Head Type 1 Holds Place in History By Rich Hall
shipwrecks, the California Gold Rush, and the Civil
War all have in common? The answer is $20 Liberty Head
Type 1 double eagles. I'll never forget that first double
eagle that I added to my collection. It was an 1855-P
Liberty Head Type 1. It was big. It was heavy. And it
But what really drew
me to the Type 1 double eagle was its place in history.
Sure the series is full of great rarities, such as the
1854-O and 1856-O, or famous varieties, such as the
1857-S or 1861-S Paquet Reverse. They are each worthy
of an article on their own, but its their place in history
that makes you want to hold one. It is hard to hold
a Type 1 double eagle and not think of shipwrecks, the
California Gold Rush, or the Civil War. These events
are forever a part of the history of these beautiful
coins. The very existence of the double eagle is a direct
result of one of these events, the California Gold Rush
in the land of the new El Dorado. In February 1848,
the Mexican-American War ended with the Treaty of Guadalupe
Hidalgo. One of the prizes in the treaty was the Mexican
cessation of California, although in reality the United
States had taken possession of California in 1846. Throughout
the summer and fall of 1848, rumors abounded throughout
the eastern half of the United States about the huge
amounts of gold being discovered in California. But
instead of triggering a stampede of prospectors to the
gold fields, the news was generally received with skepticism.
The descriptions of these spectacular finds were just
too astounding to believe.
Then on Dec. 5,1848,
President James K. Polk, in his final annual address
to Congress, confirmed all those extraordinary stories
of gold in California. President Polk stated, "It
was known that mines of the precious metals existed
to a considerable extent in California at the time of
its acquisition. Recent discoveries render it probable
that these mines are more extensive and valuable than
was anticipated. The accounts of the abundance of gold
in that territory are of such an extraordinary character
as would scarcely command belief were they not corroborated
by the authentic reports of officers in the public service,
who have visited the mineral district, and derived all
the facts which they detail from personal observation."
Two days later, on Dec. 7, 1848, Secretary of War William
Marcy visited President Polk. Polk wrote the following
in his diary, "The Secretary of War called and
exhibited to me specimens of California gold, which
had been sent him by Col. Mason commanding U.S. troops
in California. A portion of these specimens he will
retain in the War Dept. and the balance he will send
to the Mint of the U.S. at Philadelphia to be coined."
The next day on Dec. 8, 1848, the first deposit of California
gold was received at the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia,
although this was not the same gold shown to President
This first deposit made by a David Carter .was for more
than 1,800 troy ounces and worth over $30,000 at the
time. Today that same deposit would be worth more than
Almost immediately, people began rushing towards California
to strike it rich. Before 1848 had come to an end, newspapers
had already begun to publish accounts about the numbers
of people that "have already gone on their way
to this new Eldorado, with large numbers preparing to
Just a few months later as a result of the discovery
of gold in California, an Act of Congress on March 3,
1849, authorized the production of the double eagle,
along with the gold dollar.
James B. Longacre was the U.S. Mint engraver who designed
the Liberty Head double eagle. Due to Longacre's concen¬tration
on getting the gold dollar ready for coinage in 1849,
the double eagle did not begin production until early
1850, although a few 1849 specimens were produced. Of
the 1849 specimens, only one is known to exist today
and currently resides at the Smithsonian.
The Liberty Head design is very popular with collectors
today, but it had mixed reviews when it was released.
Some people did not like the coin and considered it
to be "shabby" and referred to the manager
of the Mint as being "destitute of taste to allow
such a specimen to go forth." But it would be incorrect
to suggest that the reception of the design was all
negative. Another contemporary account stated, "We
were shown yesterday several of the new gold coins,
of the value of twenty dollars, just issued from the
U.S. Mint at Philadelphia. They are of medium size between
a dollar and a half dollar, and are beautifully executed."
Liberty Head double eagle, which is also referred to
as the Coronet Head, is divided into three types based
on the reverse design.
• The Type 1 variety is identified by the lack
of the motto, "In God We Trust," and the denomination
being specified as "Twenty D." on the reverse.
This variety is also commonly referred to as the "No
Motto" variety. Regular issues of this type were
struck from 1850 until 1866. There is a single known
example dated 1849 that currently resides in the Smithsonian.
This coin is generally regarded as a pattern.
• The Type 2 variety contains the motto within
a circle of stars on the reverse. The denomination remained
"Twenty D" and these were struck from 1866
The Type 3 variety contains the motto within the circle
of stars and has the denomination spelled out as "Twenty
Dollars." This variety was struck from 1877 through
1907 at which time it was replaced by a design from
sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens.
