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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Collector recounts double eagles inhis liefCoin World, October 3rd
The most impressive series was that of gold $20 double eagles. I had never seen one and could only imagine how wonderful, how romantic it would be to actually own an example! That came true when for about $38 I bought an 1855-S Coronet double eagle ...Read more
Affording Indian Head $10, $4.99m silver dollar: Week's Most ReadCoin World, October 2nd
It was a breath of fresh air when in 1907 the talents of America's most famous sculptor, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, created the $10 eagle and, soon to be launched, the $20 double eagle. The $10 series was issued through 1933. Original images courtesy of Q...Read more
Shipwrecked 1865 Coronet $20 hits big at California Auction: Market AnalysisCoin World, October 1st
14 coins and medals auction in Los Angeles, the firm sold an 1865-S Coronet $20 double eagle recovered from the SS Brother Jonathan and graded Mint State 65 by Numismatic Guaranty Corp., for $24,570. Many of the 1,207 coins recovered from the wreck...Read more
Sculpture donated to museumCurry Coastal Pilot, September 29th
In 1996, his sculpture “Double Eagle” was accepted for display in the White House. Purdy opened a second gallery along the southern Oregon Coast in 1990 when he and his wife moved to Gold Beach. He died Oct. 18, 2008. The Mary D. Hume was built by ...Read more
Affording Indian Head gold eagle coinsCoin World, September 29th
Prior to 1907, hardly any numismatic reviewers had anything nice to say about the high-denomination gold designs, and the American art community, more or less centered around New York City, thought that all from the cent to the double eagle should be ...Read more
Hoard of 1873 Gold Double Eagles Discovered; NGC Certifies with “Crime of '73 ...CoinWeek (blog), September 21st
The Coinage Act of 1873 did just that . . . and my recent discovery of an original bag of 1873 Type II $20 Double Eagle gold coins, now certified and guaranteed by NGC, provides a tangible link to a troubled and turbulent time in American economics...Read more
Counterfeit Coin Detection: 1924 Saint-Gaudens Double EagleCoinWeek (blog), September 16th
Counterfeit 1924 Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle Reverse When the European banks began to sell their gold deposits in the 1960s, many dates that were previously thought to be rare suddenly became quite common. The 1924 is a prime example. For those ...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