Too much gold? Start minting the Liberty Double Eagle
It was 1849, and the Philadelphia Mint had more Gold Rush gold than it could possibly mint. First, they minted $2.50 quarter eagles. Then half eagles. Then eagles.
And still, the Mint’s coffers overflowed with unused gold (if only we all had that problem).
So, Congressman James Iver McKay amended a bill to include authorization for a new coin–the largest circulating coin America would ever see. On March 3, 1849, Congress authorized the $20 Liberty double eagle. It would go on to be minted for 57 years, becoming a fixture in American numismatics.
However, before the coin’s reign began, simply getting it designed was an uphill battle.
As he worked on the coin, Mint Chief Engraver James Barton Longacre was under constant assault by the duplicitous Chief Coiner Franklin Peale. Peale had a scheme running, in which he used Mint property to mint and sell medals for his own profit. The scheme would eventually be Peale’s downfall a few years later, but in 1849, Peale’s medal-making was still in full swing. Peale worried that Longacre’s efforts would interfere with his medal-making, so he delayed Longacre’s design work for as long as possible.
Longacre persevered through three separate designs, and eventually his double eagle was produced. The obverse featured a Greco-Roman Liberty head with her hair pulled back and a diadem resting lightly on her head. The reverse shows the Great Seal of the United States – an eagle holding a shield that represents America. The eagle also holds a double ribbon, symbolic of the coin’s denomination.
The double eagle was an immediate success and remained so for decades to come, until President Franklin D. Roosevelt criminalized the private ownership of gold in 1933. Millions of double eagles were then melted down or sent overseas, greatly reducing the current supply.
Three major types of the double eagle exist:
The Type 1 (No Motto) was minted 1850–1866, with many high-grade examples coming from San Francisco Mint specimens that were lost in shipwrecks for over 100 years. Thousands, for example, sunk with the SS Central America, a ship loaded with more than two tons of gold dust, nuggets, coins, and ingots from the California Gold Rush. The loss of Central America’s treasure was so severe that it set off the Panic of 1857. Over a century later, treasure hunters recovered the precious cargo, including thousands of beautiful, glittering Type 1 double eagles.
The Type 2 double eagle, minted 1866–1876, was the first double eagle to bear the words “In God We Trust”. The addition required slight modifications to the design, and in that process, small changes were also made to the eagle and shield. Type 2 double eagles are primarily sought by type collectors, with mint-condition Carson City double eagles being a standout rarity.
The Type 3 double eagle was minted 1877–1907 and features alterations to the “In God We Trust” motto and the Liberty Head, as well as a lengthening of “Twenty D.” to “Twenty Dollars”. In 1891, gold was discovered in Cripple Creek, Colorado, and the Denver Mint was established. About 12 Type 3 double eagle proofs were struck there, and one sold in 2010 for over half a million dollars.
With their rich variety and history, Liberty Head double eagles present endless opportunities for beginner and experienced investors alike.
1907 Historical Events Timeline
April – Hersheypark Is Opened
On April 24, Milton S. Hershey, founder of Hershey’s Chocolate, opens Hersheypark to the public. Previously it had been for the use of Hershey’s employees, but on this day, enormous crowds come to enjoy the park’s games. One year later, the first ride is added: the merry-go-round. Over the years, the park adds many more roller coasters—including the East Coast’s first looping roller coaster (to many a parent’s delight, no doubt).
June – Typhoid Mary Is Singled Out
On June 15, typhoid researcher George Soper publishes the results of his research into typhoid outbreaks in the New York area. He has found the culprit: an Irish cook who was present for all the outbreaks but left after they began, leaving no forwarding address behind. When he does track her down, she sends him away, but she’s eventually forced by authorities into quarantine for three years. She’s then released on the condition that she never again work as a cook, but after several years of underemployment as a laundress, she changes her name and goes back to cooking, causing outbreaks wherever she works. She spends the last 23 years of her life on an island in forced quarantine.
November – Oklahoma Is Admitted to the Union
On November 16, Oklahoma is admitted as the 46th state. To mark the occasion, a wedding ceremony is performed for the two territories that “wedded” to form the state. Oklahoma becomes a locus of the oil industry when underground pools of oil are discovered, driving much of the state’s early economic growth.
December – West Virginia Suffers the Worst Mining Disaster in American History
On December 8, 380 men and boys are inside the Monongah Mine when explosions tear through it. The force is so great that the earth shakes eight miles away. 362 miners die, most of them instantly. The public begins to demand the regulation of mines to protect workers, and in 1910, Congress creates the United States Bureau of Mines.