$20 Liberty Head Gold Double Eagle
The largest coin denomination created by the Mint Act of 1792 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 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. In 1850, the US Mint struck 1,170,261 coins at Philadelphia and 141,000 coins at 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 them remaining small percentage.
In 1854, the newly constructed San Francisco Mint joined in by striking 141,468 “S” mint marked 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.
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.
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