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Liberty Head Double Eagles – 1849 – 1907

Learn About the 1849-1907 $20 Liberty Head Double Eagle

The Coinage Act of 1792 created numerous coinage denominations. The largest coin denomination was the Gold Eagle, which had a face value of $10.00. But in 1849, in Sutter’s Mill, California, a huge gold vein was discovered. This gold strike changed everything.

The eagle was a suitable denomination for commerce when the country was founded but as it expanded and grew, the need for a second and larger denomination grew stronger. The Coinage Act of March 3, 1849, authorized the denomination and the striking of a Double Eagle, $20.00 gold coin.

James B. Longacre was the Chief Engraver of the US Mint at that time. He essentially used the Christian Gobrecht Liberty Head Gold Coin design as his model. His Double Eagle design had a bust of Liberty facing left, her hair is pulled back in a bun at the back of her head and the coronet she wears has “LIBERTY” inscribed upon it. There are 13 six-pointed stars surrounding Miss Liberty at the periphery and the date is below her neck.

The reverse has an eagle in the Heraldic Eagle style with wings spread and upturned. She has a shield representing our nation for her body. Above the eagle is an oval of 13 six-pointed stars and above that is an arc of rays. The eagle holds a doubled ribbon with “E PLURIBUS UNUM” on it. The legend “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” runs more than halfway around the periphery. The denomination “TWENTY D.” is at the very bottom.  

(Longacre’s vision of the reverse of the new Double Eagle gold coin. It was approved with modifications.)

Longacre received approval after making a few modifications and in 1849 struck two pattern coins. One coin went to the National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian. The other coin was sent to Treasury Secretary Meredith and its whereabouts are unknown.

In 1850, the US Mint struck 1,170,261 coins in Philadelphia and 141,000 coins in New Orleans. For the next five years, both mints operated with the main mint producing 80 or 90% of the coins struck and the branch mint striking the remaining small percentage.

(The 1850 Liberty Head Double Eagles, the first year of production – Obverse [left] – Reverse [right].)

In 1854, the newly-constructed San Francisco Mint joined in by striking 141,468 “S” mintmarked 1854 Double Eagles. The San Francisco Mint was constructed to serve the miners by allowing them to turn their gold dust, nuggets and ore into coinage, rather than shipping it all the way across the country back to Philadelphia. Combined with Philadelphia’s 757,899 coins struck and New Orleans’ 3,250 coins, nearly 900,000 coins were struck that year. All three mints continued to strike coins into 1861, but New Orleans production was limited to 17,741 coins struck for the federal government before the State of Louisiana seceded from the Union in late January, and all employees at the Mint were now swearing allegiance to the State of Louisiana. By March of 1861, Louisiana had joined the Confederate States of America so the Mint, its employees, and its gold and silver were now under the control of the Confederacy.

(The last New Orleans Mint Double Eagle until 1879, 14 years after the Civil War had ended.  Obverse – [left] – Reverse [right].)

During the Civil War years (1861 – 1865), the San Francisco Mint ramped up production to try to keep pace with the main mint in Philadelphia. But the first design change came in 1866. The Civil War had ended but religious fervor was strong across the nation. The deaths of 620,000 of their fellow countrymen took a toll on the nation’s soul and not everyone was comfortable with reconciliation and reconstruction.  Both sides had asked for God’s mercy and assistance in the war effort. Two years earlier with the development and striking of the Two Cent Piece, the motto “IN GOD WE TRUST” had been added. Now it was about to appear on all of America’s gold coinage.

Longacre was asked to modify the Double Eagle in 1866 by adding the “IN GOD WE TRUST” motto inside the oval of stars on the reverse. It was the only modification made to the coin. The coins from the pattern 1849 through the 1866-S without the motto are called the Type 1 coins. The coins now with the new motto were called the Type 2 coins.

(The Type 1 Liberty Double Eagle {1849 – 1866-s} without Motto [left] and the Type 2 Liberty Double Eagle {1866 – 1876} [right].)

No other changes were made to the coins other than the addition of the motto above the eagle. But in 1877, one additional change was again made to the Liberty Head Double Eagle. The size of the lettering was slightly reduced to accommodate the new definition of the denomination. Since the coin’s inception, the denomination had been visible under the eagle at the bottom periphery. The denomination was displayed as “TWENTY D.” but in 1877 it was changed to “TWENTY DOLLARS.” It remained that way for the next 30 years until the coin was redesigned in 1907.

(The Type 2 Liberty Double Eagle {1866 – 1876} with “TWENTY D.”  [left] and the Type 3 Liberty Double Eagle {1877 – 1907} with “TWENTY DOLLARS” [right].)

More Liberty Head Twenty Dollar Double Eagles have been struck than all the other denominations of US Gold coins combined. Of all gold coins struck from the start of gold coinage in 1795 until production ceased in 1933, just under half of all of the coins struck were twenty-dollar gold pieces, and 78% of the gold used was struck into twenty-dollar pieces. It became the favorite and most efficient coin the US has ever struck for commercial transactions.

Some of the rarest dates and lowest mintages are:

1854-O                                               3,250 Struck

1856-O                                                2,250

1860-O                                                6,600

1861-O                                                17,741

1861 Paquet Reverse   Unknown

1866-S 10,000

1870-CC                                              3,789

1871-CC                                             17,387

1879-O                                                 2,325

1881                                                    2,199

1882                                                     571

1885                                                     751

1886                                                    1,000

1887 Proof Only                                    121

1891                                                    1,390

DateTypeMintageVF ValueUnc Value
1849Type 12PricelessPriceless
1850Type 11,170,261$2,500$30,000
1850-OType 1141,000$6,000$80,000
1851 to 1854Type 12,087,155 to 71,000$2,500$30,000
1854-OType 13,250$140,000$750,000
1854-S to 1856Type 1879,675 to 141,468$2,200$28,000
1855-OType 18,000$15,000$150,000
1856-OType 12,250$150,000$600,000
1856-S to 1860-SType 11,189,750 to 43,597$2,500$15,000
1857-OType 130,000$5,000$250,000
1858-OType 132,250$5,000$75,000
1859-OType 19,100$10,000$150,000
1860-OType 16,600$13,000$90,000
1861 to 1865-SType 12,976,387 to 142,760$2,000$50,000
1861 Paquet RevType 1Unique?$2,000,000$5,000,000
1861-OType 117,741$15,000$190,000
1861-S Paquet RevType 119,250$35,000$150,000
1862Type 192,098$5,000$85,000
1866-SType 1120,000$10,000$200,000
1866 to 1876-SType 21,709,800 to 295,720$1,800$20,000
1870-CCType 23,789$200,000$800,000
1871-CCType 217,387$25,000$200,000
1872-CCType 226,900$5,000$90,000
1873-CCType 222,410$4,500$140,000
1874-CCType 2115,085$4,000$40,000

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