Designed by: James Barton Longacre
Issue Dates: 1849 (pattern); 1850-1866
Composition: 90% gold, 10% copper
Diameter: 34 mm
Weight: 33.43 grams (515.90 grains)
Business Strike Mintage: 23,526,676
Proof Mintage: 375 (estimated)
Following a pattern coinage in 1849, the double eagle or $20 gold made its debut in circulation in 1850. Designed by James B. Longacre, the obverse features the compact head of Miss Liberty, her hair tied in a bun, wearing a coronet inscribed LIBERTY. Stars surround, and the date is below. The motif is similar to that used on the gold dollars of 1849-1854. The reverse is a new motif not used elsewhere on American coinage and consists of an eagle with a squared-off shield on its breast, holding an olive branch and arrows, with ornaments to the left and right, stars and rays above, with the inscription UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, TWENTY D. surrounding. Double eagles of this type were made in large quantities from 1850 onward, although the span is sprinkled with scarce and rare issues.
The type collector will have no difficulty acquiring an example of one of the more plentiful dates in Very Fine to Extremely Fine preservation. AU pieces are scarce. Uncirculated pieces are very scarce, and superb Uncirculated coins are exceedingly rare, although occasionally pieces dated 1861 come on the market. Early San Francisco Mint issues, 1854-S through 1857-5, are sometimes seen with lightly etched surfaces. Such pieces were recovered from shipwrecks (most notably the S.S. Central America) and spent a century or more subjected to the effects of salt water. Proofs in all instances are exceedingly rare.