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.
Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)
Legendary Coins and Currency
Society of U.S. Pattern Collectors
Clubs & Associations
- Southern Gold Society
- Society of U.S. Pattern Collectors
- American Numismatic Association
- American Numismatic Society
- Numismatic Bibliomania Society
Other Great Reference Sites
Most watched eBay auctions
Recent News: US Twenty Dollar Gold Coins
Source: Google News
The Best New Restaurants of 2014DCist.com, December 17th
House-cured corned beef and pastrami salmon served with enormous Yukon gold potato wedges makes a hearty lunch, and vegetarians can get their fill with a rich mushroom sandwich with mornay sauce on a pretzel bun. Fried chicken and biscuits can hold...Read more
5 things you need to know TuesdayUSA TODAY, December 16th
Rare 'double eagle' gold coin auctioned. Remember when the U.S. had $20 coins? We don't either, but that was a thing. A rare 1907 double eagle $20 coin could sell for as much as $1.5 million at auction at Bonhams on Tuesday. What makes this coin so ...Read more
Rare 'double eagle' gold coin could fetch $1.5 millionUSA TODAY, December 15th
A rare 1907 double eagle $20 coin designed by famed American sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens could sell for as much as $1.5 million at auction Tuesday. The lustrous gold piece is one of four experimental relief $20 coins that were minted in...Read more
Two gold coins dropped in Lake County Salvation Army Red KettlesSuburban Life Publications, December 12th
The coin in Mundelein is a 1/10 oz. gold coin known as a “double eagle.” No further information about the coin was available as of Friday. Gold coins found in Salvation Army Red Kettles have become a much-anticipated holiday tradition of giving in...Read more
Double eagle coin from 1907 going to auctionOneida Dispatch, December 12th
This undated photo provided by Bonhams shows a 1907 double eagle $20 coin designed by Augustus Saint-Gaudens that is going to auction. ... President Theodore Roosevelt commissioned the great American sculptor to redesign the $20 gold piece...Read more
Russia's Unfazed by Falling Crude Oil PricesThe Market Oracle, December 11th
Then there's “Project Double Eagle,” which will enable trade partners to price oil in gold. That will allow users to move away from the dollar (and the euro), and conduct their business in something physical and more substantial than fiat money—and...Read more
The Fabulous Eric P. Newman Collection, part 13: An Extremely Important, Type ...CoinWeek, November 25th
The most important Newman Collection gold coin that was auctioned on Nov. 14th was a gem quality, Liberty Head double eagle ($20 gold coin) of the second design type, an 1867 that is NGC graded MS-66 and CAC approved. Newman's early quarter ...Read more
US California Couple Sells 1400 Rare Gold Coins Found in Backyard, Now ...International Business Times AU, May 29th
One of two $20 Double Eagle coins is shown in this April 2014 handout photo provided by Odyssey Marine Explorations Inc May 5, 2014. The coins were salvaged during Odyssey's first reconnaissance dive to the SS Central America shipwreck site, which lies ...Read more