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Double Eagles – Liberty Head Double Eagle, With Motto, 1877-1907

This last variation of the Liberty double eagle, often labeled Type 3, was produced in large quantities, particularly during the last decade of the 19th century and in the years leading to the end of the series in 1907.

In most years the output from the San Francisco branch mint was greater than the production from any of the other mints, including Philadelphia. The designer of the Liberty Head double eagle, James B. Longacre, had died on January 1, 1869. His successor William Barber, and Barber’s son Charles, made modest changes to the designs, including a change in the denomination listing on the reverse from TWENTY D. to TWENTY DOLLARS, which defines the type, and a stronger angle of the neck truncation on Liberty, which provided additional space for the placement of the date.

Photos used with permission and courtesy of Heritage Auction Galleries

The Type 3 series of double eagles coincided with turbulent political and economic times in this country. In 1878 gold coins for the first time circulated at the same value as comparable paper money issues, where before they had traded at a premium (that is, it took more than a dollar’s worth of paper to buy a dollar’s worth of gold, based on face value). Even so, other than in the central western states, gold coins did not widely circulate. People had adapted to using currency for transactions and continued to do so even when silver and gold coins were available.

Declining world-wide demand for silver was contrasted by the U.S. government’s politically constrained purchase of vast amounts of silver for coinage into silver dollars, per the 1878 Bland-Allison Act. This caused an outflow of gold coins to countries where silver was no longer wanted as payment for obligations. The double eagle was the coin of choice for these transactions, and the export of gold coins became so severe that the Treasury nearly ran out of gold (the backing for certain currency) in January, 1895. National bankruptcy was averted by the behind-the-scenes actions of wealthy private citizens, including well-known financier J. Pierpont Morgan, who transferred private gold holdings to the Sub-Treasury in New York. The infusion was sufficient to avert the crisis, and gold stocks were slowly replenished in the following months.

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-point stars encircle inside a dentilled rim, and the date is centered at the bottom. The designer’s initials, JBL, appear at the bottom edge of the neck truncation as on both previous types. The reverse displays UNITED STATES OF AMERICA around the top two-thirds inside a dentilled rim, and the denomination TWENTY DOLLARS 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, thirteen small six-point stars form a slightly flattened oval. Six of the stars are on the blank field and seven overlap the edge of sunburst-like rays that form an arc between the eagle’s wings. Within the oval is the motto IN GOD WE TRUST. Circulation strikes were minted at Philadelphia (all years except 1883, 1884, and 1887), Carson City (1877-1879, 1882-1885, 1889-1893), New Orleans (1879), San Francisco (all years except 1886), and Denver (1906-1907); the CC, O, S, and D mintmarks are located in the narrow space below the eagle, above TWENTY DOLLARS, on the reverse. Proofs were minted every year at Philadelphia, and prooflike pieces from the Denver Mint in 1906 and 1907 are known.

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 at low Mint State grades or finer. Key dates are the proof-only issues from Philadelphia in 1883, 1884, and 1887; the 1879-O; 1882, 1885, 1886, and 1891 Philadelphia circulation strikes; many of the Carson City dates, particularly the 1891-CC; and most issues at Select Uncirculated and finer. 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 except for the last ten years of the series and even then not in quantity. Cameo and Deep Cameo proofs, not unusual for the type, have been certified and have slightly higher prices.


Designer: James B. Longacre, with minor modifications by William Barber and Charles Barber
Circulation Mintage:high 6,256,699 (1904), low 571 (1882; none from Philadelphia in 1883, 1884, and 1887)
Proof Mintage:high 158 (1903), low 20 (1877 and 1878; one Denver 1907 proof, or proof-like piece, has been certified)
Denomintion: $20.00, Twenty dollars, Double Eagle
Diameter: ±34 mm, reeded edge
Metal content: 90% gold, 10% copper
Weight: ±33.436 grams
Varieties:A few minor die varieties have been identified, but a double die 1888 and double date 1896 are the only two currently listed in census/ population reports. A unique 1876 proof prototype of this final Liberty double eagle type, called a transitional pattern in the 2009 Guide Book, is known.

Additional Resources :

CoinFacts: www.coinfacts.com
Coin Encyclopedia: www.ngccoin.com
The Official Red Book: A Guide Book of Double Eagle Gold Coins. Q. David Bowers. Whitman Publishing.
Encyclopedia of U.S. Gold Coins, 1795-1933. Jeff Garrett and Ron Guth. Whitman Publishing.
The Official Red Book: A Guide Book of United States Coins. R.S Yeoman (author), Kenneth Bressett (editor). Whitman Publishing.
A Guide Book of United States Type Coins. Q. David Bowers. Whitman Publishing.
United States Coinage: A Study by Type. Ron Guth and Jeff Garrett. Whitman Publishing.
The Experts Guide to Collecting & Investing in Rare Coins. Q. David Bowers. Whitman Publishing.
The U.S. Mint and Coinage. Don Taxay. Arco Publishing
Walter Breen’s Encyclopedia of U.S. Coins. Walter Breen. Doubleday.

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