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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Recent News: US Twenty Dollar Gold Coins
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US Asks Appeals Court to Rehear Ruling Over Rare 'Double Eagle' CoinsWall Street Journal (blog), July 2nd
The U.S. government hasn't given up its multiyear fight to hang on to 10 rare gold coins that a federal appeals court recently ruled should be given back to the heirs of a Philadelphia coin dealer who obtained them decades ago under mysterious ...Read more
Should You Collect Medals?CoinWeek (blog), June 30th
For example, U.S. Mint engraver Anthony C. Paquet is known to most coin collectors solely for his single obscure reverse for an 1861 gold double eagle ($20 piece). Julian's work identifies many elaborate medal designs by this engraver that showcase the...Read more
Book review: Local author's debut novel a 'page-turner'Auburn Villager, June 25th
More than a hundred fifty years would pass before the descendant of one of the real conspirators, who had a strange fixation on an 1865 gold double eagle, murdered a father and son over the father's refusal to sell a piece of Delta land that happened...Read more
Key Date Liberty Double EaglesCoin Update News, June 19th
The Twenty Dollar Gold Piece or Double Eagle is one of the most historical and intriguing of all American coin issues. From its inception in 1849 to the final issue of the series in 1933, it was the largest regularly issued denomination of all United...Read more
What's Up in the Carson City Gold Coin Market?CoinWeek (blog), June 19th
high-end, important gold rarities from the CC mint. I bought (and later sold) a number of amazing collections and handled finest known or Condition Census examples of virtually every date in the Carson City half eagle, eagle, and double eagle coin...Read more
Philadelphia: Family wins back rare Double Eagle gold coins that could be ...The Independent, April 20th
A total of 455,500 double eagle coins were minted in Philadelphia in the 1930s, but were ordered melted down and converted to gold bullion as part of President Franklin D Roosevelt's plan to shore up the nation's banking and currency system. A small ...Read more
Philadelphia family wins back seized rare Double Eagle gold coins possibly ...Fox News, April 17th
PHILADELPHIA – A Philadelphia family has been awarded the rights to 10 rare gold coins possibly worth $80 million or more after a U.S. appeals court overturned a jury verdict. U.S. Department of the Treasury officials insist the $20 Double Eagles were ...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