HEAD (NO MOTTO ON REVERSE) TWENTY DOLLARS OR DOUBLE EAGLE
1854-S Double Eagle
Double Eagle or $20 Gold
Gold - 90%
Other - 10%
grains (±33.4 grams)
(for San Francisco, CA) below the eagle's tail on
The 1854-S double eagle is a Type
1 Liberty Head. The Type 1 Double Eagles were made
from 1849 to 1866 and are different from Type 2 Double
Eagles in that they lack the motto IN GOD WE TRUST.
Designed by James B. Longacre, the obverse shows Liberty
facing left wearing a coronet inscribed LIBERTY, with
her hair tied tightly in the back. Two curls flow
down the back and side of her neck. She is surrounded
by thirteen stars with the dated below. Dentils are
near the edge on both sides of the coin. The reverse
of the double eagle shows a heraldic eagle with elaborate
ribbons on both sides of the shield extending from
the top corner down to the eagle’s tail feathers.
The ribbons are inscribed, on the left E PLURIBUS
and UNUM on the right. The ribbons were added to the
design to symbolize the denomination since this was
the first twenty dollar double eagle coin. There is
an oval of thirteen stars above the eagle’s
head and an arc of rays from wing tip to wing tip
behind the upper half of the oval. UNITED STATES OF
AMERICA is in an arc above the eagle, and the denomination
TWENTY D. is below. The mint mark is between the tail
feathers and the N of TWENTY.
The double eagle was authorized
by Congress in 1849 because of the large discoveries of gold
in California. Large quantities of gold were coming into the
Mint for conversion into coinage. It was felt that a double
eagle would greatly facilitate large domestic or international
transactions. At a weight of 33.44 grams, they would be comparable
to several gold coinages in use in Latin America.
Mint Director Robert Patterson
tried to use this new coinage bill as an excuse to terminate
James Longacre as the Engraver because of political and other
differences. The Chief Coiner, Franklin Peale, with Patterson’s
approval and help, was making medals on the side. Patterson
was afraid that Longacre would interfere in Peale’s
profitable business. Therefore, Peale would not cooperate
with Longacre; however, Longacre prevailed and was able to
retain his position and complete the dies for the double eagle
Many mint state 1854-S double
eagle coins are shipwrecked. They have microscopic seawater
etching, which gives the pieces a matte appearance. These
coins have been called “saltwater uncirculated.”
Perhaps they were part of the cargo of the S.S. Yankee Blade,
which sank on October 1, 1854 while on a trip from San Francisco
to Panama. Before the advent of the Panama Canal, ships would
carry goods from California to the Pacific coast of Panama.
The passengers and goods would then by transported by land
across the isthmus to the Atlantic coast. There the goods
and passengers would board another ship and sail for an east
coast port such as New York. The Yankee Blade carried 900
passengers and crew as well as gold and about $152,000 in
coins. Believing he was far out to sea, during a heavy fog
the captain of the ship went full speed trying to establish
a new record for the trip. However, he was in the Channel
Islands off the rocky coast of Santa Barbara. The ship smashed
into the rocks and sank. Because the ship was hung up on the
rocks for a while, most of the passengers and crew escaped.
Some gold coins were recovered immediately afterward; however,
others were found later. In 1977 there were extensive recoveries.
About 225 1854-S double eagles became available for sale,
and all of them showed seawater etching.
The 1854-S double eagle comes
with both large and small dates as well as a Broken A, Open
A, and Closed A. The coin had an original mintage of 141,468.
In its population report NGC show a total of 181 pieces in
all grades. PCGS shows 141 pieces and of them 11 are the Broken
A, 7 are the Open A and 5 are the Closed A.