The obverse has Liberty facing left, surrounded by 13 stars, with her hair flowing to her shoulder. Her coronet (crown) has LIBERTY in relief, and the date is at the bottom. The image for the portrait is a modification of a Greco-Roman statue which was much admired by designer James Longacre. The reverse depicts an eagle, wings spread, with a Union shield superimposed on its chest. In its right claw the eagle holds an olive branch, and arrows are held in its left claw. Above the eagle’s head are an oval of 13 stars and a pattern of rays. The denomination is at the bottom expressed as TWENTY D. . The double scrolls flanking the shield are Longacre’s reference to the double eagle denomination. The scroll on the left has E PLURIBUS in relief, and the scroll on the right has UNUM, also in relief.
Type 1 Liberty Head Double Eagles were struck each year from 1850 to 1866, and the series is replete with rarities. All Mint-state examples are at least scarce, with most rare, and more than a few very rare. The branch Mint issues are particularly rare, with New Orleans issues being among the rarest for the series. Interestingly, most of the 1861 issue from New Orleans were minted under the Confederacy.
Unfortunately, it is not possible to differentiate between those struck by the United States and those struck by the Confederate States. Breen states that 71% of the mintage was produced by the Confederacy, making it probable that any collector holding an 1861-O specimen has a coin that was struck while the Confederate flag was flying over the Mint. Attaining legendary status is the 1861 Paquet Reverse issue. In that year Mint Engraver Anthony Paquet modified the reverse, most notably the lettering and the rim. The letters are more elongated and thinner on Paquet’s version. The border on Paquet Reverse coins is much narrower than on the original Longacre version. Although artistically pleasing, it became immediately apparent that the changes were impractical, as the narrow rim would not protect the devices from wear. In addition, the new design led to early breakage of the dies. The Mint Director ordered that the old reverse be reinstated and instructed the San Francisco Mint via telegram to cease using the new reverse. Only two Paquet Reverse specimens from the Philadelphia Mint are known to exist. San Francisco Mint coins are at times available, as 19,250 were struck and issued before minting was halted. They are among the most desirable double eagles and are more valuable than their mintage might suggest.
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