Skip to content

Double Eagles Hand-Picked from the Peak of the California Gold Rush

Type 1 $20 Liberty Double Eagle
Type I $20 Liberty Double Eagle

The course of American history would change forever on January 24, 1848. That day, sawmill operator James W. Marshall stumbled upon gold at Sutter’s Mill in Colona, California. He didn’t realize the magnitude of the find at first—Mr. Marshall viewed the shiny flakes in the ground as a mere curiosity. Amusingly, he told his employees to only search for gold if they had free time! While Marshall may have largely dismissed the discovery, his fellow Californians (and the nation) recognized it as a pivotal event. The ensuing Gold Rush would have a profound and lasting impact on American history.

Soon after the yellow metal was discovered, an immediate need emerged for gold coinage. An incredible amount of bullion was entering the marketplace, and San Francisco was growing rapidly as a commercial hub. This created an immediate demand for trusted, universally-accepted currency. Private assayers and refiners began issuing coins and ingots, but their acceptance was anything but guaranteed. Even if an assayer was known and trusted in San Francisco, that did not mean a merchant in Boston or Brazil would accept gold with their stamp.

The State of California was the first government agency to act. They quickly opened an assay office in San Francisco to convert raw gold dust and nuggets into bars and ingots. Incredibly, they accepted a whopping 5,000 ounces of gold in their first day of operation! By comparison, in March 2018, the U.S. Mint sold fewer ounces in the entire month. The state office was reasonably accurate in their assays—the actual gold fineness/composition was often quite close to the markings on the bars. Nonetheless, their gold products were trading at a discount in the marketplace. Merchants and banks wanted more trustworthy currency.

Type 1 $20 Liberty Double Eagle ObverseAs an interim solution, California gold was being transported cross-country to the Philadelphia and New Orleans Mints for conversion into coinage. This was an incredibly arduous, dangerous, and time-consuming journey in the 1850s. Before the Panama Canal was built, a ship leaving San Francisco could reach China faster than Philadelphia! Since the transcontinental railroad had not yet been constructed (and was over 15 years away from being constructed), a cross-country land journey took four months across rough, challenging terrain.

Finally, it was decided that an official United States Mint was badly needed in San Francisco, and the facility came to fruition in 1854. Within its first year of operation, the San Francisco Mint converted $4 million in gold bullion into coins. The new facility also rendered many of the private operations obsolete and unnecessary. Many independent assayers, refiners, and minters slowly ceased operations in the early 1850s.

Not only did the Gold Rush result in a new mint, but it also resulted in a new gold coin denomination. The celebrated $20 Double Eagle was created as a direct effect of the California Gold Rush. Given the significant influx of gold into the market, a larger gold coin was badly needed. Until 1850, the highest-denominated U.S. gold piece was the $10 Eagle, but the public demanded a larger gold coin.

History and Rarity of the $20 Double Eagle

In terms of condition, the $20 Double Eagles of the 1850s often fall into two categories: abysmal or spectacular. These hefty coins saw extensive day-to-day usage, and the vast majority exhibit substantial wear and handling marks. They were often transported in bags—and as the heavy coins came in contact with each other, they would pick up deep gouges.

On the other hand, a small quantity of superbly-preserved early $20 Double Eagles have survived—but only as a result of tragedy. Recovered shipwrecks like the SS Central America and SS Brother Jonathan contained numerous $20 gold pieces from the 1850s and 1860s. These coins were Uncirculated when they were loaded onto the ship and sat untouched on the bottom of the ocean until the late 20th century. These ex-shipwreck coins are dazzling Choice and Gem Uncirculated pieces, but they are also extremely costly. A typical shipwreck recovery coin will cost five figures!

We are excited to offer a remarkable group of Gold Rush-era $20 Double Eagles. The coins all date between 1851 and 1857 (the height of the California Gold Rush) and were struck at the Philadelphia and San Francisco Mints.

Type 1 $20 Liberty Double Eagle ReverseWhat makes these coins particularly special is their condition. As mentioned earlier, the typical early $20 gold piece displays surface damage, extensive wear, and numerous blemishes. The coins in this group exhibit unusually clean surfaces and are devoid of the major flaws that plague early $20 gold pieces. They display what numismatists refer to as ‘honest wear.’ They look like they were plucked from circulation in the 1850s!

These coins are direct descendants of the California Gold Rush—it would be hard to imagine a more historically significant $20 Double Eagle. Yet, surprisingly, they are trading for a rather modest premium.

$20 Double Eagles struck between 1850 and 1866, known as ‘Type 1’ $20 Double Eagles, are at least 100 times scarcer than their common ‘Type 3’ counterparts. The dates in the 1850s are probably more than 200 times rarer than the common 1904 issue. An 1851 $20 gold piece, for instance, has a total NGC population of 1,167 pieces in all grades, of which most are circulated. The 1904 issue, meanwhile, has a total population of 227,076.

The coins in this group are available for a little more than double the cost of a common $20 gold piece. With such an extreme degree of rarity and historical importance, we see no reason why these early $20 gold pieces shouldn’t be worth many, many multiples of the common price. In fact, at current levels, they are some of the best bargains in the U.S. gold market.

Own California’s Iconic Gold Rush Coin

Today’s offering of Type 1 $20 Liberty Double Eagles from the peak of the California Gold Rush are all dated between 1851 and 1857 and graded Extremely Fine (XF) by PCGS or NGC. This translates to a numerical grade of XF40 or XF45. We were fortunate to get an excellent mix of dates, and because of this great selection, we can offer an exclusive deal for purchases of three or more coins. When you purchase three coins, we’ll guarantee you the following:

  • Discounted pricing (save $50 per coin!)
  • Three different dates
  • One coin guaranteed from the San Francisco Mint and one guaranteed from the Philadelphia Mint
  • A FREE presentation box

Type 1 $20 Liberty Double Eagle SlabbedFew coins offer this kind of fascinating historical connection—let alone at such an affordable price. We rarely see these available for sale in any form or grade, let alone in problem-free Extremely Fine condition. At today’s pricing, they represent an outstanding value and one of the most reasonable ways to own Gold Rush history. We were only able to locate 29 coins for this Spotlight, and we may not be able to source more when this group is spoken for.

As you may recall, last month’s Spotlight offer sold out within mere days. Be sure to act quickly if you wish to reserve these coins, as we expect a similar response and outcome. To purchase your Type 1 $20 Liberty Double Eagles while they’re still available, please call us at 800-831-0007 or email us.

*Prices subject to change based on market fluctuation and product availability. Prices reflected are for cash, check, or bank wire. Free shipping, handling, and insurance are available for all quantities ordered. Must buy three (3) or more coins to receive discounted pricing; three (3) different dates, with one (1) guaranteed from San Francisco and one (1) from Philadelphia; and a free presentation box. Offer expires Friday, April 20, 2018, or while supplies last.

Blog comments