To say the Double Eagle has had a less than interesting history would be the understatement of the century. From creation it has been a coin rich in history and significance. When I first heard of this coin as a child, I did not understand why the originals were referred to as “double eagle” since quite literally only one said feathered friend appears to be present on the reverse and the obverse always has a woman of Greek descent. Once I got a bit older and was able to grasp the full concept of monetary value, it made perfect sense as to why the $20 coin was named as such.
Now that I have been given the opportunity with Bellevue Rare Coins to discover and write about exciting information in the numismatic and jewelry industry, I felt compelled to dive a bit further into the world of this rare and gorgeous coin. In this installment, I’ve compiled what I find to be some interesting and possibly lesser-known facts about the coin that should no longer exist.
1. Originally minted in 1849 in large part to the Gold Rush contribution. The coin was first minted in Philadelphia and instead of a traditional $10 coin, the $20 pieces were created to further help the stimulation of the economy.
2. In 1849, two designs were created by Chief-Graver James Barton Longacre, the one in the image below and the other to never have actually be found. Some say this is in large part to when the order was passed down for all coins in circulation during the Great Depression to be destroyed.
3. December of 1907, a new design would be released. More detailed and eye catching than that of its 1849 predecessor. President Theodore Roosevelt, a lover and admirer of Greek art, and sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, collaborated together to create what is probably the most recognized version. The new coin, with a higher relief than that designed by Barton-Longacre, required a longer striking process which resulted in a less coins being released into circulation than anticipated. Soon after a lower relief was implemented and more coins created.
4. The Great Depression and World War I had taken its toll on the world, especially on our home soil causing many households to hoard gold and banks to collapse. President Franklin D. Roosevelt was successfully able to put an end to the financial crisis with the “Emergency Banking Relief Act” and “Gold Reserve Act”. The latter ordered all gold owned by individuals, partnerships, etc. within the continental United States to be a criminal act and all said items must be surrendered to the Federal Reserve.
During this time upwards of 455,000 Double Eagle pieces were melted down and turned into bullion. For decades it was believed that only a handful still remained, locked in a vault at Fort Knox or the Philadelphia Mint but sometime during 1933, an un-estimated number of pieces escaped the mint and made their way into the hands of an Egyptian King, a coin and jewelry dealer in Philadelphia and various individuals throughout history.
5. The Secret Service has been pursuing the coins for over 70 years helping to make this coin the most intriguing, sought after and expensive coin to date. In 1996, a British coin dealer managed to gain possession of the elusive $20 piece and arranged to sell it to an American in New York City for $1.65 million. Little did the Brit know, the American had tipped off Secret Service and he was arrested after a thorough inspection and authentication of the coin. This “unicorn” was eventually sold at auction for $6.6 million (with the buyers premium the grand total came to $7.59 million) and is the only coin to be deemed monetized since being released for circulation.
In 2003, the daughter of the Philadelphia coin and jewelry dealer discovered an aging pouch in her deceased mothers’ safety deposit box. The pouch contained 10 Double Eagles and eventually became the subject of a long dragged out investigation and court case.
Eight decades after the order came for extinction, the Secret Service is still in pursuit of these beautifully crafted pieces. How many are left scattered throughout the world, is undetermined. Quite possibly, we may never find out but it is fun to think of this rare beauty passing through the hands of many and the journeys they are taking throughout history.
Bellevue Rare Coins specializes in gold buying and dealing in rare coins. We are a family-owned business located in Bellevue and Lynnwood. We are also silver, diamond, currency and jewelry buyers. Visit us for a free evaluation.