By CoinWeek ….
On Sunday, September 13, bidding ends on GreatCollections.com for this 1857-S Liberty Head $20 Double Eagle gold coin recovered from the shipwreck of SS Republic graded AU-58 by NGC. The certified coin includes a display case and DVD from Odyssey Marine, the company that discovered the shipwreck site in 2003.
970,500 examples of the 1857-S were reported struck by the Philadelphia Mint, which is on the high side of average as far as Without Motto double eagle mintage figures go. And by “Without Motto”, we mean double eagles produced from 1849 through 1866 wherein the national motto “In God We Trust” had not yet been legally mandated to appear on the denomination. Yet until the discovery of several notable 19th-century shipwrecks in recent decades–including the SS Republic, which sank in October 1865–high-quality examples of the 1857-S $20 gold coin were very hard to find on the market.
NGC reports 211 pieces graded AU-58, with about half as many graded MS-65. The NGC top pop for the issue is MS-67, of which there are six grading events listed. Auction records for AU-58 specimens as reported by NGC average around $3,000 over the past five years. In 2017, examples sold for $3,055 in June and $3,290 in April. In September 2016, a piece went for $3,525. In 2015, two specimens garnered $3,120.80 (one in April and one in July), and two others sold for $3,290 (in January and August, respectively).
For more auction results, you can search through the GreatCollections Auction Archives, with records for over 600,000 certified coins the company has sold over the past seven years.
At the time of writing, the high bid is $2,600 after 29 bids.
History of the Without Motto Liberty Head Double Eagle
By 1840 the Bechtler family of North Carolina had produced more than $2.2 million in gold coins at their private mint, about half of which were dollars. This success put pressure on the federal government to produce gold dollar coins, but it took the discovery of gold in California to move the idea forward. Great quantities of gold were sent to the Philadelphia Mint for coinage. An initial shipment was coined into quarter eagles, but it soon became clear that small denomination coins would not keep up with the influx. Congressman James McKay of North Carolina modified earlier legislation authorizing the gold dollar to also allow the production of a $20 piece–the double eagle. The statute passed in 1849.
The designs for the first double eagle were by James Barton Longacre, Chief Engraver of the United States Mint. Opposed by Chief Coiner Franklin Peale and Mint Director Robert Patterson, Longacre produced double eagle patterns and die trials in 1849, none of which were deemed satisfactory. When Longacre learned of efforts by Peale and Patterson to dismiss him, he turned for support to Senator John C. Calhoun of South Carolina, through whose influence he had received his appointment, and the ouster was blocked.
The first production coins finally appeared in 1850. One or possibly two 1849-dated double eagles exist, classified either as Proofs or patterns. One 1849 double eagle is impounded in the Smithsonian Institution, and though a second was apparently sent to the Treasury Secretary after being minted, the current status of that coin is unknown.
In 1861, assistant engraver Anthony C. Paquet created a modified reverse for the double eagle that was quickly removed from circulation after it was struck and is therefore rare in today’s market.
In 1866, the national motto “In God We Trust” was added to the reverse.
Longacre’s classical left-facing Liberty on the obverse is said to be modeled after an old Hellenistic sculpture, the Crouching Venus. A beaded-edged coronet with the word LIBERTY is placed on her head and curled locks both drape down the back of the neck and sweep from the front to form rolled curls at the back of her head. Thirteen six-pointed stars encircle inside a denticled rim, and the date is centered at the bottom.
The reverse displays UNITED STATES OF AMERICA around the top two-thirds inside a denticled rim, and the denomination TWENTY D. is centered at the bottom. An eagle with outstretched wings is in the center, clutching three arrows in the left claw and a small olive branch in the right, with a shield placed across its breast. The eagle, head turned to its right, is holding in its beak one of two top extensions of an elaborately curled and parted double scroll or ribbon, which some suggest represents the double eagle denomination. E PLURIBUS is in the center of the ribbon to the left, and UNUM in a similar location on the ribbon to the right. Above the eagle’s head, below STATES OF, are 13 small six-pointed stars forming an elliptical shape. Seven of the stars are on the blank field and six overlap sunburst-like rays that form an arc between the eagle’s wings.
Circulation coins were minted at Philadelphia, New Orleans, and San Francisco; O and S mintmarks are located in the narrow space below the eagle, above TWENTY D., on the reverse. All Proofs were minted at Philadelphia.
Without Motto Liberty Head Double Eagles in the Current Market
Without Motto Liberty Head double eagles are considered common, and though prices for the lower grades reflect the amount of gold contained in this large coin they advance steeply as low Mint State or finer coins. O-Mint issues command higher premiums for nearly all dates, but the 1854-O and 1856-O are extremely expensive. Other coins with premium prices include the Large Date 1854 variety and the 1861-S Paquet modified reverse variety. An 1861 Paquet reverse from the Philadelphia Mint is also known but is extremely expensive and nearly unique with only two specimens known.
Coins recovered from several shipwrecks, including Republic, Central America, and Brother Jonathan, have added to the Mint State populations but often carry a modest premium because of the history associated with those pieces. Prooflike circulation strikes are known. All Proofs are expensive–dramatically so as near-Gem and Gem–and are represented in census/population reports by very few coins. Cameo and Deep Cameo Proofs have been certified.