Know your U.S. coins: Coronet $20 double eagle

Coronet double eagles underwent many modifications
By , Coin World
Published : 03/27/15
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Although most standard price guides agree that three distinct Coronet $20 double eagles were produced, three "subtypes," if you will, collectors paying closer attention will find there's more to collect than immediately meets the eye.

The Coronet double eagle was introduced into circulation in 1850, and struck every year through the end of the century, into the year 1907 when it was replaced by the famed Saint-Gaudens designs. The two major design elements remained unchanged for the entirety of the series: James Barton Longacre's standard portrait of Liberty wearing a coronet inscribed liberty on the obverse, and a heraldic eagle with shield on its breast and two scrolls on the reverse.

Catalogers have conveniently categorized the series into three subtypes or groups, based on changes to the reverse design:

The subtype of 1850 to 1866 features a reverse lacking "In God We Trust" and bearing the denomination as TWENTY D. Two versions of the same basic design by two different artists were used, one by Longacre and the second by Anthony C. Paquet in 1861 only. (Paquet's lettering was taller and narrower than the lettering used by Longacre.)

COIN VALUES:  Know what your Coronet $20 double eagle gold coin is worth today 

The motto IN GOD WE TRUST was added to the reverse design in mid-1866 for the type of 1866 to 1876, with examples of both mottoless and motto-bearing designs struck during the transition year.

The denomination was expanded to read TWENTY DOLLARS on the type of 1877 to 1907. This reverse type remained in use through the remainder of the series. A new reverse hub was introduced in 1900 and used for the remainder of the series. The back of the eagle's head is smooth, compared to the earlier hubs depicting an eagle with slightly projecting feathers.

Collectors collecting by type could select examples from each of these periods to have a complete set. However, a greater challenge exists when one looks at each period in greater detail.

Many contemporary collectors and catalogers who collect by the reverse design types ignore significant changes made to the obverse over the years. By seeking these obverse variations, collectors can expand their collecting horizons.

Staff members of the American Numismatic Association Certification Service noticed in 1978 what had always been there but unnoticed. liberty was actually spelled llberty on the coins of 1850 to 1858.

The die sinker punched two Ls into the coronet rather than an LI. Despite more than 100 years of study, no one had noticed the misspelling, or had reported it if they had discovered the problem.

A new obverse was introduced in 1859, with liberty spelled correctly. Longacre's J.B.L. designer's initials were moved slightly, and other minor changes were made to the obverse design.

A new, slightly modified obverse was introduced in 1877, the same year the reverse denomination was spelled out in full. The most obvious changes are the positioning of the stars and head.

All told, the series comprises at least three distinct obverses and five distinct reverses.

Keep reading from our "Know Your U.S. Coins" series:

Cents and half cents:

2- and 3-cent coins:


Dimes and half dimes:


Half dollars:


Gold coins:

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