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1849 Double Eagle (Pattern)
Pride of the National Coin Collection housed by the Smithsonian, believed to be unique.
Circulation Strike Mintage Small numbers; all probably destroyed. Proof Mintage Probably 1
Highlight of the Mint Collection.
The 1849 Double Eagle, of which just one is known to exist, has been considered by many to be the most desirable and most valuable of all United States Coins. It is said that in the early 20th century J.P. Morgan, the famous financier, offered $25,00 to buy the coin, then displayed as part of the Mint Collection in Philadelphia, but to no avail. The national treasure was not for sale.
Today it is on view as part of the National Numismatic Collections at the Smithsonian, where it is in good company with other famous gold rarities, including Proofs of all denominations from the late 1850's to 1915, two examples of the 1815 Half Eagle (a coin that in the 19th century was considered to be the most desirable of all gold coin rarities excepting the 1849 $20), two of the 1822 Half Eagles (of only three known; a coin which today is recognized as being several times rarer than the 1815), and in the pattern series, multiple specimens of the MCMVII Ultra High Relief Double Eagle and both of the two unique varities of gold 1877 $50 pieces.
Collectors and historians are fortunate that this division of the Smithsonian has generously made available information about its coins and archives, contributing much to numismatic scholarship over a long period of years, including to the present text.
Tributes by Mint History Books
In 1876 in her excellent study, A Visit to the Cabinet of the United States Mint, at Philadelphia, Elizabeth Johnston singled out the 1849 as the only United States gold coin discussed in some detail:
- There is one specimen which it is well to remark, as it illustrates how a coin may become famous without the least premonition, and also is a witness of the positive law which protects and governs coinage.
- A law passed Congress in 1849 ordering twenty-dollar gold coins to be issued. One price was struck. Something intervened to delay the work, and the year closed; then, of course, the dies had to be destroyed, as no more could lawfully be issued of 1849. The coin just beside this, marked 1850, of same value, is not worth the collectors's consideration, while "1849" cannot be purchased. It is marked "Unique" and is really "the only one" as the Germans fondly called Jean Richter.
In 1885, A.M. Smith in his book, Coins and Coinage: The United States Mint, Philadelphia, History, Biography, Statistics, Work, Machinery, Products, Officials, included this under the heading of "Rare U.S. Coins":
- The rarest United States coin is the Double Eagle of 1849, of which there is only one in existence and belongs to the U.S. Mint Cabinet. The next in rarity is the Half Eagle of 1815, of this date there are only seven specimens known to exist.
Later comments and tributes relating to the 1849 Double Eagle are numerous, including illustrations and information in most popular guides to United States coins and, separately, specialized texts on pattern coins.
How Many Were Struck?
Walter Breen has conjectured that on December 22, 1849, two or three gold impressions are believed to have been made of the 1849 Double Eagle. One went to the Mint Cabinet, this being the only specimen known today. Another is said to have been made for Secretary of the Treasury William M. Meredith. However, this does not explain the Mint Cabinet piece being from a corrected die with lower relief. Accordingly, the comment must be taken with a grain of salt.
Concerning the Meredith example, facts are scarce, but it is said that is passed from the Meredith estate to Philadelphia dealer William K. Nagy, who was active from the turn of the century onward and who was the business partner of the old-time dealer John W. Haseltine, then in his waning years. In the 1950's, Nagy discussed the coin with Breen and Stated that it had been placed in a private collection. Breen remarked that this must have been the Meredith coin, and Nagy was astonished that Breen knew its pedigree.
Breen stated that at a later date, probably 1859 or 1860. Mint Director James Ross Snowden gave a brass striking of the 1849 Double Eagle to Robert Coulton Davis, a Philadelphia druggist who at least by a later time developed close ties with the Mint. Davis was the first Numismatist to study closely and publish extensive data on patterns, although they had been noticed in print earlier, such as by Mint Director James Ross Snowden in A Description of Ancient and Modern Coins in the Cabinet of the Mint of the United States, a study primarily researched and written by William Ewing Dubois and Geogre Bull (curator of the Mint Cabinet).
Die Data:
1849 four-digit date logotype about evenly spaced. Bottom serifs of 1 and 4 light. 4 has prominent serif at end of crossbar (crossle 4). Right side of 9 is not oriented vertically, but slants inward and left; ball widely separated from top curve. This relates to the specimen in the Smithsonian Institution. The unique specimen in the Smithsonian dated 1849 resembles in overall appearance the regular circulation strikes made the next year, 1850, except for the 1849 date. The relief on the other 1849 Double Eagles may be slightly higher, or the rims lower, or a combination of both, for it is said that the 1849 coins would not be stack properly. However, the Smithsoniam coin seems to be of a modified format similar to a normal coin (such as the production strikes made the next year and dated 1850).
You are interested in gold coins, Gold Dollars, Rare coins and rare gold is shared by millions of people in the USA and around the globe. Numismatist / Coin Dealer Tom Pilitowski has been providing expert and confidential service since 1979. Are you interested in gold coins, gold dollars, rare coins? Your interests are shared by millions of people in the USA and around the globe. Numismatist/Coin Dealer Tom Pilitowski has been providing expert and confidential service to gold coin collectors since 1979. Contact him here


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