1861-S Paquet Reverse Double Eagle, AU58
1861-S $20 Paquet AU58 NGC. The 1861-S Paquet Reverse is
among the most favored and storied coins in U.S. numismatics. The
Liberty Head double eagle series is a long one, measuring nearly
six decades in length. But it is one that, although studded with
numerous low-mintage rarities, for the most part lacks an abundance
of design variations, errors, and varieties.
Condition Census Rarity
That is perhaps part of why the 1861-S Paquet Reverse double eagle is so popular, as it offers both of those treasured attributes: It is a numismatic (and conditional) rarity with a small mintage, and a significant design variant by an underrated but interesting Mint engraver, Anthony C. Paquet. The issue is listed in the Top 100 U.S. Coins by Jeff Garrett and Ron Guth.
Despite the French surname, Paquet was born in 1814 in Hamburg, Germany, probably the son of one Toussaint François Paquet, a bronze-worker. The younger Paquet emigrated to America in 1848, at age 34. By the mid-1850s he had an engraving shop in New York City. Paquet hired on at the Mint in 1857 and stayed there until 1864, at which time he re-entered the private sector, but he continued doing contract work for the Mint until as late as 1877. Writing in the Bass catalog, Bowers said of Paquet's pre-Mint days, "Unfortunately, there seems to be virtually nothing in present numismatic literature to identify tokens, medals, or any other metallic items he may have created prior to coming to the Mint, save for a John C. Fremont campaign medal" with a reverse inscription of "THE ROCKY MOUNTAINS ECHO BACK FREMONT, etc."
Although Paquet is known to have designed quite a few pattern pieces, they are unsigned, including 1858-dated quarters and half dollars (Judd-221 through 223), 1859-dated half dollars (Judd-247 through 255) and double eagle patterns of 1859 and 1860 (Judd-260, 272a, 273), and at least one 1877 half dollar (Judd-1540 and 1541), among others.
Paquet also left a rich legacy of Mint medals. Many of them are signed; interestingly, Paquet preferred a script style for his signature rather than the traditional block letters usually seen. Signed Mint medals of Paquet include the important 1860 Washington Cabinet medal (Baker-326, Julian-MT-23) commemorating the establishment of the Mint's collection of Washingtonia. The creation of the Washington Cabinet was, in itself, the likely impetus for many subsequent Mint shenanigans, patterns, and fantasy pieces created as trade bait for the Washington items, but that is a story for another day ...
A curious characteristic of Paquet's work is a peculiar preference for a font (letter style) identified by tall, thick verticals and diagonals on the letters, with thin horizontals and serifs. This font was used on the Paquet Reverse patterns of 1860 and was adopted in late 1860 for the regular-issue double eagles of 1861. Dies were shipped to the branch mints in New Orleans and San Francisco, and the Philadelphia Mint actually produced examples. But Mint Director James Ross Snowden deemed them unsuitable for high-speed production and ordered the entire Philadelphia emission destroyed. Only two pieces of the 1861 Paquet Reverse are known today.
The New Orleans Mint was notified via telegraph in time to halt production of any 1861-O Paquet double eagles -- but in the case of San Francisco, there were as yet no transcontinental telegraph wires to allow instantaneous transmission of the order to "cease and desist." By the time the San Francisco Mint received the Snowden directive, the facility had struck 19,250 examples of a modified design -- apparently all of which promptly entered circulation. There are no Uncirculated examples known today, and most of the 100 or so surviving specimens grade only Very Fine to Extremely Fine. This AU58 piece is tied for the finest we have ever offered -- and the finest certified at either service -- with a small group of similarly graded specimens.
The surfaces on this amazingly high-grade Paquet twenty are uniformly bright and yellow-gold in color. Significant amounts of mint luster remain around the devices on each side. There are also no obvious or detracting abrasions on the reverse, from the lack of a determinant rim on that side. Sharply struck on each side, this is a well-balanced coin from side-to-side with superior eye appeal. Census: 9 in 58, 0 finer (9/13).
Ex: Dallas Signature (Heritage, 10/2008), lot 3035, where it brought $149,500; Long Beach Signature (Heritage, 2/2009), lot 3020, where it realized $161,000.(Registry values: N7079) (NGC ID# 269L, PCGS# 8936)
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