In the early afternoon of January 24, 1848, James Marshall checked the progress of the sawmill he was building near Sutter’s Fort on the banks of the American River. For the past week, massive rainstorms washed away rocks, topsoil, and sediment. Marshall noticed gold-colored flakes between the pebbles, and the following morning, he discovered a small yellow nugget on the bottom of the river. Skeptical, he rode on horseback back to Sutter’s Fort, where he and John Sutter performed an assay on the metal he found. There, he confirmed that it was indeed gold. It wasn’t long before word of his discovery spread, precipitating the largest and quickest increase in the gold supply the United States had ever seen.
At the same time, the Treasury Department created a new denomination called the $20 double eagle. Large quantities of these double eagles were minted. During that time, many were cautious about accepting paper money, and double eagles were popular for conducting large-value international transactions with foreign governments and commercial interests.
Mintage of the Liberty Head double eagles began in 1849. The bulk of production of these coins took place at the Philadelphia mint, so only a small number were produced at the New Orleans mint. In 1852, mintage of around 190,000 Liberty Head double eagles was achieved at the New Orleans mint.
Double eagles are the work of James B. Longacre, who produced many other designs of the mid-19th century. Longacre used a similar Liberty for both the dollar and $20: a woman’s profile displayed wearing a pearl-bordered diadem inscribed LIBERTY. It was modeled after an ancient Greco-Roman sculpture, the Crouching Venus. His reverse was inspired by the seal of the United States, depicting a spread eagle with a shield on its breast and 13 stars in an oval with rays shining.
Proofs of the series are exceptionally rare, with perhaps two known of 1850 and 1854. Proofs were first placed on public sale in 1858, and three or four exist with this historic date. These first proof sets included the copper-nickel cent, silver half dime, dime, quarter, half-dollar, and the dollar, as well as the gold dollar, quarter eagle, half eagle, eagle, and double eagle. The sets sold for $46 and appear today to have been a fantastic bargain. In the 1850s, however, few working-class Americans, merchants, or professionals could afford to tie up the equivalent of five weeks’ wages that a $20 coin represented.
A similar situation exists for mint state early $20 Liberties. Only bankers ever saw this coin in any quantity from 1857 to 1865. Very few uncirculated coins were saved, and most existing today came from the famed Baltimore Hoard of over 3,600 U.S. gold coins found by two young boys in an empty cellar in May of 1934.
The coin we have available today is an 1852-O Liberty Gold Double Eagle NGC MS60, meaning it was a second-year mintage from the New Orleans mint. There are currently only nine of these gold coins graded from NGC at an uncirculated MS60 condition. To say this coin is perfect for investors and collectors is an understatement.
For a coin that will stand the test of time, look no further than the 1852-O Liberty Gold Double Eagle.