When the double eagle was proposed one of the arguments in support of the new coin was that a depositor with a large amount of bullion would find the $20 coin a more convenient product than smaller denomination coins. One of the sponsors of the double eagle authorizing legislation, Representative James McKay of North Carolina, noted that the Act of 1837 required the United States Mint to provide whatever coins a bullion depositor wanted. Certainly, the thought went, a depositor would prefer to have as few coins as possible.
However, because some legislators were doubtful that the public would indeed accept this large coin, its authorization was limited to two years. If the denomination proved unpopular, the legislation would not be renewed.
But the double eagle did have its supporters. Senator Thomas Benton of Missouri predicted that the $20 coins would be more popular than the gold dollar, which proved to be a correct assessment, and the denomination was produced for eight-and-a-half decades.
Photos used with permission and courtesy of Heritage Auction Galleries
Gold twenties were first released into circulation in 1850. In 1866, the religious motto IN GOD WE TRUST was added to the reverse of the double eagle, producing what is often referred to as the Type 2 double eagle. This resulted in two designs for the same year (1866), a pattern repeated in 1907 when Augustus Saint-Gauden’s design replaced James Longacre’s Liberty Head type. The oval of stars above the eagle on the reverse was expanded to accommodate the motto. Additional changes included modification of the reverse shield, ribbons, and rays, and the lengthening of the eagle’s tail feathers. The last change necessitated the use of smaller mintmarks to fit in the reduced space left between the feathers and the denomination.
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 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 shield has ornate curved borders; the sides and top were straight on the Without Motto type.
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 coins were minted at Philadelphia, Carson City (from 1870 forward), and San Francisco; small CC and S mintmarks are located in the narrow space below the eagle, above TWENTY D., on the reverse. All Proofs were minted at Philadelphia.
With 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. Carson City Mint issues command higher premiums for nearly all dates, particularly so for 1870 (extremely expensive) through 1873. 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, and are not unusual for the type.
Designer: James B. Longacre
Circulation Mintage:high 1,709,825 (1873), low 3,789 (1870-CC)
Proof Mintage:high 50 (1867), low 20 (1874 and 1875).
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 1873 Open 3 and Close 3 types are the best known. Close 3 circulating coins were produced at all three mints, and by Philadelphia for the proof issue. Open 3 examples are listed separately in census/ population reports only for Philadelphia and San Francisco mint issues.
Additional Resources :
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.