I took the longest drive I've made in two and a half months on Thursday. My wife and I drove 75 miles each way to take treats and necessities to my 91 year old father-in-law who is locked down in an assisted living facility. It was great to get behind the wheel of my CT-6 Cadillac and open it up to 70 miles per hour. It's been a long while. At any rate, here's another article from the archives. The twenty dollar gold piece, which is also known as the double eagle, is the heaviest, most impressive coin that The United States has ever issued for general circulation. Containing almost an ounce of pure gold, the double eagle became the coin of choice for bank reserves and large business transactions from its introduction in 1850 until the end of U.S. regular issue gold coinage in 1933. Many observers believe that the St. Gaudens double eagle is the most beautiful U.S. coin as well. The double eagle might have been the most collectable U.S. coin had it not been for its high face value. This has prevented most numismatists from forming large collections of them until fairly recent times. Unlike most U.S. coins the double eagle was not among the first ten denominations that were authorized by the Coinage Act of 1792. Instead the piece was the product of two gold rushes, the southern gold rush of the late 1820s and the California gold rush of the late 1840s. Politicians from the North, South and West Join to Craft Double Legislation In 1849 production from the southern gold operations was dwindling, and many prospectors from that region were traveling west to try their luck with the recently discovered California bonanza. Southern politicians were worried that they were going to lose the two regional mints in Charlotte, North Carolina and Dahlonega, Georgia because the surrounding gold regions were not producing enough of the precious metal to sustain them. Conversely western and eastern law makers wanted to expand the coinage of bullion by authorizing a high denomination gold coin. Many thought this move would bring stability to the economy. In 1849 these two political camps joined forces to pass legislation that authorized the one dollar and twenty dollar gold pieces. By spreading the limited production coming from the southern gold fields over a large number of small gold coins, the southern politicians hoped to keep their two tiny mints in operation. Western legislatures and eastern interests hoped that the production of the massive twenty dollar gold coin would put more of the product from their mining operations to use. Chief Mint Engraver, James Longacre, experienced many technical problems when he tried to produce the dies for the tiny gold dollar. That delayed the production of the double eagle until the following year, 1850. The coin above is the 1849 "No L" gold dollar which did not have Longacre's initial "L" at the base of Ms. Liberty's neck. Although some sources say that the mintage for this piece was only 1,000 coins, the real amount was really 10,000. The responsibility for designing both of the new coins fell to chief mint engraver, James Longacre. This marked the first time that Longacre had been asked to develop any new coin designs, and these assignments gave him a great deal of trouble. Technical problems with the tiny gold dollar, his first assignment, prevented him from starting work on the double eagle until the fall of 1849. Unfortunately Longacre found that technical difficulties of a different sort would plague him in the execution of a design for the double eagle. Longacre's obverse design was very similar to the one he had devised for the gold dollar. It consisted of a crowned Liberty head surrounded by 13 stars with the date at the bottom. The reverse consisted of an intricately detailed eagle with the traditional American shield on its breast. Both designs required Longacre to produce a large model which had to be reduced to the size of the finished coin on a Contamin portrait lathe. Longacre's first design attempt failed when the lathe destroyed his artwork. Longacre's task was made even more difficult when he clashed with Chief Coiner, Franklin Peal, over the amount of time that Longacre could have using the lathe. Peal wanted to use the device to product medals for private clients. This is the unique 1840 $20 gold piece that is in the Smithsonian collection. I took these photos from the Smithsonian site. As you can see it is not a perfect coin. There are some marks. If this coin were to come to auction, and that will never happen, it would probably become the most valuable coin in the world. In late December Longacre produced a set of dies, but discovered that they could not be used on the mint's regular production presses. Sample coins were made on an old fashioned screw press so that public officials could review the designs of the new coinage. Apparently all of these sample coins were destroyed because the one piece that is known today is very similar to the first business strike $20 gold coins that were issued staring in 1850. That coin was placed in the Mint Cabinet collection and is now in the National Coin Collection which is held by the Smithsonian Institute. The whereabouts, existence or even the history of any additional 1849 $20 gold pieces is shadowy. A second piece in gold was said to have been given to Treasury Secretary, William M. Meredith. It was said that this piece passed from the Meredith estate to Philadelphia coin dealer, William K. Nagy, who was active in the early 1900s. In the 1950s Nagy told numismatic researcher, Walter Breen, that he had placed the coin in a private collection, but that piece, if it exists, has not been seen for more than 100 years. If it were to appear, it could well be the most expensive coin in the United States series. This 1857-S double eagle was recovered from the wreck of the SS Central America. Prior to the entry of these coins on the market, obtaining a Type I double eagle in this lofty grade, MS-65, was almost impossible. The Type I Liberty Double Eagle, 1850 – 1866 The formal introduction of the Twenty Dollar gold coin came in 1850, and the coin was an immediate hit with bankers and businessmen. It quickly replaced the $5 and $10 gold pieces as the coin of choice for large business transactions, and the mintages were high, although there are numerous scarce to rare date and mint mark combinations. Collectors who would like to acquire a type coin for the Type I double