Each double eagle contains just over 464 grains of gold,
or just under 0.97 troy ounces of gold. Total weight
of the coin is 516 grains of which 10 percent is made
up of silver and copper. With recent gold prices hovering
above $600 a troy ounce, collecting Type 1 double eagles
is not a cheap proposition. Even the most common circulated
coins are going to cost $650 and up.
An interesting feature of the Type 1 double eagle is
an error in the master hub for all coins struck prior
to 1859. This can be seen in the word LIBERTY where
the LI was originally LL before being corrected. In
1859, the master hub was replaced with another that
was used throughout the rest of the series. The change
to the new hub can easily be seen by comparing coins
from before and after the change. Look for the differences
in the LI and also in the placement of the engraver's
initials, J.B.L., on the truncation of the neck.
have a discussion about Type 1 double eagles without
talking about a few notable shipwrecks. These shipwrecks
are the S.S. Central America (sank September 1857),
S.S. Brother Jonathan (sank July 1865), and finally,
S.S. Republic (sank October 1865).
Prior to these shipwrecks
being salvaged, if you wished to obtain an uncir¬culated
example of a Type 1 double eagle, your best bet would
have been finding an 1861 Philadelphia example due to
it having the largest mintage of any Type 1 double eagle
at close to 3 million coins struck. After the salvaging
of the shipwrecks, literally thousands of uncirculated
coins became available, many in a condition that was
reminiscent of the day that they left the Mint.
Although most of these coins have been graded and encapsulated
by Numismatic Guaranty Corporation and Professional
Coin Grading Service, there is some skepticism as to
the true condition of these coins. Some believe that
if you were to crack out a shipwreck-pedigreed gold
coin from its holder and resubmit it without the known
pedigree to the shipwreck, it would be considered a
problem coin unable to be graded, and returned in a
I asked geologist, historian, and curator Bob Evans
to respond to this skep¬ticism. Bob was the curator
of the treasure of the S.S. Central America, and later,
52 double eagles recovered from a final salvage trip
to the S.S. Brother Jonathan in October 2000. Bob replied,
"I would respond by saying that dozens, if not
hundreds, of double eagles from the S.S. Central America
have already been cracked out and re-submitted.... You
can find [non-SSCA-provenanced coins] at almost any
large coin show. Look for a gem 1857-S double eagle
in a non-pedigreed holder. It is almost 100 percent
certain that it came from the SSCA, and thus it passed
through my care and conservation in the laboratory."
asked Adam Crum, vice president of Monaco Financial
LLC, to respond to this skepticism. Adam is also co-author
of The Insider's Guide to Collecting Type 1 Double Eagles.
Adam has probably handled more gold from all of these
shipwrecks than any other person in the rare coin industry.
His reply was, "There are significant numbers of
coins that have already been cracked out and resubmitted
to both PCGS and NGC with tremendous success with no
mention of pedigree. The fact of the matter is that
of the more than 100 coins I have personally resubmitted,
due to the origi¬nal grade being too strict (in
my opinion), I have not had even a single coin returned
in a so called body bag."
So why did the gold
from these shipwrecks get preserved so well in a corrosive
saltwater environment? According to Evans, the preservation
of the S.S. Central America coins was due to the surrounding
geology where "calcium carbonate (limestone) and
the resulting slightly alkaline water acted to counter
the acidic conditions natural in a degrading pile of
organic material (the wood, etc.)" Of the nearly
1,000 uncirculated coins recovered from the S.S. Brother
Jonathan, many were discovered "still wrapped in
oil paper, twenty-five coins to a wrap," and others
found not wrapped were surrounded by a "shell-like
growth." "The oil-paper and wrapping and marine
encrustations protected the coins well."
To hold one of these beautifully preserved coins is
to feel a part of the excitement of discovering sunken
treasure. At the same time, it also brings to mind the
historic and tragic events related to these ships and
their part in our nation's history.
sinking of the S.S. Central America, and the loss of
the gold that was headed to East Coast banks, was one
of a series of events that led to the "Panic of
1857" and a subsequent recession that spread from
the United States to Europe, South America and the Far
The S.S. Republic's historic past includes involvement
in the California Gold Rush, a revolution in Nicaragua,
and eventually the Civil War where the ship spent time
in the service of both sides. But it was her final voyage
bringing much needed supplies, silver, and gold to New
Orleans as part of the reconstruction effort, and the
subsequent search for her treasure after her sinking,
that would make her famous.
Even the sinking of
the S.S. Brother Jonathan had far reaching effects.
