United States $20 gold coins were extremely useful in foreign trade during the last half of the 19th century. Double eagles were immediately recognizable to European and Latin American trade partners and their weight and gold content were reliably guaranteed, making them ideal as a medium of exchange.
On the other hand, 20 dollars was a lot of money to the average working man, and the coins were too large for everyday transactions. Accordingly, double eagles were seldom seen in circulation in this country, but the U.S. Mint continued to strike large numbers of them to serve as currency reserves and settle large accounts in foreign trade. For most of the 1880s, the Philadelphia Mint tried to limit production of double eagles and encourage the use of gold bars for overseas transactions, saving time and resources which were needed to strike the vast quantities of silver dollars the government was mandated to produce by the Bland-Allison Act of 1878.
As a result of this policy, only 751 business-strike Liberty double eagles were struck at the Philadelphia Mint in 1885, accompanied by a mintage of 77 proofs to satisfy collector demand.
Most of the small business-strike mintage was released into circulation at the time of issue. Because most 19th-century collectors preferred to update their collections by purchasing proofs every year, few of the business strikes were saved for numismatic purposes. As a result, most examples seen are in the XF-AU grade range today, and the surviving population probably numbers less than 100 specimens in all grades. Although more business strikes exist in lower circulated grades, high-grade business strikes are more elusive, and more expensive, than proofs of corresponding grades in today’s market.
Our April 25-28 CSNS Signature auction features two examples from among the minuscule mintage of 1885 twenties, including an impressive specimen graded MS61 by PCGS, with sharply detailed design elements throughout. The pleasing greenish-gold surfaces show the expected number of minor contact marks for the grade, with much prooflike reflectivity in the fields. The overall presentation is most attractive for this classic 19th-century gold rarity.
A second example is graded AU details by PCGS due to a harsh cleaning, although the in-hand appearance only suggests that the coin was cleaned. Under a loupe, dense hairlines appear as well as numerous tiny marks. The medium-gold surfaces are bright, yet they retain solid About Uncirculated sharpness and considerable visual appeal. We note a small mark on the bridge of Liberty’s nose and another near star 13.
These offerings present a seldom-available opportunity to acquire one of the most famous low-mintage issues in the entire U.S. gold series, and we expect many bidders to recognize the opportune moment. These coins are open for bidding now at coins.HA.com.