eagle will have little trouble finding a piece in the VF-30 to AU-58 grade range, but strictly Mint State pieces were once very scarce. The recovery of a large number high grade coins from the wreck of the SS Central America and other shipwrecks has provided collectors with an access to Mint State examples ranging from MS-64 to 66, but the prices for these coins continue to be quite high. The Type II Liberty $20 gold is common in AU condition, but scarce in strict Mint State. Gem quality coins in MS-65 and higher are virtually unobtainable. The reason is that no ship wreck hoards of these coins have been recovered. These coins were too valuable for collectors to save them back in the day. While they were seldom used in day to day transactions, they did get clanged around in mint bags and boxes. This piece is graded MS-63. The Type II Liberty Double Eagle, 1866 - 1876 In 1864 the motto, "In God we trust" was introduced on the Two Cent piece. In 1866 it was added to all of the coins which had designs that capable of accommodating it without radical adjustments. The motto was added to the reverse of the twenty dollar gold coin within the oval of stars above the eagle's head. These pieces, which are called the Type II Liberty double eagle, are fairly common in the circulated grades, but strictly Mint State examples are very scarce and Gem Uncirculated pieces in grades of MS-65 and higher are virtually nonexistent. Over the years PCGS has graded only four coins in the MS-65 to 67 range while NGC has found only five coins that qualified for those lofty grades. The motto, "In God we trust," was introduced on the Two Cent Piece in 1864. Today it appears on all of our coins and currency. In 1877, the mark for the value of the $20 gold coin was changed from "TWENTY D." to "TWENTY DOLLARS." The Type III Liberty Double Eagle, 1877 - 1907 In 1877, the denomination was lengthened from "Twenty D." to "Twenty Dollars" there by creating the Type III version of Liberty Head double eagle. It is possible to find more of these coins in the Mint State grades though MS-65, but super premium examples in MS-66 and higher are still rare and pricey. The 1904 double eagle is by far the most common date in the series, but even this easily located coin has a Gray Sheet bid price of $52,500 in MS-67. To date PCGS has graded only two 1904 double eagles in that grade. Many collectors think that the 1907 High Relief $20 gold is the most beautiful U.S. coin. Dispite it's great beauty, it was totally impractical. The 1907 High Relief Double Eagle In 1905 President Theodore Roosevelt asked Augustus St. Gaudens to develop new designs for every U.S. coin that was then in circulation. Describing the current designs as "atrociously hideous" Roosevelt thought that they cast a poor image upon The United States which was then emerging as a world power. Illness prevented St. Gaudens from completing the project, but the sculptor did complete the designs for two coins, Indian eagle and the St. Gaudens double eagle. Many collectors rate the 1907 High Relief double eagle as the most beautiful coin in the entire United States series. The design features a figure of Ms. Liberty striding toward the observer with a torch in her right hand and a branch in her left hand. She is framed by a burst of sunrays in the background with a rendition of the U.S. Capital far in the distance behind her. The date is in Roman Numerals, MCMVII. The reverse features a magnificent flying eagle soaring above the sun. Both sides of the coin are in stunning high relief. Although the High Relief 1907 $20 gold is a beautiful coin, it was impractical for the United States minting system to produce the coin on a large scale. The coins required three blows from the dies to bring up the design completely, and the planchets had to be heated (annealed) prior to each strike. Therefore the mintage was limited to 12,367 pieces. These coins have commanded a numismatic premium from the time they were issued. Today the 1907 High Relief $20 gold is a "trophy coin" that many collectors dream of owning. Charles Barber made his version of the St. Gaudens design in 1907. The motto, "In God we trust," was omitted per orders of President Theodore Roosevelt. TR thought the mention of "God" on a coin was blasphemous because coins could be used for immoral purposes. Congress disagreed and overruled him in 1908. The motto, "In God we trust," was added to the reverse in 1908. The design would remain the same until the St. Gaudens $20 gold series in 1933. The St. Gaudens Double Eagle, 1907 - 1933 At the end of 1907, Charles Barber modified the St. Gaudens design so that it could be mass produced in lower relief. All of the 1907 and most of the 1908 double eagles did not have the motto, "In God we trust" included in the design. This reflected President Roosevelt's opinion that the mention of the Deity on a coin was blasphemous. Congress did not agree with that opinion, and the motto was added to the reverse above the sun starting in 1908. This would be last design change for the double eagle series. The "forbidden collector fruit," the 1933 double eagle. The piece shown above is the only example that can be legally owned by a private collector. Circulating U.S. Gold Coinage Ends in 1933 In 1933 President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued the Gold Surrender Order, which ended the production of U.S. gold coinage and required citizens to turn in their gold coins unless they were of numismatic merit. Production of the double eagle was halted but not before the Philadelphia mint had stuck 445,500 pieces. Although none of these pieces were officially issued, perhaps two dozen coins did escape the mint. Subsequent legal actions have resulted in the surrender of all but one of these coins to the U.S. Government. One piece became legal to own after the government reached a plea deal with a coin dealer who had imported the piece from Europe. The United States double eagle continues to be a favorite among coin collectors and investors who hedge their bets between numismatic value and the price of gold bullion. Although few collectors can ever aspire to form a significant date and mint mark set of these coins, they nevertheless can be a beautiful and impressive addition to any collection. Even with gold bullion values as high as they are today, many collectors still aspire to own at least one of these beautiful coins that represent a by-gone era.