100 Greatest U.S. Coins Series: 1861 "Paquet Reverse" Liberty Head Double Eagle

Oftentimes the coins that make the top 100 Greatest United States Coins list as compiled by Whitman Publishing are those that are deemed experimental. Once created to circulate the general public, those coins get pulled from every being struck as a result of design or production issues. That is precisely what makes them rare and that is why they end up on the list. In this fourth edition of the Whitman publication, we will take a closer look at a specific coin, along with help from author Jeff Garrett and Ron Guth, that fits the category of the rare pattern coin but turned out to be a regular-issue coin struck for circulation. It also happens to crack the top 20 and started off being rare right from the beginning.

#15 - 1861 “Paquet Reverse” Liberty Head Double Eagle

In 1860, an engraver by the name of Anthony Paquet from the Philadelphia Mint modified the reverse design of the double eagle. Although very similar to the standard design issue, the letters on the reverse were more tall and slender. Technical differences were also made in reference to the positioning of the letters. By late 1860, Paquet’s design would be adopted for the regular-issue double eagle coins for 1861. Dies would be shipped to New Orleans and San Francisco, United States Mint branches, and coinage would begin production in January of 1861 at Philadelphia. However, it was realized that the wider fields and narrow rim would begin breaking the dies. They would soon stop the usage of the planchet dies but continue the usage of the dies used to make the coins that would later prove to not experience any of the breakage feared.

While the pulling of the coinage dies would prove to be unnecessary in the end, it did not stop U.S. Mint Director James Ross Snowden from recalling the new design and ordering the melting of the 1861 double eagles that were minted at Philadelphia. The complete run of Philadelphia-minted double eagles were destroyed except for a few coins. Director Snowden would follow suit with the suspension of production at both New Orleans and San Francisco, only New Orleans would get the message in time. As the transcontinental railroad was still years away from completion, telegraphs did not make it pass Missouri and word to stop production in San Francisco did not make it in time. San Francisco produced 19,520 coins before production ceased. However, no recall would be made of the issue which also graces this top 100 list.

The 1861 Paquet Reverse double eagle started out being rare while it sometimes takes years if not decades for others to claim the title. According to the grading services, two have been certified by PCGS with just one claiming pedigree at NGC. In 1960, this coin was valued at $5,000 in an Uncirculated condition. By this fourth edition (2015), it has now been valued at $2,000,000.