Liberty Head Double Eagle
The Liberty Head Double Eagle $20 gold piece was the “King of U.S. Gold Coins” in the 1800's.
In the Old West (or anywhere else in the country for that matter), if you wanted to flaunt your wealth, you set down a stack of these on the counter or gaming table. In 19th century and early 20th century America, the Liberty Head double-eagle made people sit up and listen. This big gold coin had a long shelf life— 1849 through 1907. That covers the period from covered wagons and steamboats to the first automobiles and airplanes! True, the Liberty Head double-eagle doesn’t have the staggering beauty of our nation’s only other circulating $20 gold coin, the Saint-Gaudens double-eagle, but it has a classic eye-appeal all its own.
Like the $1 and $3 gold coin, the $20 gold piece was born out of the California Gold Rush of 1849. So much gold was coming out of the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, that the gold lobbyists gained tremendous power and influence– and they were able to push through legislation that allowed these new gold coin denominations. The new $20 gold coin was designed by James B. Longacre (who not only designed the Liberty Head $1 gold coin, $3 Indian Princess Head gold coin, but the the Indian Head one-cent coin as well). The obverse design mirrored that of the Liberty Head $1 gold coin: a right-facing Liberty bust, her head of thick, tight curls adorned with a “Liberty” head band. The bust is surrounded by stars, with the date below the bust. The reverse design, however, was unique to the Liberty Head double-eagle: a majestically-posed eagle with U.S. shield on its chest, and flanked by two ornate banners reading “E Pluribus Unum.” Above the eagle is an elipse of stars and rays emanating out from the eagle wings.
The U.S. Mint lost no time beginning production of the Liberty Head double-eagle gold coin. Production actually began in 1849– remember, gold was just discovered in California in 1848!
But if you’re hoping to get hold of an 1849 double-eagle for your collection, you might want to abandon all hope. The official total mintage for that year is.... ONE! And it’s in the Smithsonian!
But in 1850, REAL production of the $20 gold coin took place: a combined 1.2 million were struck at the Philadelphia and New Orleans mints. Up until 1850, it was unheard of for the U.S. Mint to strike 1 million of ANY gold coin! But post-1849 would be a new era for U.S. gold coinage, to be sure!
The Liberty Head double-eagle was struck at five different mints throughout its existence: Philadelphia (1849-1907), New Orleans (1850-1850), San Francisco (1854-1907), Carson City (1870-93), and Denver (1906-07). Of these mints, the Carson City pieces are the most expensive, most in demand. The cheapest Carson City Liberty Head double-eagles (1875-CC and 1876-CC) retail $1,300 in Very Fine and $1,500 in Extra Fine.
In addition, the Liberty Head double-eagle is broken down into four sub-types: the “‘Twenty D.’ Below Eagle/ No Motto Above Eagle Reverse” (1849-60,1862-66), the “Paquet Design Reverse” (1861), the “‘Twenty D.’ Below Eagle/’In God We Trust’ Above Eagle Reverse” (1866-76), and the “‘Twenty Dollars’ Below Eagle Reverse” (1877-1907). Of those sub-types, the 1861-only “Paquet Design Reverse”– where the stars are within and not up into the rays– is particularly rare: only 2 of the 1861-P pieces are known, while the 1861-S retails $24,000 in Extra Fine!
Over the 58 years and five mints in which the Liberty Head double-eagle was struck, there are a number of “common” dates, as in 1 to 5 million minted. Of course, most of those high mintages would be Philadelphia and San Francisco mint issues. The most “common” Liberty Head double-eagles retail $825-$850 in Very Fine. That would include dates all the way from the 1850's through 1907. But the really good news, go up three grades to MS-60 (Mint-State 60) and the retail value has barely budged at $850! In other words, don’t wasted your time with a Very Fine or Extra Fine– if you can pony up over $800 for a double-eagle, you can shell out a little over $20 more for an Uncirculated example! But when you get into the higher areas of Mint-State, it’s THEN that the price really jumps: common-date Liberty Head double eagles retail around $1,000 to $2,000 in MS-63.
If you’re looking for the rare dates in the series, some of those would be as follows: 1854-O (retails $45,000 in Very Fine), 1856-O (retails $70,000 in Very Fine), 1859-O & 1860-O (both retail around $4,700 in Very Fine), 1870-CC (retails $100,000 in Very Fine), 1879-O (retails $7,000 in Very Fine), 1882 (retails $8,000 in Very Fine), 1885 (retails $7,000 in Very Fine), and 1886 (retails $9,500 in Very Fine).
The end for the Liberty Head double-eagle gold piece came in mid-1907. Later in that year, the second and last of our nation’s regular-issue $20 gold coins, the Saint-Gaudens double-eagle, was introduced. You won’t have too much tracking down a Liberty Head $20 gold coin today, but you will have to shell out some bucks for one, especially with today’s rising gold prices. But if you’re looking for THE gold coin of the 1800's, this piece is it!
The Liberty Head Double Eagle Gold Coin Video