One of the more notable passengers to perish was William
Logan, recently appointed Superintendent of the U.S.
Mint in The Dalles, Ore. Logan was to oversee the construction
of the mint, which was never completed. Perhaps had
Logan survived, things may have ended differently and
today, double eagles minted at The Dalles Mint would
be a part of people's collections.
part of the historical romance surrounding Type 1 double
eagles is due not only to the fact that they were produced
during the Civil War, but also that they were produced
in the South at the New Orleans Mint. The New Orleans
Mint was shut down in 1861 while in Confederate hands,
but not before 17,741 double eagles were minted for
the year. The 1861-O is definitely one of the most desired
of the Civil War issues. It is the only double eagle
to have been minted under the auspices of the federal
government, the State of Louisiana and the Confederacy.
Much debate has ensued regard¬ing how to tell which
coins were minted under which authority. As a result,
a number of convincing theories have been suggested
over the years.
of these theories revolved around one fact that everyone
seemed to agree on, and that was that a single set of
dies was probably used for the entire mintage. More
recently, even that fact has come under suspicion as
the possibility of two sets of dies being used has gained
supporters. I have my own opinion regarding these theories
but that discussion is an article unto itself. Suffice
it to say that they are all only theories and none have
been proven. So do not pay a premium for this coin based
on it having been struck by the Confederacy. The debate
is still going on as to .whether or not the 1861-O $20
Type 1 double eagle was struck by the federal government,
the State of Louisiana, or the Confederacy.
As for the Philadelphia Mint, the mintage figure in
1861 was the highest for a Type 1 double eagle at any
mint with a mintage of 2,976,453. Until the recovery
of the S.S. Central America treasure, the 1861 Philadelphia
was the most common Type 1 double eagle avail¬able
to collectors. Today it has sur¬rendered that title
to the 1857-S, which was found in previously unheard
of quantities in uncirculated condition. But in 1862,
production of double eagles in Philadelphia dropped
sharply as gold began to be hoarded. As a result, the
1862, 1863 and 1864 dates are among the rarest of Philadelphia
Mint issues and are highly sought after. In San Francisco,
the Civil War seems to have had little impact on gold
flowing from the mines to the mint.
remained high throughout the war ranging from just under
750,000 in 1861 to just over 1 million in 1865. Although
San Francisco coins tended to get circulated much more
than their Philadelphia counterparts, the high mintages
along with the large number of uncirculated examples
recovered from the S.S. Brother Jonathan make these
coins much more available to collectors. The one exception
to all this is the 1861-S Paquet reverse.
In 1860, engraver Anthony Paquet redesigned the reverse
of the double eagle. The most notable dif¬ference
is that the letters on the reverse are more slender
and taller resulting in a narrower rim than the previous
design. This design was accepted to be used beginning
in 1861. However, there was a belief that the narrow
rim would cause the dies to break prematurely during
striking of the coins. As a result, use of the new reverse
was stopped and the coins struck in Philadelphia were
ordered to be destroyed. News of this reached the New
Orleans Mint in time to stop any striking of the design.
Unfortunately (or fortunately for collectors), there
was no way to notify the San Francisco Mint before they
began striking and releas¬ing the coins into circulation.
In the end, 19,250 coins were struck with the Paquet
reverse and released into circula¬tion. Today, none
of the surviving 1861-S Paquet Reverses are known to
be in uncirculated condition.
As for the 1861-P Paquet Reverse, two are known to have
escaped the melting pots. Both are in uncirculated condition,
and amazingly, not in the hands of the Smithsonian or
another museum. One is currently graded MS-61 by PCGS
and recently sold at auction for $1.6 million.
The other surviving 1861-P Paquet Reverse is graded
an amazing MS-67 (ex. Norweb) by NGC. It has been surmised
that if this example were to come to auction today,
it would set the all-time auction record for most valuable
coin. Some speculate that the coin could go as high
as $10 million. This coin was also a part of the recent
Tom Noe scandal in Ohio. During testimony, it was revealed
that this coin had been in one of the coin funds managed
by Noe. According to the testimony, the coin continued
to be carried on the fund's inventory even though it
had been sold years earlier.
The number of collectors of Type 1 double eagles has
grown considerably in recent years, in no small part
due to the number of publications devoted completely,
or in part, to this series. However you might collect
Type 1 double eagles, whether by date, mint or just
a single type piece, it is their place in history that
will place them among your most prized coins in your
collection. But when you first hold one of these coins
in your hand, like I did with the 1855-P, it really
comes down to just a few simple things: They are big.
They are heavy. And they are gold.