With the onset of the California Gold Rush, a new coin denomination was authorized - a twenty-dollar gold piece called a double eagle. It depicted the head of Liberty wearing a coronet, surrounded by stars, for the obverse. The reverse bore a heraldic eagle, similar to the Great Seal of the United States.
With gold rushing in from California, the production of double eagles soared to a level that would not be exceeded until 1861. A large number of coins were produced, but the vast majority of 1851 double eagles did not survive. Of the coins seen today, most are heavily worn. Examples were found on the S.S. Central America and the S.S. Republic, nearly all of which were circulated. High-grade 1851 double eagles are very rare, with only two dozen coins known in choice condition. The highest-grade 1851 double eagle certified to date has been MS-64
United States Mint, Philadelphia. Obverse: Liberty striding towards the viewer, bearing olive branch and torch. Reverse: Eagle in flight above the sun. More than half a million double eagles were minted in 1921. Only about fifteen survived the melt down procedure later. This coin is outstanding, both for rarity and condition.
United States Mint, San Francisco. Obverse: Liberty striding towards the viewer, bearing olive branch and torch. Reverse: Eagle in flight above the sun. Over three million double eagles poured out of the San Francisco branch mint in 1927. All but a dozen or so were eventually melted.
United States Mint, Philadelphia. Obverse: Liberty striding towards the viewer, bearing olive branch and torch. Reverse: Eagle in flight above the sun. About two dozen coins have survived from the 1932 double eagle mintage.
The 1854-O double eagle is one of the great classics of the Liberty Head series. Today, there are probably fewer than 35 examples known in all grades. Most of the 1854-O double eagles seen have graded just Very Fine or Extremely Fine. The 1854-O double eagle has always been in great demand, but with the recent interest in the field of double eagles, the 1854-O issue has become nearly priceless. Probably the finest example known was found in the wreckage of the S.S. Republic. The coin has been certified as grading AU-58.
United States Mint, Philadelphia. Production of gold coinage was halted early in 1933 as the United States continued to move away from the gold standard. All double eagles struck in 1933 were not issued or authorized to be released to the public. Instead, they were supposed to be melted down and conveyed as bullion to Fort Knox. But all of the coins were not melted down. A handful were spirited away and kept in hiding for decades. One double eagle dated 1933 surfaced recently, and a complicated arrangement monetized it so that it could be sold at auction for millions of dollars.
This coin and another 1933 double eagle transferred from the U.S. Mint to the Smithsonian were the only legally owned with that date until recently.
The 1933 double eagle marks the end of the era in which the U.S. Congress authorized circulating gold coinage.
The year 1854 was the first time that gold coins were produced at the San Francisco Mint. The 1854-S quarter eagle and half eagle are extremely rare. Most of the production for the year focused on double eagles. The issue was widely distributed and many of the coins seen today are rather heavily worn. A large group of 1854-S double eagles were found in the wreckage of the S.S. Yankee Blade. The treasure was undocumented, but it is believed that around 200 to 300 coins were discovered. Most of the coins were high-grade examples with surfaces that are lightly etched from exposure to seawater. A Proof example of the 1854-S double eagle resides in the Smithsonian Collection.