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Backstory regarding my 1850 $20 Double Eagle "almost equal to a brilliant proof" per Max Mehl

1northcoin1northcoin Posts: 3,546 ✭✭✭✭✭

Two years ago from this month marks the final date of production of the recent rebooted television series “Hawaii Five-0” with its finale having been broadcast on April 3, 2020. During its ten year run I had the opportunity to appear as a background actor on one of its episodes. That experience prompted me to draft a script of my own for a proposed episode. Of particular note, given my numismatic interests, the script I wrote was designed to pay homage to an iconic episode from the original Hawaii Five-O series that had featured a stolen coin (the Olson specimen of 1913 Liberty Head nickel) that today has come to be known as “the Hawaii Five-0 Coin” and has been so designated on its holder. That historic episode from 1973 was titled “The $100,000 Nickel.”

While my script was not picked up for airing while the show was still active it may yet in some modified form see production. The stolen and subsequently recovered coins in the story as I drafted it featured a 1928 Hawaiian Sesquicentennial that had historically actually been stolen in 1928 and my own specimen of an 1850 Double Eagle purported to have likely been the first $20 gold piece minted in the United States.

In conjunction with a recent submission of the script I compiled the following “Backstory Regarding the 1850 $20 Double Eagle Gold Piece.”

Thanks and credit goes to many here on this board who have helped to put together the pieces of the backstory. When I first acquired the coin some two decades ago I knew only what was represented on the holder. Subsequently I learned that the coin had been featured in the original CoinFacts.com as a “Significant Example” of the 1850 Double Eagle with the note, “Proofs: Unique?” The late Karl Moulton who went by “firstmint” here on the forum added additional insight as did poster “yosclimber” who identified a 1949 auction record describing the coin. Former poster Roger Bourdette provided United States Mint records that helped to distinguish the coin from an 1850 double eagle proof that exists in a Paris museum. In addition Rick Snow was able to provide to Karl Moulton helpful information from an original 1870 auction catalog in his possession.

Here is the just compiled “Backstory Regarding the 1850 $20 Double Eagle Gold Piece:

The subject 1850 $20 double eagle gold piece presently in the author’s possession has an interesting history. As referenced in the Script Narrative, it has been traced back to having been in the personal collection of its designer, James B. Longacre, the 4th Chief Engraver of the United States Mint. As such it may have been the first $20 United States coin minted for general circulation. (The unique and priceless 1849 specimen in the Smithsonian was minted as a trial piece rather than for circulation.)

Based upon the similarity of auction descriptions and identification of its owners, including in particular a Dr. C.W. Green, the coin’s history is traced through three separate time periods to the present. It was initially identified in the 1870 Longacre Estate Auction as Lot 178 with a description as being a proof and one of the first minted. Specifically the auction description stated, “from the first dies used for the double eagle.” From an original auction catalogue in the possession of prominent coin dealer Rick Snow it was learned that the purchaser was Edward Cogan, a noted coin auctioneer and dealer at the time.

Numismatic legend and author Walter Breen wrote in his “Breen’s Encyclopedia of US and Colonial Proofs” that he was aware of a Dr. Green’s ownership of a purported proof $20 1850 double eagle.

In 1949 noted numismatist Max Mehl, and at the time the most prominent coin dealer in the United States, provided an auction description for an 1850 $20 double eagle that was both attributed to prior ownership by Dr. Green, and also of proof appearance. Identified as Lot 719 Max Mehl wrote in his auction description describing the coin, “The most beautiful specimen of this date $20.00 gold piece I have ever seen or that I can find record of. This coin was purchased by Dr. Green as a proof ….. The obverse is brilliant and equal to a brilliant proof. I classify it as a brilliant semi-proof, almost equal to a brilliant proof.”

The most recent auction appearance of a similar described 1850 $20 gold piece was lot 4170A in the Superior Galleries Pre-Long Beach sale held May 27-29, 2001. That description stated, “1850 SEGS graded Proof 62 marked Presentation/PL … pedigreed to Dr. C.W. Green and so noted on the holder.” It continued, “The coin has a beautiful bold strike with full stars and all other details sharp and clear. The fields are proof like and you can see clearly with magnification that the dies and planchet were enhanced prior to the striking …”

Numismatic author and researcher, the late Karl Moulton, concluded that the subject 1850 $20 double eagle with its matching and similar auction descriptions and Dr. C.W. Green provenance was one and the same as that sold in the initial 1870 Longacre Estate Auction.

Although Breen in his Proof encyclopedia suggested there may have been up to three such specimens, the only other that is presently known is a proof $20 double eagle piece located in a Paris museum. Through U.S. Mint records that coin appears most certainly to not have been minted from the original dies at the time of the first minting of U.S. $20 gold pieces for circulation. Contemporary accounts confirm that by April of 1850 $20 double eagles were in circulation and there is a written reference to the first double eagles having been struck on March 12, 1850. This leads to confirmation that the Paris museum’s proof specimen which evidently came from an October 1850 minting of a “Set of Gold Master Coins” made initially for the U.S. Committee on the Library was not from the original dies. This leaves the subject 1850 $20 double eagle in the author’s possession as the only one of similar appearance that can be so attributed.

The above described similarity of appearance in successive auctions coupled with the identified ownership provenance gives credence to the subject coin having been the first 1850 $20 double eagle gold piece minted in the United States.

1850 was the first year that the United States government minted a $20 gold coin for general circulation. The addition of a $20 large denomination gold coin was itself a consequence of the large supply of newly discovered gold available from the 1849 California Gold Rush that originated from the 1848 discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill on the American River at the base of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California.

The subject 1850 $20 Double Eagle Gold Piece:

The Proof 1850 $20 Double Eagle in a Paris Museum:

The "Hawaii Five-O Coin" as I photographed it at The Portland Money Show:

And some photos from the above referenced Hawaii Five-0 episode that prompted by script writing effort:

Stepping off the Party Bus in my role as "Costumed Party Guest with Upscale Car" on an episode of the Recent Hawaii Five-0

And pictured as background with the leading actors at the episode's Mansion Halloween Party:


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