The double eagle, or twenty-dollar coin—the largest denomination of all regular U.S. coinage issues—was authorized by the Act of March 3, 1849, in response to the huge amounts of gold coming from California.
Many gold collectors form a type set of the six major double eagle designs (with the 1861 Paquet added as a sub-type if desired). Double eagles are at once large and impressive to own. Thanks to overseas hoards repatriated since the 1950s, finding choice and gem Mint State examples is no problem at all for the later types.
The first double-eagle type, that of 1850–1866, is generally available in grades from VF up. Mint State pieces, while elusive, were greatly augmented by more than 5,000 pieces—including some gems— found in the discovery of the long-lost treasure ship SS Central America. The SS Brother Jonathan, lost at sea in 1865, was recovered and yielded hundreds of Mint State 1865-S double eagles, and some dated 1864 and a few earlier. The salvaged wreck of the SS Republic, lost in 1865 while on a voyage from New York City to New Orleans, has also yielded some very attractive Mint State double eagles of this first type.
The type from 1866 through 1876, with the motto IN GOD WE TRUST above the eagle and with the denomination expressed as TWENTY D., is the rarest in MS-63 and higher grades. Many EF and AU coins have been repatriated from overseas holdings, as have quite a few in such grades as MS-60 through MS-62. However, true gems are hardly ever seen.
Liberty Head double eagles of the 1877–1907 type with motto and with the denomination as TWENTY DOLLARS are exceedingly plentiful in just about any grade desired, with gems being available of certain issues of the early 20th century. While it is easy to obtain a gem of a common date, some collectors of type coins have opted to add a coin of special historical interest, such as a Carson City issue.
The famous MCMVII High Relief double eagle of 1907 was saved in quantity by the general public as well as by numismatists, and today it is likely that at least 5,000 to 6,000 exist, representing about half of the mintage. Most of these are in varying degrees of Mint State, with quite a few listed as MS-64 and MS-65. Lower grades such as VF and EF were often used for jewelry or polished, or have other problems. This particular design is a great favorite with collectors, and although the coins are not rarities, they are hardly inexpensive.
The so-called Arabic Numerals 1907–1908 Saint-Gaudens design is available in nearly any grade desired, with MS-60 through MS-63 or MS-64 pieces being plentiful and inexpensive. Double eagles of the final type, 1908–1933, are abundant in any grade desired, with choice and gem coins being plentiful.