the eagle’s head on the coin’s reverse. This motto had first appeared just two years earlier on two-cent coins and became increasingly common as the century progressed.
In 1877, the reverse of the coin was modified yet again. Previously, the coin’s denomination was indicated as “Twenty D.” beneath the eagle crest. In 1877, “Dollars” replaced the “D.” abbreviation.
Other small changes were made over the years, but one particularly notable version was the 1861 Paquet Reverse. The government hired Anthony Paquet to make a few small modificati...
As the most valuable regular-issue American coin ever minted, the double eagle posed an obvious attraction to counterfeiters. After the Civil War, one method was particularly popular—counterfeiters would slice the coin in half, take out the gold, replace it with platinum, and put it back together. Perhaps amateur in comparison to today’s methods, these counterfeits were quite convincing at the time, so much so that the director of the U.S. Mint recommended that the coin be discontinued. These platinum counterfeits, however, have become collectible in their own right.
In 1907, the government released a completely redesigned coin, created by sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens at the request of Theodore Roosevelt. The obverse featured a Hellenistic-style portrait of Lady Liberty in a flowing gown, bearing an olive branch and a torch. Unlike the previous coin, this one portrayed Lady Liberty’s entire body, striding toward the viewer. On the reverse was an eagle flying over a rising sun. Some numismatists consider it the most beautiful American coin ever made.
The first pressings of the Saint-Gaudens double eagle featured an unusually high relief. Additionally, because Roosevelt thought that printing “In God We Trust” on a coin was sacrilegious, the coin appeared without this motto. It also featured Roman numerals for the year (MCMVII), rather than the usual Arabic numerals.
In 1908, Congress added “In God We Trust” over the rising sun on the reverse of the coin, changed the Roman numerals to Arabic numerals, and lowered the coin’s relief. Because it was changed so quickly, collectors treasure the 1907 coins, especially those with the distinctive high relief.
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Debbie Croft: Valentines and winter sports, history and sleight of handMerced Sun-Star (blog), February 12th
15, at 7 p.m. Local historian Tom Phillips will cover the history of the downtown area between Fifth and Sixth streets, from the Gold Rush era through the early 20th century. This is part two of a series. The lodge is at the corner of Sixth and Main...Read more
Rare U.S. coin makes brief stop at Czech National MuseumRadio Prague, February 10th
Four years ago, this museum displayed what was then the most expensive coin in the world, namely a US 1933 gold Double Eagle. After that, the 1794 coin travels on to Warsaw, Poland; Tallinn, Estonia; Helsinki, Finland; Stockholm, Sweden; Oslo, Norway; ...Read more
Colorado Springs area nonprofit community events starting Feb. 7, 2016Colorado Springs Gazette, February 7th
Victorian Masque Ball - 6-11 p.m. March 6, to benefit the Gold Camp Victorian Society, Double Eagle Hotel Casino, 442 E. Bennett Ave., Cripple Creek. Reservations: Hedy, 689-3700, goldcampvictoriansociety.org. Recipe for Hope - Noon-1 p.m. March 10, ...Read more
Here's what local restaurants are serving for Valentine's DayLas Vegas Review-Journal, February 1st
Cortez Room, Gold Coast, 4000 W. Flamingo Road; 800-331-5334 or www.goldcoastcasino.com. Pan-seared scallops; mixed greens ... Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steakhouse, 3925 Paradise Road; 702-796-0063 or www.delfriscos.com. Eight-ounce filet and ...Read more
Counterfeit Coin Detection – 1891 Double Eagle US Gold CoinCoinWeek (blog), January 21st
NGC graders identified an 1891-S Double Eagle with a removed mintmark. Because most alterations involve added, not removed, mintmarks, this coin might easily fool unsuspecting collectors. The California Gold Rush created an immediate need for a mint to ...Read more
Top 10 Stories of 2015: 1933 double eagle case continuesCoin World, December 26th
In 2015's primary numismatic legal story, the Langbord family moved closer in its quest to keep 10 1933 Saint-Gaudens gold $20 double eagles that it allegedly discovered in a family safe deposit more than a decade ago. Joan Langbord, the daughter of...Read more
Battle over ownership of rare gold "double eagles" again in courtPhilly.com, October 14th
On one side, the federal government argues that the 10 rare 1933 $20 "double eagle" gold coins were stolen from the U.S. Mint, and never put in circulation. On the other, the heirs of Philadelphia jeweler Israel Switt say that the Treasury Department ...Read more
US must return rare double eagle gold coins to familyReuters, April 17th
By a 2-1 vote, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia said Joan Langbord and her sons Roy and David are the rightful owners of the double eagle $20 gold pieces, after the government ignored their claim to the coins and missed a deadline...Read more