A leading collection of Coronet gold $20 double eagles will anchor Stack’s Bowers
Galleries’ upcoming June 21 to 26 auctions as official auctioneer
of the Whitman Coin and Collectibles Expo in Baltimore.
The Baltimore Summer Expo is set for June 21 to 24 at the Baltimore
The Fairmont Collection is currently ranked as the second finest
Professional Coin Grading Service Registry Set of “Liberty Head $20
Gold with Major Varieties, Circulation Strikes (1850 to 1907),” and is
a nearly complete set. The first coin in the set that will be offered
during the June 21 evening session is an 1850 double eagle graded PCGS
About Uncirculated 55. It represents the first year that the
denomination, authorized by the Act of March 3, 1849, was issued for circulation.
Most of the Philadelphia Mint’s production of 1,170,261 1850 double
eagles circulated in the United States rather than being shipped
abroad, and the typical survivor is well circulated. As Stack’s Bowers
noted, “These pieces created a sensation when first released. The gold
dollar of the same design, released in 1849, was a reality, and the
double eagle was eagerly anticipated,” yet few were saved at the time,
and today perhaps 30 to 50 are known in Mint State.
This condition rarity places added pressure on choice AU examples,
and even those found in major shipwrecks like the SS Republic
and the SS Central America are nearly always found with
evidence of circulation.
Double eagle production at the New Orleans Mint in 1850 was limited
to just 141,000 examples. The auction catalog states, “As with the
Philadelphia Mint’s issue of 1850, the 1850-O saw extensive use in
domestic circulation, primarily in regions west of the Mississippi
River where gold coins were a preferred medium of exchange.” The
offered 1850-O Coronet double eagle grades PCGS AU-55.
The mid-1850s saw some legendary rarities in the series struck at
the New Orleans Mint, and the collection includes an 1857-O Coronet
double eagle graded PCGS MS-60, making it the third-finest graded at
PCGS (with the finest being an MS-63 that last sold in 2000 for $97,750.)
Fewer than 200 1857-O double eagles survive from an original mintage
of 30,000, and unlike the typical “O Mint” double eagle from the
period, the strike on the Fairmont coin is reasonably bold. The
cataloger observed, “Light khaki-gold patina blankets both sides, the
surfaces revealing brighter golden yellow color as the coin dips into
a light. Direct viewing angles also call forth ample evidence of a
prooflike finish, reflective tendencies most pronounced in the
protected areas around the devices,” before concluding, “this piece is
expertly produced by early New Orleans Mint standards.” The Mint mark,
while showing some weakness in definition at the bottom, is bolder
than typically seen on this issue.
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Mint State survivors trade infrequently, with the most recent
auction offering being one graded MS-62 by Numismatic Guaranty Corp.
with a green Certified Acceptance Corp. sticker that realized $172,500
at Heritage’s January 2011 Florida United Numismatists sale. Heritage
explained the 1857-O issue’s rarity in its 2011 catalog entry,
writing, “The high intrinsic value of the coins mitigated against
holding a large number of pieces for an extended period of time, and
there was no widespread interest in mintmarked varieties of any denomination.”
Two distinct types of double eagles were produced at the
Philadelphia and San Francisco Mints in 1861: one with the traditional
reverse by James B. Longacre that was first used for circulation in
1850 and a second reverse type by Anthony C. Paquet.
The collection offers 1861-S Coronet double eagles of both types.
The example representing the usual Longacre reverse grades PCGS MS-61.
While the coin is more common than the Paquet version, even the more
common reverse is a condition rarity in Uncirculated grades,
especially above Mint State 61.
The Paquet reverse double eagle is a famed 19th century rarity and
the Fairmont Collection’s representative grades PCGS AU-53 with a
green Certified Acceptance Corp. sticker, making it one of the finer
The description explains its eye appeal, writing, “Awash in rich
honey-gold patina, the surfaces are undeniably original, and rare as
such in a survivor of this elusive issue. Pale rose highlights flash
into view as the surfaces dip into a light, as do ample remnants of a
satiny mint finish. Boldly to sharply defined throughout with a
remarkably smooth appearance for the assigned grade, this is certainly
one of the finest examples of the issue that we have ever handled.”
Paquet arrived in the United States from Germany in 1848 and started
contract work at the Philadelphia Mint in 1857. He was soon hired as
an assistant engraver, a position he held until 1864 when he left the
Mint to focus on his private business.
His distinguished letters are more elongated than on the Longacre
design, with a thin space between the thicker uprights of the letters,
a style inspired by contemporary newspaper fonts.
Stacks Bowers’ describes the differences between the two reverse
types, writing, “The most readily apparent diagnostic between the
Paquet reverse and the regular Longacre reverse may be found with the
letter O in OF. The Paquet logotype has an extremely thin space
between the uprights on the letter, while Longacre’s is significantly
wider and much more of a circle. Another defining indicator is how the
central halo of stars above the eagle interacts with the rays; they
are separate on the Paquet reverse but are nestled in with the rays on
the Longacre reverse dies.”
Paquet prepared four reverse dies with his “improvements.” However,
production of the coins with the Paquet reverse at the Philadelphia
Mint came to a stop on Jan. 5, 1861. Mint officials feared that the
narrowed rim on the reverse, absent a corresponding change to the
obverse design, would lead to uneven wear on the coin. Virtually all
of the Philadelphia Mint Paquet Reverse double eagles were melted and
today just two are known.
Given the problems with Paquet’s design and absent any documented
need to change the design, these Paquet reverse issues have been
considered by some to be patterns, but they were clearly struck for circulation.
The New Orleans Mint did not strike any double eagles with the
Paquet reverse, but the San Francisco Mint, thousands of miles west of
Philadelphia, did not receive the directive to halt production in
time. A total of 19,250 1861-S Coronet, Paquet Reverse double eagles
were struck, and fewer than 300 are estimated to remain today. Most
survive in well-worn condition with the typical grade being Very Fine
to Extremely Fine. The issue was not widely publicized until the 1950s
and many of the known examples have come mixed in with European bank hoards.