1861-S Paquet Reverse Double Eagle, AU58
1861-S $20 Paquet AU58 PCGS. The Paquet reverse double eagle
is one of the great "story" coins in American numismatics. Late in
1860, Anthony C. Paquet, assistant engraver at the Mint, designed a
new reverse die for the double eagle. The new reverse followed the
basic pattern of Longacre's classic design, but it differed in
several important respects. Paquet used a new set of letter punches
for the legend and denomination in the design. The new letters were
taller and thinner, and the spacing between the letters was
tighter. The oval of stars was located below the rays on the Paquet
reverse, instead of mingling with them, as seen on the old design.
Most important, Paquet's design featured an extremely narrow rim,
in order to leave room for the taller letters. This narrow rim had
unforeseen consequences for the production of double eagles in
1861. Four pairs of the new double eagle dies were sent to San
Francisco in November 1860 and three pairs were sent to New
Legendary 19th Century Issue, Tied for Finest Known
When coinage began in Philadelphia on January 5, 1861, the coiners noticed problems with the new reverse die. Because the planchets for the double eagles had their edges upset before striking, and the edges were upset to accommodate the width of the old rims, the new narrow rims on the dies did not match up well with the upset rims on the planchets. This seems to have caused excessive wear and breakage of the dies. The coiners also felt the new narrow rims would wear down quickly in normal use. When these issues were brought to the attention of Mint Director James Ross Snowden, he ordered a halt to production with the new dies.
Snowden also sent telegrams to the Mints at New Orleans and San Francisco to halt production at those facilities. The message reached New Orleans in good time, and no coins of this type were minted there. The notification of the Mint at San Francisco could not be accomplished so readily. The telegraph lines had only been completed as far as St. Joseph, Missouri. Beyond this point, the message had to be hand carried overland to California. When Snowden's directive reached San Francisco on February 2, 1861, production of double eagles had been underway for some time. Superintendent Charles Hempstead replied on February 9, 1861, "I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your favor of the 5th, 'overland,' which however did not come to hand until the 2nd. I was, therefore, unable to prevent the striking and issuing of a large number of double eagles, coined with the new dies. The amount issued was $385,000." This mintage had been accomplished using two of the new reverse dies shipped to San Francisco.
A total of 19,250 Paquet Reverse double eagles was coined before the order to halt production was received. The entire mintage was released into circulation, with the result that there are no Mint State examples of this issue known today. The coins circulated extensively at the time, and some were sent overseas, to be discovered in European holdings many years later. The difference in the reverse design does not seem to have been much noticed by the general public at the time of issue. In time, the coins became scarce and the story of this remarkable design was little known or remembered.
The numismatic community was surprised and delighted when the San Francisco Mint Paquet Reverse double eagle was rediscovered in 1937. An example found under an old barn in Hull, Texas re-ignited interest in this issue, which had been completely forgotten in the interval. With new awareness of the issue, more specimens were found in old-time collections and European hoards. Today, perhaps 200 specimens are known, making the issue the rarest double eagle from the San Francisco Mint.
The present coin is one of the finest surviving specimens of this interesting design. While there are no known Mint State examples of this issue, this specimen only misses by a whisker. Only the slightest friction is evident on the highest points of the design. Most of the original mint luster remains, and the vibrant orange-yellow color is still undimmed. Overall eye appeal is excellent, and this coin is worthy of a place in the most advanced U.S. gold collection. Population: 2 in 58, 0 finer (3/14).
Ex: FUN Signature (Heritage, 1/2009), lot 4145.
From The Charles G. Wright Family Collection.(Registry values: N7079) (NGC ID# 269L, PCGS# 8936)
View all of [The Charles G. Wright Family Collection ]
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