1866-S Double Eagle No Motto - 1866-S $20 No Motto NGC AU50. This historic, Western branch mint 1866 No Motto double eagle retains subdued mint luster within its devices. The strike is above average with full details on the centers of most of the obverse stars and the design details of the reverse, especially the eagle. While the coin shows a bit of wear on the high points and abrasion marks, the surfaces are completely original. No individual abrasion marks are particularly significant to merit description.
Because the Reverend Mark Richard Watkinson insisted that God be recognized on our nation’s coinage, the Secretary of the Treasury, Salmon Chase ordered that IN GOD WE TRUST be added to the larger sized coins. On the double eagle it was place on the reverse within the oval of stars; however, the very last issue from San Francisco was minted in February, 1866 before the new reverse dies arrived.
James B. Longacre, the Engraver, designed the double eagle. It 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. The mint mark is between the tail feathers and the N of TWENTY.
Both before and during the Civil War almost a dozen Protestant denominations pressured Congress to add references to God to the Constitution and other government documents. Reverend Mark Richards Watkinson was the first to write to Treasury Secretary Salmon Chase to request that God’s name be added to our coinage. His suggestion for a motto was “God, Liberty, Law.” Chase ordered Mint Director James Pollock to prepare a suitable motto. Pollock’s suggestions included “Our Trust Is In God,” “Our God And Our Country,” and “God Our Trust.” Then Chase decided on “In God We Trust” to be added to most of the nation’s coinage. This motto was a subtle reminder that the North considered itself on the side of God with regard to the issue of slavery. A new law was required to allow the motto to be added since previous acts of Congress specified the mottos and devices that were permitted on coins. The new motto was placed on all coins that were deemed large enough to accommodate it.
James Barton Longacre was born in Pennsylvania in 1794. When he finished his apprenticeship in Philadelphia as a bookseller and a banknote engraver, he worked on his own as an engraver of book illustrations and bank notes. His works included one on the signers of the Declaration of Independence and another on stage personalities. In 1830, Longacre began a series of biographies of famous men in the military and the political arena. In 1834 the result of this series became the National Portrait Gallery of Distinguished Americans that was published in four volumes. Longacre and those who worked with him became famous because of this work.
In 1844 Longacre came to work at the Mint. He was opposed by Franklin Peale, the Chief Coiner. Peale was probably responsible for some blundered dies that Longacre was criticized for making. Peal was involved in a private, illegal medal manufacturing business using Mint facilities. He was concerned that this new political appointee would interfere with his business, and he resisted Longacre’s appointment as Chief Engraver. Finally in 1854, Peale was fired by President Franklin Pearce. Longacre flourished in his position and was responsible for creating many new designs including the Indian Head cent, the two-cent piece, the Shield nickel, the Liberty Head gold dollar, the Indian Princess gold dollar, the three-dollar gold piece, and the Liberty Head double eagle.
The San Francisco Mint opened in 1854 because of the need to coin gold resulting from the California Gold Rush. In the West there was an abundance of gold bullion, nuggets and dust; however, there was also an acute shortage of circulating coinage. Congress authorized this mint to relieve the shortage and coin silver and gold and because transportation of bullion to Philadelphia was time consuming and hazardous. Because of its proximity to the Gold Rush area, San Francisco was chosen as the site of the new mint. In 1874 it moved into a new building called the Old United States Mint or the Granite Lady. It is one of the few structures that survived the earthquake of 1906. It remained in service as a mint until 1938, when the present facility opened.
In its first year of operation the Mint made four million dollars in gold coins from bullion. The second building, the Old United States Mint, was designed by Alfred B. Mullett in Greek Revival style. It was built in an E-shape with a central pediment portico. There was a completely enclosed courtyard that had a well. It was these features that saved it in the fire that resulted from the earthquake of 1906. The building was situated on a concrete and granite foundation that was made to prevent tunneling into its vaults. In 1906 there was $300 million, a third of the United States’ gold reserves, in its vaults. Frank Leach and his men worked heroically to successfully preserve the building and the bullion. The mint was able to resume service and operated until 1937. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1961.
Since most of the building was made of sandstone, the nickname of “The Granite Lady” is a misnomer. Only the basement was made from granite. It was opened to visitors in 1993 and sold to the City of San Francisco for one dollar in 2003 for use as the Museum of the City of San Francisco.
In its population report, NGC shows 20 1866-S No Motto double eagles in AU50 condition with 52 better.
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