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Liberty Head Type 1 Holds Place in History
By Rich Hall

What do 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 was gold.

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.

 

1865-P Type 1  Double Eagle

 

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 Polk.
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 $1 million.

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 follow."
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."

The 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 through 1876.

Type 2 Double Eagle

1856-S Type 1 Double Eagle

 

• 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.

You can't 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 "body bag."

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."

I also 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.

The 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 East.
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.

Shipwreck
1861-O Type 1 Double Eagle
A big 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.
Most 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.
1861-S Type 1 Double Eagle
The mint¬ages 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.

Numismatic News - February 13, 2007




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