Liberty Twenty-Dollar Gold Coin (Double Eagle)

History, Facts, and Investment Advice

1856-o twenty dollar gold double eagle United States coin

 James Bucki

The Liberty twenty-dollar gold coin (also known as a "Double Eagle") is the biggest gold coin ever made for circulation by the United States Mint. Its large size and beautiful design make this classic coin popular with coin collectors. The United States Mint first produced the coin in 1849 as a trial run and only two pieces were struck. Regular circulation production began in 1850 and continuously ran for the next fifty-eight years until the mint replaced the Liberty twenty-dollar gold coin in 1907 with the Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle.

The obverse is graced with a portrait bust of Lady Liberty facing left and is very similar to the design on the smaller one dollar gold coin. The reverse features a heraldic eagle flanked by ornate scrolls with E Pluribus Unum emblazoned on them. A circle of thirteen stars and sun rays rise above the eagle's head. In 1866, the United States mint added the motto "In God We Trust" inside the circle of thirteen stars.

In the 1870s, a majority of these coins were used to settle overseas transaction and facilitate trade. Many people also exported them and deposited them in foreign banks. Over the years, many of these coins have been repatriated to the United States and sold to gold coin collectors. Additionally, the mint executed several minor modifications to the coin's design over its fifty-eight-year production run.

History of the Liberty Twenty-Dollar Gold Coin

The Coinage Act or The Mint Act, passed by the United States Congress on April 2, 1792, created the United States Mint and established monetary standards for the new country. In addition to lower denominations coinage, the act defined gold coins as follows:

  • Eagles
    Value: $10.00
    Gold Content: 247 4/8 grain (16.04 g) pure or 270 grain (17.5 g) standard gold
  • Half Eagles
    Value: $5.00
    Gold Content: 123 6/8 grain (8.02 g) pure or 135 grain (8.75 g) standard gold
  • Quarter Eagles
    Value: $2.50
    Gold Content: 61 7/8 grain (4.01 g) pure or 67 4/8 grain (4.37 g) standard gold

Standard Gold was initially defined in 1792 as an alloy of 91.67% gold and 8.3% silver. In 1834, Congress mandated that the alloy is changed to 89.92% gold and 10.08% silver and copper. Three years later in 1837, the law once again required a change in the standard gold alloy to be 90% gold and 10% copper. This standard was continued until 1933 when the last gold coin minted for circulation was struck.

The Great California Gold Rush began on January 24, 1848, when John Marshall discovered a gleaming nugget of gold at Sutter's Mill on the American River in California. Soon vast quantities of gold were discovered and fortunes made. In the early history of the United States Mint, citizens could deposit unrefined gold and silver at any mint facility and have it struck into the coins of their choosing. The mint kept a small percentage of every deposit to cover refining and manufacturing costs.

United States Representative James Iver McKay introduced legislation in February 1849 to modify the United States monetary system. This resulted in the Coinage Act of March 3, 1849, that provided for two new denominations of United States coinage: the gold dollar and the twenty-dollar gold coin. The new twenty-dollar gold coin would be twice the size of the current gold eagle and acquired the nickname of the "Double Eagle."

The first double eagles were coined on December 22, 1849, when mint workers produced two Proof coins. One resides in the National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian Institution, and the other was presented to Treasury Secretary William M. Meredith. Unfortunately, Meredith's coin has vanished, and its whereabouts are unknown.

Citizens and businesses inundated the Philadelphia Mint location with gold deposits to be turned into gold coins. The journey to move gold across the country was dangerous and risky. Private mints in California rose up to meet the need for uniform coinage. The United States Mint responded with the opening of a branch mint in San Francisco in 1854.

Liberty Double Eagle Production

The United States Mint produced Liberty twenty-dollar gold double eagle coins in Philadelphia, San Francisco, New Orleans, Carson City, and Denver. Over the span of its production, the design was slightly modified on four different occasions as follows:

  • Type I - Without Motto (1850-1866)
    This is the original design that features Lady Liberty on the obverse and the heraldic eagle on the reverse. The denomination is specified as "TWENTY D."
  • Type II - Motto above the Eagle (1866-1876)
    In 1866 the motto "IN GOD WE TRUST" was added to the reverse inside the circle of stars above the eagle's head.
  • Type III - With Motto and Denomination as TWENTY DOLLARS (1877-1907)
    The Mint modified the design in 1877 to identify the denomination as TWENTY DOLLARS.
  • Paquet Reverse (1861)
    Assistant Engraver Anthony C. Paquet attempted to improve the design by modifying the reverse using taller narrower letters. However, the border on the coin was too narrow and did not provide a protective raised rim to protect the design from abrasions. The mint halted production at San Francisco, but 19,250 coins were already produced. An unknown number of gold twenty-dollar coins were minted at the Philadelphia mint facility and only two survive today.

Liberty Double Eagle Fun Facts

  • Total mintage of Liberty double eagle twenty-dollar gold coins spanning fifty-eight years of production across all five mint facilities and strike types (circulation strike and Proof) totals 107,871,486
  • The largest single production run occurred in 1904 at the Philadelphia Mint of 6,256,699 coins.
  • The smallest production run of circulation strike coins occurred at the Philadelphia Mint facility in 1882 when only 571 coins were produced for circulation.
  • Proof coins were produced in 53 of the 58 years. All proof coins were minted at the Philadelphia Mint facility, and the San Francisco Mint produced one single Proof coin in April 1854. This special proof striking currently resides in the National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian Institution.
  • Proof coin mintages were usually less than 100 coins and averaged less than 60 coins per year.

Market Factors

Market factors affecting the value of Liberty double eagle gold coins depends upon the grade of the coin. The value of common well circulated coins will never fall below the bullion value of the coin. At approximately one full troy ounce of gold, this can be a major contributing factor in the coin's value. Most average uncirculated coins (MS-63) from the 1800s sell for significantly more than the coin's bullion value. However, common date coins from the Philadelphia mint of the 1900s sell for a minimum premium over the coin's bullion value.

Investing in Liberty Double Eagles

The largest factor in determining the investment potential of a Liberty Double Eagle is its high gold content. With a net gold content of 0.96750 troy ounces of pure gold, these coins make excellent precious metal investments. A coin's collectibility also determines numismatic premiums. Collectors prefer quality coins that have well-preserved surfaces with minimal bag marks. Additionally, strike qualities at the branch mints (facilities other than Philadelphia) tend to be weak and lacking details on the highest points of the design.

When purchasing a coin for your investment portfolio, watch for counterfeit and altered coins. Most coins produced at the branch mint facilities have lower mintages and command higher values. Look for added or removed mint marks. Also, inspect the edge for evidence of "clipping." Clipping is when unscrupulous people remove small amounts of gold from the edge of the coin as it moves through circulation. This can significantly reduce the amount of gold that is left in the coin that you are investing in.

If you are investing in high-quality rare coins, you will want to purchase coins that have been professionally authenticated and graded by a reputable third-party grading service. Small differences between grades at this level can mean huge differences in value.

Coin Specifications

  • Value: Twenty United States dollars
  • Weight: 33.431 g
  • Diameter: 34.1 mm (1.342 in)
  • Edge: Reeded
  • Composition: 90% gold, 10% copper
  • AGW: 0.96750 troy oz
  • Years of Minting: 1849–1907
  • Mint Marks: None, CC, D, O, S.
    Found immediately below the eagle on the reverse. Philadelphia Mint specimens do not have a mint mark.
  • Designer: James B. Longacre