HomeUS CoinsLiberty Head Double Eagle, With Motto (1877-1907) | CoinWeek

Liberty Head Double Eagle, With Motto (1877-1907) | CoinWeek

1879-O Liberty Head Double Eagle. Image: Heritage Auctions / CoinWeek.
1879-O Liberty Head Double Eagle. Image: Heritage Auctions / CoinWeek.

By Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker for CoinWeek Notes …..
 

The last variation of the Liberty Head Double Eagle, often referred to as Type 3, was the Liberty Head Double Eagle With Motto and Twenty Dollars type.

The Liberty Head Double Eagle was produced for circulation from 1850 to 1907, when the design was replaced by the famous and controversial Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle. The denomination owed its existence to massive gold finds in California and was produced in large quantities, particularly during the final 20 years of its issue. The Liberty Head coin design outlived its creator, United States Mint Chief Engraver James Barton Longacre, by almost 40 years. The design was tweaked by Longacre’s successors, father and son engravers William and Charles Barber, who changed the expression of the denomination (from TWENTY D. to TWENTY DOLLARS) and modified Liberty’s figure (the most obvious being the sharper angle of the neck truncation, which provided additional space for the placement of the date.

The production period of Type 3 Liberty Head Double Eagles coincided with turbulent political and economic times in this country. In 1878, gold coins circulated on par with paper money issues for the first time. Previously, currency was so distrusted that hard money, especially gold, had traded at a premium.

Another major issue facing American gold coinage during this period was the declining worldwide demand for silver. The Federal Government’s answer to this crisis was the Bland-Allison Act of 1878, which forced the mass production of silver dollar coins. 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 Department 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.

Despite these headwinds, the Liberty Head Double Eagle was a driver of economic growth for a nation in its ascendency. Containing nearly an ounce of gold, these $20 face-value coins have appreciated to levels beyond $2,200 in bullion value alone. As numismatic collectibles, they have much to offer and many secrets to uncover.

How Much Are Liberty Head Double Eagles, With Motto, Worth?

With Motto Liberty Head Double Eagles are considered common for most dates. Though prices for examples in lower grades reflect the amount of gold in these large coins, prices advance considerably for attractive coins in Mint State, especially in Gem or conditionally scarce grades or finer.

Key dates are the Proof-only issues from Philadelphia in 1883, 1884, and 1887; the rare 1879-O Liberty Head Double Eagle; 1882, 1885, 1886, and 1891 Philadelphia circulation strikes; most of the Carson City dates, particularly the 1891-CC. Prooflike circulation strikes are known and often command premiums.

Proofs were minted yearly at Philadelphia, and Prooflike pieces from the Denver Mint in 1906 and 1907 are known.

All Proofs are expensive, as very few coins have been certified in Gem and near-Gem grades in census reports, except for certain dates minted during the series’ last decade. Cameo and Deep Cameo Proofs, which are not unusual for the type, have been certified and usually command higher prices.

Extended Coverage on CoinWeek

Classic U.S. gold coin specialist and CoinWeek content partner Doug Winter offers his advice (and warnings) for those looking to start collecting the massive Liberty Head Double Eagle series, including the Type 3.

Doug brings his experience and expertise to bear on the Proof-only issues of the Type 3.

In this piece from 2010, Doug analyses the market for five ultra-low mintage Type Three Liberty Head Double Eagles produced for circulation during the 1880s and ’90s that had dramatic increases in value over the previous 10 years.

And finally, Doug points out some of the Type 3 issues he considers underrated and undervalued.

Design

Obverse:

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 denticulated rim, and the date is centered at the bottom. The designer’s initials, JBL, appear at the bottom edge of the neck truncation.

Reverse:

The reverse displays UNITED STATES OF AMERICA around the top two-thirds inside a denticulated 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. The motto E PLURIBUS UNUM is divided, with E PLURIBUS 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 and below STATES OF, 13 small six-pointed stars form an oval. Seven of the stars are on the blank field and six overlap sunburst-like rays that form an arc between the eagle’s wings. Within the oval is the national 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.

Varieties

A few minor die varieties have been identified, but an 1888 Doubled Die and an 1896 Doubled Date are the only two currently listed in census/population reports. A unique 1876 Proof prototype of this final Liberty Head Double Eagle type, called a transitional pattern in the Guide Book of United States Coins (the “Red Book“), is also known.

Liberty Head Double Eagle, With Motto Coin Specifications

Liberty Head Double Eagle, With Motto
Years Of Issue: 1877-1907
Mintage (Business): High: 6,256,699 (1904); Low: 571 (1882)
Mintage (Proof): High: 158 (1903); Low: 20 (1877 and 1878; one Denver 1907 Proof, or Prooflike piece, has been certified)
Alloy: 90% gold, 10% copper
Weight: ±33.436 g
Diameter: ±34.00 mm
Edge: Reeded
OBV Designer: James B. Longacre, with minor modifications by William Barber and Charles Barber
REV Designer: James B. Longacre, with minor modifications by William Barber and Charles Barber

 

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References

Bowers, Q. David. The Experts Guide to Collecting & Investing in Rare Coins. Whitman Publishing.

–. A Guide Book of United States Type Coins. Whitman Publishing.

Bowers, Q. David with Robert Galiette. U.S. Liberty Head $20 Double Eagles: The Gilded Age of Coinage. Stack’s Bowers.

Breen, Walter. Walter Breen’s Encyclopedia of U.S. Coins. Doubleday.

Dannreuther, John and Harry W. Bass, Jr. Early U.S. Gold Coin Varieties, A Study of Die States. 1795-1834. Whitman Publishing.

Greer, Brian. The Complete Guide to Liberty Seated Dimes. DLRC Press.

Guth, Ron, and Jeff Garrett. United States Coinage: A Study by Type. Whitman Publishing.

–. Encyclopedia of U.S. Gold Coins: 1795-1933. Whitman Publishing.

Taxay, Don. The U.S. Mint and Coinage. Arco Publishing.

Yeoman, R.S. and Kenneth Bressett (editor). The Official Red Book: A Guide Book of United States Coins. Whitman Publishing.

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CoinWeek Notes
CoinWeek Notes
CoinWeek Notes presents expert analysis and insights from Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker, the award-winning editors of CoinWeek.com.

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