A Double Eagle is a gold coin of the United States with a denomination of $20. (Its gold content of 0.9675 troy oz was worth $20 at the then official price of $20.67/oz). The coins are made from a 90% gold (0.900 fine = 21.6 kt) and 10% copper alloy.
Although the "eagle"-based nomenclature for gold U.S. coinage is often assumed to be a nickname, the "eagle," "half-eagle" and "quarter-eagle" were specifically given these names in the Act of Congress that originally authorized them ("An Act establishing a Mint, and regulating Coins of the United States", section 9, April 2, 1792). Likewise, the Double Eagle was specifically created as such by name ("An Act to authorize the Coinage of Gold Dollars and Double Eagles", title and section 1, March 3, 1849).
The first double eagle was minted in 1849, coinciding with the California Gold Rush. In that year, the mint produced two pieces inproof. The first resides in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC. The second was presented to then Treasury SecretaryWilliam M. Meredith and was later sold as part of his estate - the present location of this coin remains unknown.
In 1850 regular production began and continued until 1933 (when the official price of gold was changed to $35/oz by the Gold Reserve Act). Prior to 1850, eagles with a denomination of $10 were the largest denomination of US coin. $10 eagles were produced beginning in 1795, just two years after the first U.S. mint opened. Since the $20 gold piece had twice the value of the eagle, these coins were designated "double eagles". In 1850, the double eagle had the purchasing power of about $560 in 2011 dollars.
- Liberty Head (Coronet) 1849–1907
- Liberty Head, no motto, value "Twenty D." 1849–1866
- Liberty Head, with motto, value "Twenty D." 1866–1876
- Liberty Head, with motto, value "Twenty Dollars" 1877–1907
Due to the less desirable artwork and therefore lower demand, Liberty Coronet $20 gold pieces are less often encountered, and the common subtype commands less than the St. Gaudens' type. In 1866, the motto "In God We Trust" was added to the Liberty Coronet double eagle creating a second subtype. In 1877, the coin's denomination design on the reverse was changed from "Twenty D" to "Twenty Dollars" creating a third and final subtype for the series. An 1879 pattern coin was made for the quintuple stella using a design combining features of the Liberty head double eagle and stella pattern coin and using the same alloy as the stella (90 parts gold, 3 parts silver, and 7 parts copper). However this coin was suddenly stolen in July 2008 by two thieves. The robbery was planned a year after the coin was sold. The criminals have still not been caught and the locations of these men are unknown
Double eagles were so named because the largest U.S. coin until the time of the California gold rush was a $10 face value (approximately ½ troy ounce) gold Eagle. When Congress in 1849 authorized the large $20 gold piece to efficiently coin the bonanza of gold coming from the California gold fields, it naturally came to be called the ‘double’ eagle.
Later gold discoveries in Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, and Alaska caused hundreds of millions of ounces of gold to be coined at the U.S. Mints into these large double eagles. Gold double eagles are the wealth born of the Old West gold mining days. For the world, the U.S. $20 gold double eagle symbolized the vast riches of the United States in the second half of the 1800s.
These coins have always represented a lot of money. In 1900, a double eagle $20 gold coin was more than the average week’s wages for most people.
To demonstrate the purchasing power of a double eagle, imagine a weekend in New York City in 1900. A night’s stay at the Plaza Hotel cost $1.50, a lunch of a beer and a sandwich was a nickel, theatre tickets on Broadway might cost you 35c, and a five-course dinner at the finest restaurant in the city, Delmonico's, would set you back all of 75 cents. In other words, you would have a hard time spending the whole twenty dollars while splurging on a first-class weekend in New York!
We bring you affordable, lightly circulated gold money from the era when a dollar was a dollar. And because these are not flawless, museum-quality specimens, you can carefully handle and enjoy these gold treasures. Feel free to hold them in your hand – that’s the feel of real gold, a treasure you can hold and possess as have only a fortunate for thousands of years…
If you had a stack of these one hundred years ago, you had quite a treasure! And the same is true today. Although our population has increased, and our national wealth is higher, there still exists only a limited supply of these old $20 gold pieces – just as there is a limited supply of gold!
U.S. Gold Double Eagle Specification. Minted 1849 through 1907