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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David Lawrence Rare Coins Auction Highlights - May 17, 2015CoinWeek (blog), May 20th
Early U.S. gold coins are rare in virtually any grade, but here is an example of a nearly uncirculated representative of the challenging Capped Bust quarter eagle series. Considering that the 1830 mintage stood at just 4,540 and only a fraction of...Read more
The Ultra High Relief MCMVII (1907) Saint-Gaudens double eagle, explainedCoin World, May 8th
It was made in a reduced diameter and was struck of pure .999 fine gold, rather than the 90 percent gold and 10 percent copper composition of normal double eagles. The design differed from the 1907 High Relief version in that the motto IN GOD WE TRUST ...Read more
2015-W American Gold Eagle One Ounce Uncirculated CoinCoin Update News, May 1st
The obverse design of the coin features the classic depiction of Lady Liberty from the circulating double eagle gold coin designed by Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Liberty is depicted in full length, holding a lit torch and an olive branch as she steps...Read more
1933 Saint-Gaudens double eagle or 1913 Liberty nickel: Which is the 'holy grail'?Coin World, April 29th
Kennedy is referring to the 1933 gold Saint-Gaudens double eagle—a coin that has been in the limelight recently with the recent news in the Langbord case—and the 1913 Liberty 5-cent coin with the "V" reverse, of which there are five known...Read more
Finest Certified MCMVII UHR Double Eagle to Star in Stack's Bowers Sotheby's ...CoinWeek (blog), April 24th
The artist, working in his studio in Cornish, New Hampshire (now a National Historic Site), began with the $20 gold double eagle, the largest denomination gold coin. For the obverse he created a bold image of Miss Liberty in the figure of Victory...Read more
American Government Must Return $80 Million Worth of Seized Gold Coins to ...artnet News, April 21st
In 1933, however, during the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered that all 455,500 Double Eagle coins struck at the Philadelphia Mint that year be melted down as the government abandoned the gold standard and stopped using gold in ...Read more
US Must Return Rare 'Double Eagle' Gold Coins To FamilyHuffington Post, 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...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