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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
1861 Paquet Reverse Unknown
1887 Proof Only 121
|Date||Type||Mintage||VF Value||Unc Value|
|1851 to 1854||Type 1||2,087,155 to 71,000||$2,500||$30,000|
|1854-S to 1856||Type 1||879,675 to 141,468||$2,200||$28,000|
|1856-S to 1860-S||Type 1||1,189,750 to 43,597||$2,500||$15,000|
|1861 to 1865-S||Type 1||2,976,387 to 142,760||$2,000||$50,000|
|1861 Paquet Rev||Type 1||Unique?||$2,000,000||$5,000,000|
|1861-S Paquet Rev||Type 1||19,250||$35,000||$150,000|
|1866 to 1876-S||Type 2||1,709,800 to 295,720||$1,800||$20,000|
Expand your collection today and shop our selection of $20 Gold Liberty Double Eagle Coins (1850-1907).