Historic 1861-S Double Eagle
1861-S $20 Paquet AU53 PCGS. In late 1860, Anthony Paquet
produced a new style of reverse die for the double eagle. Paquet's
design was characterized by taller, thinner letters in the
peripheral inscriptions and a narrow reverse rim. Dies were shipped
to the branch Mints at New Orleans and San Francisco (four pairs),
and production commenced at Philadelphia on January 5, 1861.
Unfortunately, the narrow rim caused problems in the striking
process, and Mint Director James Ross Snowden ordered a halt to
production with the new dies. Messages were immediately sent to New
Orleans and San Francisco to cancel production at those facilities.
The message to New Orleans arrived by telegraph in a timely manner,
and no coins were minted there. The situation in San Francisco was
more complicated, as the telegraph lines were only completed as far
as St. Joseph, Missouri. From that point, the message was carried
by overland express. Snowden's instructions did not reach San
Francisco until February 2, 1861. Production was halted
immediately, but 19,250 double eagles had already been coined,
using two of the new reverse dies, in the time required for
Snowden's directive to reach authorities in San Francisco.
Paquet Reverse, AU53
The coins struck in this time period were paid out to customers and circulated readily in the local economy, or were shipped overseas. Today, approximately 200 examples of this romantic issue survive, making it the rarest double eagle of the San Francisco Mint.
Little notice was taken of the Paquet reverse in contemporary numismatic circles. W. Elliot Woodward auctioned one of the extremely rare Philadelphia specimens on March 20, 1865, and took notice of the different design. Another Philadelphia example was featured in Edward Cogan's sale of the Cohen Collection in 1875. These two coins are believed to be the only extant specimens of the Paquet Reverse double eagle from the Philadelphia Mint. They continued to appear in various auction catalogs over the years, but no example of a San Francisco double eagle with this reverse was mentioned in auction catalogs of the 19th century. The July 1895 issue of the American Journal of Numismatics had some discussion of this issue, and Nathan M. Kaufman had one of the coins in his collection, but he may not have noticed the difference between his coin and the regular-issue 1861-S double eagles. All knowledge of the San Francisco Paquet Reverse double eagles eventually faded from the numismatic community.
Numismatists were startled when an 1861-S double eagle with a strange reverse was discovered under an old barn in Hull, Texas in 1937. Initially believed to be unique, the coin was widely publicized and discussed. With heightened awareness of the issue, numismatists began to discover more examples. Today approximately 200 pieces are known, all in circulated grades.
With respect to grade, the present coin is in the top 20% of surviving examples. A few specimens have been certified at the AU58 level, but no Mint State coins are known. The coin exhibits gentle, even wear on the high points, with a minimum of abrasions and no serious problems. Attractive yellow-gold color suffuses the surfaces, with hints of rose in the fields. We expect spirited competition for this scarce and elegant prize. Population: 10 in 53, 7 finer (11/08).
See: Video Lot Description(Registry values: N7079) (NGC ID# 269L, PCGS# 8936)
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