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$20 Gold Liberty Head Double Eagles

The discovery of gold in 1848 at Sutter’s Mill in California persuaded Congress to expand its use in coin production. In March of 1849, legislation authorized the mintage of two new denominations of gold coins, the one dollar and twenty-dollar gold pieces, which became the smallest and largest regular production gold coins ever made in terms of both value and size. The government needed a larger coin than the existing $10 piece to accommodate the massive quantities of gold being mined in California. The resulting $20 gold piece, commonly referred to as the “double eagle,” is an impressive coin. Containing nearly one full ounce of gold, it is a pleasure to hold these hefty pieces in your hand. The double eagle’s purchasing power was enormous and amounted to over a month of ordinary wages in 1850. Many people could not even afford to own one. The obverse features a left-facing Liberty wearing a coronet, or small crown, encircled by 13 stars representing the original states. The reverse shows a heraldic eagle with a shield on its chest holding a double ribbon inscribed E PLURIBUS UNUM, as well as an olive branch and arrows in its talons. Above the eagle is a halo of 13 stars and an arc of rays. Production of Liberty Head double eagles continued until 1907, at which point they were replaced with the Saint Gaudens design.

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