Rare and Historic 1861-O Double Eagle AU551861-O $20 AU55 NGC. The 1861-O double eagle is one of the more fascinating coinage issues in U.S. numismatics, reflective of a time of deep division and discord in the nation's political and social fabric. The Philadelphia Mint shipped three pairs of dies to the New Orleans Mint on Dec. 10, 1860, but only one pair was used. The 1861-O coins were issued under three distinct governmental entities:
--The federal government, which struck 5,000 pieces between Jan. 1 and Jan. 26, 1861.
--The State of Louisiana, which coined 9,750 coins between Jan. 26 and May 31, during which time Louisiana had seceded from the Union.
--The Confederacy, which issued 2,991 pieces June 1 and thereafter.
The Breen Complete Encyclopedia (1988) suggests that perhaps the pieces issued under the "rebels" are those with the "greatest weakness at the base of the date." If that is true, this example was almost certainly struck under the Confederacy, as it shows notable weakness at the base of each digit--so much so that the bottom of the 8 is absent, and the base of the 6 is ghostly. Bowers has a different view, mentioning that some coins show hand-strengthening, in the form of three V-shaped lines engraved at the base of the 8--a function of the New Orleans facility's lack of numeral punches for the job.
It is worth mentioning that this historic issue could have been struck with the Paquet reverse--the distinctive design promulgated by the underrated French engraver--were it not for one simple fact: The telegraph existed to communicate between Philadelphia and New Orleans, but not to San Francisco. The Mother Mint had already shipped dies to both branches, but when the striking difficulties with the Paquet reverse became apparent, a telegraphed message went out--in the case of New Orleans, directly, but in the case of San Francisco, by telegraph to St. Joseph, Missouri, and thence overland by Pony Express.
The present example--with the regular-issue reverse--is considerably prooflike on each side, like most specimens known, and radiates brilliant luster. It shows pretty peach-gold surfaces, with myriad light abrasions on each side that are mostly visible only under a loupe. The obverse strike is rather soft, but all stars show complete, if not bold, centril details. No trace of "strengthening" is visible on the date. The reverse is well struck, with a large, well-rounded O mintmark. Bowers sums it up nicely: "Today the 1861-O is a rare and highly sought variety." Census: 11 in 55, 15 finer (8/06).(Registry values: N4719) (NGC ID# 269J, PCGS# 8934)
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