1861 Civil War Gold Set - 1861 Gold Dollar NGC AU55, 1861 Quarter Eagle NGC AU55, 1861 Half Eagle PCGS XF45, 1861 Eagle NGC AU55, 1861 Double Eagle NGC XF45 CAC. The five coin 1861 Civil War Philadelphia set consists of an Indian Princess dollar, a Liberty Head quarter eagle, half eagle, eagle, and double eagle. All five coins were issued in the turbulent first year of the war. As a set they comprise authentic, certified Civil War artifacts that have both numismatic and historic importance.
The 1861 Gold Dollar NGC AU55: The first coin is the Indian Princess dollar. It is actually a modification of an earlier Indian Princess Head that was issued from 1854 to 1856. Because the earlier type had striking problems, the new or Indian Princess or Large Head was designed using a shallower relief and a larger portrait. Engraver James B. Longacre was responsible for the Indian head motif. In Choice AU55 condition, the coin’s luster glistens through the devices. The surfaces are original and clean for the grade with no notable abrasion marks or other distractions. The strike is strong with significant detail on Liberty’s hair, the ends of the feathers, the elements of the wreath, and the central numerals of the date. It is a pleasing specimen that is a prime example of the denomination.
The 1861 Quarter Eagle NGC AU55: The next coin in the set is another Choice AU example. It is a Liberty Head quarter eagle designed by Christian Gobrecht. The coin exhibits an excellent strike with full details in the centers of the stars, Liberty’s hair, the eagle’s neck, and the shield. The coin is clean for the grade with mint luster showing in protected areas on both sides. The design shows Liberty facing left. Her hair is tied with beads and two curls flow down her neck. She wears a LIBERTY inscribed coronet or tiara and is surrounded by thirteen six-pointed stars with the date below. The reverse shows a heraldic eagle with wings outstretched and pointing up. Its head is turned to the left, and in its talons it holds an olive branch, symbol of peace, and arrows, symbol of preparedness. The legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA surrounds the eagle, interrupted by the wing tips, and the denomination, written as 2 ½ D., is below. Dentils are around the periphery of both sides of the coin.
The 1861 Half Eagle PCGS XF45: The Liberty Head half eagle, also designed by Christian Gobrecht, is in XF45 condition. As such it exhibits slight wear on the top of Liberty’s head and the hair below the L in LIBERTY. The top of the coronet shows sufficient separation from the hair to confirm the grade. Traces of original mint luster are present on both sides, and the surfaces are original and clean for the grade. Gobrecht’s design shows a left facing, young profile of Liberty wearing a LIBERTY inscribed coronet. The portrait of Liberty was based on a Roman neoclassic painting of the Napoleonic era called Pythagoras by Pierre Guerin. It was painted about 1800. The art critic, Vermeule calls her effigy on the coin a sober yet sympathetic portrayal. Her hair is tied in the back and there are two loose curls that hang down her neck. Around the head are thirteen six-pointed stars, and the date is below the truncation. At the periphery of the coin are dentils. The coin also has a reeded edge. The reverse shows a heraldic eagle similar to the one on the Classic Head eagle. The inscription UNITED STATES OF AMERICA surrounds the eagle, except for its wing tips, in an arc. The denomination is below, separated with dots, and written as FIVE D.
The 1861 Eagle NGC AU55: The eagle in this set is another Choice AU example. With the look of a Mint State piece, the coin has smoldering mint luster outlining and within the devices. Original, clean fields and a strong strike characterize this coin. Surface abrasions are minimal and full details are found in the centers of the stars, Liberty’s hair, the eagle’s neck, and the area to the lower left of the shield. In designing the eagle, Engraver Christian Gobrecht, using a head of Venus with a slightly altered hair style that he took from a Benjamin West painting, replaced Robert Scot’s Turban Head with a completely new design. The coin shows Liberty facing to the left, to the West or perhaps the frontier, wearing a coronet inscribed with the word LIBERTY instead of a cap as on the previous design. Her hair is tied with beads and two long curls fall down, one on the back of her neck and the other below her ear. The design is similar to his Braided Hair Coronet motif used on Large Cents of 1839 to 1857. For the reverse, Gobrecht used a revised version of John Reich’s eagle reverse. The new reverse shows the corrected heraldry, arrows in the left claw and olive branch in the right. The previous design had them mixed up causing confusing war-like symbolism. Gobrecht also removed the stars and clouds above the eagle and added the denomination TEN D. below. Previous eagles lacked this information because they were thought of as bullion and were valued by their weight and precious metal content as was the case with the European coins that circulated and were accepted in the United States.
The 1861 Double Eagle NGC XF45 CAC: Like the gold dollar, the double eagle was designed by James B. Longacre. With just a trace of wear on Liberty’s hair, this double eagle is a solid XF45. Its CAC sticker confirms the grade and indicates that the coin is a premium quality piece. The surfaces are clean for the grade and completely original. The coin is well struck with full details on the centers of the stars and the design details of the reverse, especially the eagle. Some original mint luster is found in protected areas of both sides of the piece. The design shows a Liberty head facing left, wearing coronet inscribed LIBERTY. Her hair is tightly tied in the back with two loose curls hanging down her neck to the end of the truncation. She is surrounded by thirteen six-pointed stars with the date below. Dentils are near the edge on both sides of the coin. The reverse 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 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.
In January of 1861, the South seceded. Following the election of Lincoln in November 1860, South Carolina seceded from the Union. Six more states, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas were next. These were eventually joined by Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina to make up the eleven states of the Confederacy. The first action of the War took place at Fort Sumter, where South Carolina troops repulsed a supply ship trying to reach the federal base. The ship returned to New York without delivering its supplies. In March Lincoln was inaugurated. The next month Fort Sumter was attacked and surrendered on April 15th. That summer the First Battle of Bull Run took place, which resulted in a Southern victory. Federal troops broke ranks and retreated in a panic toward Washington. Lincoln promoted McClellan as commander of all troops in the Washington area, and in November to command of the entire Union army.
One of the striking elements of this first year of the War is how ill-prepared the North was. Most thought that the “Rebs” would be easily defeated in a few weeks. What they learned is that the Southern soldiers were brave and able riflemen who could match and even defeat the Union Army. Superior numbers of troops, lack of foreign intervention, and an industrialized manufacturing base in the North prevented the Confederacy from prevailing. Soldier for soldier, they were as good as any on the field, especially in 1861.
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