The discovery of gold in California in 1848 and the ensuing Gold Rush turned out to be a boon for gold coins. Due to the overflow of gold that began pouring into Philadelphia, Congress authorized the United States Mint to create a $20 gold coin on March 3, 1849.
The most recognizable coin of its day, the $20 Liberty, also referred to as a $20 Coronet, remained in production until 1907 when the United States Mint began minting the $20 Saint-Gaudens.
Design of the $20 Liberty Gold Coin
Designed by James B. Longacre, the obverse (front) of the $20 Liberty gold coin features Miss Liberty donning a crown inscribed with the word 'LIBERTY'. Thirteen stars representing the original 13 colonies and the date encircle her.
The reverse (back) features a bald eagle behind a striped shield. The words 'UNITED STATES OF AMERICA' arc the top of the coin.
A total of three different types of $20 Liberties were minted. Depending upon the date and type, other pieces of information are listed on the reverse, as listed below.
Type I coins do not feature the motto 'IN GOD WE TRUST' and the denomination is written as "Twenty D."
The 'IN GOD WE TRUST' motto was added to the reverse in 1866, resulting in the Type II design. Rev. M.R. Watkinson of Ridleyville, PA, spearheaded this change by asking Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase to include the motto on the nation's coins. Another Type II design change involved altering the shape of the shield on the reverse from straight to curved in the ornate rococo style of the day.
In 1877, the denomination was changed to read 'TWENTY DOLLARS' instead of 'TWENTY D.' This is the only difference between Type II and Type III $20 Liberty gold coins.
$20 Liberty Coin Minting Information
In mid-1849, legislation was approved to begin minting the $20 Liberty gold coin. At least two of these coins were minted in December of 1849; one is now located in the Smithsonian. Introduced into circulation in 1850, the $20 Liberty immediately became the largest denomination of all regular U.S. coins to date. In all, the $20 Liberty was minted at five different mints throughout its production.
The Creation and Use of the Double Eagle
Although $1, $2.5, $5 and $10 gold coins were already in circulation, the Mint realized that it could increase production of gold coins by minting a $20 gold coin, or double eagle, in half the time it took to produce two $10 gold coins with the same amount of gold.
The new $20 gold coin was not common in day-to-day consumer transactions. Since 20 dollars was a considerable amount of money in the 19th century, the $20 Liberty was usually used for bank-to-bank transfers and paying debts to foreign investors.