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1861-O Double Eagle

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1861-O $20
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The 1861-O double eagle is one of the more fascinating coinage issues in U.S. numismatics, reflective of a time of deep division and discord in the nation's political and social fabric. The Philadelphia Mint shipped three pairs of dies to the New Orleans Mint on Dec. 10, 1860, but only one pair was used. The 1861-O coins were issued under three distinct governmental entities:

  • The federal government, which struck 5,000 pieces between Jan. 1 and Jan. 26, 1861.
  • The State of Louisiana, which coined 9,750 coins between Jan. 26 and May 31, during which time Louisiana had seceded from the Union.
  • The Confederacy, which issued 2,991 pieces June 1 and thereafter.

The Breen Complete Encyclopedia (1988) suggests that perhaps the pieces issued under the "rebels" are those with the "greatest weakness at the base of the date." If that’s true then it’s apparent by the exceptional strike of the present specimen that special care was taken when creating this coin or that it was struck during the usual minting process. However, Bowers has a different view in that that some coins show hand-strengthening, in the form of three V-shaped lines engraved at the base of the 8--a function of the New Orleans facility's lack of numeral punches for the job.
It is worth mentioning that this historic issue could have been struck with the Paquet reverse--the distinctive design promulgated by the underrated French engraver--were it not for one simple fact: The telegraph existed to communicate between Philadelphia and New Orleans, but not to San Francisco. The Mother Mint had already shipped dies to both branches, but when the striking difficulties with the Paquet reverse became apparent, a telegraphed message went out--in the case of New Orleans, directly, but in the case of San Francisco, by telegraph to St. Joseph, Missouri, and thence overland by Pony Express.
The present example in our view is considerably better than a previous specimen sold at public auction (Sept 2006, realized $42,262.00) and nicer than almost all other specimens seen in recent years with few exceptions. This specimen also shows significant proof like reflectivity on both obverse and reverse and a considerably better strike than the majority of coins of this date and mintmark that I have seen anywhere. Certainly a premium quality choice about uncirculated obverse and the reverse appears technically AU-58. Bowers summed this date up quite nicely “Today the 1861-O is a rare and highly sought after variety” and we will add that this is quite a monumental find for the advanced collector of Condition Census Southern Gold Rarities of all denominations.

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