The Rich History of the Twenty Dollar Gold Coin

When the California Gold Rush of the mid 19th century made the United States a rich country almost overnight, the federal government took the decision to mint gold coins in large denominations to simplify its huge transactions. Despite the revolutionary changes, many distrusted paper money and used to rely on gold coins for making payments, thanks to its inherent value as a precious metal. At that time, the largest gold coin prevalent was of the $10 denomination, which made it cumbersome to carry out large transactions. Finally, in February 1849, the Congress passed a bill authorizing the US mint to produce $20 gold coins.

Minting History of the Twenty Dollar Gold Coin

The twenty dollar coin was named the ‘Double Eagle’ because it was twice the value of the regular Eagle, which had a face value of $10. The period of minting these Double Eagle coins ranged from 1850 to 1933. During this period, the coin emerged in two major designs – The Liberty Head Design (1850-1907) and the Saint-Gaudens design (1907-1933).

James Longacre was the one to create the prototype for the first Double Eagle. The obverse of the earliest design depicts Lady Liberty facing left and looking upwards. In the picture, she is wearing a coronet, due to which the coin is also called the Coronet Double Eagle. The obverse also shows a ring of stars symbolizing the different states. The reverse shows an eagle similar to the one shown on the Great Seal of the United States.

Variations in the Design of the Twenty Dollar Gold Coin

With time, significant changes were made to the Double Eagle design. There is no motto on the coins minted during 1849-1866, but ‘Twenty D’ is inscribed on the reverse of the coins minted from 1866 to 1876 to depict its face value. For the sake of bringing a little change, the denomination ‘TWENTY DOLLARS’ is spelled out fully on the coins minted during 1870-1907. However, from 1907 to 1950, all the three types were produced, making it difficult to distinguish their mint dates.

Masterpiece in the Twenty Dollar Gold Coin

The masterpiece design in the Double Eagle refers to the experimental high relief coin struck on December 22, 1907. Theodore Roosevelt, the then President of the United States, was a great admirer of ancient Greek coinage and wanted to bring similar beauty in the US coinage. Therefore, he approached Saint-Gaudens, the famous sculptor, to redesign the $20 gold coin. This newly designed coin had a standing figure of Liberty on the obverse and a flying eagle for the reverse. A motto is inscribed on bottom of the reverse, which says ‘IN GOD WE TRUST’. However, there are very few coins of this type, as they required a longer striking process.

The Liberty Head versus the Saint-Gaudens Twenty Dollar Gold Coin

Prior to 1850, the only gold coins issued by the US government were of the denominations $2.50, $5.00, and $10.00. The twenty dollar gold coin was one of the largest gold coins ever minted by any country. It is believed that after the Gold Recall of 1933, there are fewer Liberty Head gold coins left as compared to the Saint-Gaudens gold coins. Therefore, the Liberty Head Double Eagle is valued for its gold content along with the value of being a scarce coin. This is why it is sometimes called the ‘King of American Coins’. This coin contains almost an ounce of pure gold, which is the major reason why many gold coin collectors and numismatics are drawn to it.