A Brief Pre-1933 Gold Coin History: $20 Gold Double Eagles
Authorized by the Coinage Act of 1849, the $20 Gold Double Eagle, minted from 1850-1933, is the largest Gold coin denomination struck by the United States Mint prior to the modern bullion coins struck starting in 1986. The Gold Double Eagle is twice the amount of the standard unit of Gold, with a face value of $20, hence the name Double Eagle.
Gold Double Eagles were struck in two main types: Liberty Head (1850-1907) and Saint-Gaudens (1907-1933). These coins were prized possessions of their owners and were not used heavily in everyday transactions. This means many dates are still available in choice condition. Another factor adding to the popularity of this issue is the fact that most of the coins issued before 1805 may have been melted because oftentimes the value of the metal was worth more than the $20 face value.
This denomination was struck at five of the U.S. Mints, though in very differing amounts. Philadelphia, PA, and San Francisco, CA, were the largest producers, with Carson City, NV, Denver, CO, and New Orleans, LA, augmenting production over the years.
The first design of the $20 Gold Double Eagle depicts the standard Liberty Head design, by United States Mint Chief Engraver James B. Longacre, seen on other Gold coins during those years. There were three varieties, with different formatting of the face value and with or without the “In God We Trust” motto.
In 1907, the first of what is often considered the most beautiful design of all American coinage was introduced, created by sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens. The obverse design, featuring Lady Liberty striding in front of the sun's rays, holding a torch, and an olive branch, was so popular that it was reproduced starting in 1986 for the Gold American Eagle bullion series from the U.S. Mint.
The Gold Act of 1934 prohibited most ownership of Gold and required Americans to turn in any Gold to the government. This resulted in many coins to be melted, further adding to the scarcity of many dates in the series. Rising Precious Metals prices have also increased the value of the Gold Double Eagle making them highly sought after today.