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SERIES: Patterns - PR
LEVEL: Year, MintMark, & Major Variety

1879 $20 J-1643, CA (Proof)

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34.00 millimeters
James Barton Longacre
35.00 grams
Metal Content:
86% Gold, 4% Silver, 10% Copper
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David Akers (1975/88): Description: Obverse. Head of Liberty facing left wearing a beaded coronet inscribed LIBERTY. Around the head is the legend +30+G+1.5+S+3.5+C+35+G+R+A+M+S+. The date, 1879, is below the bust. Except for the legend, this design is similar to the regular issue double eagle. Reverse. The regular reverse except that the motto IN GOD WE TRUST has been replaced by DEO EST GLORIA (God Is Glorius).

Comments: The efforts to introduce a metric coinage to replace the troy system of weights resulted in the production of this metric double eagle pattern, or "quintuple stella" as it is sometimes called. This pattern was the work of Dr. Wheeler Hubbell, who had patented the goloid metal, and was enthusiastically endorsed by the Coinage Committee, headed by Alexander Stephens of Georgia.

In their report, the Committee stated that "The advantages of this metric gold coin are that the gold is even 30 grams, the silver even 1.5 grams, the copper 3.5 grams. The gold therefore is standard .9 fine and the silver .9 fine, and the total weight is even 35 grams, and is precisely $20 in value. The superiority of the metal for constancy of value is strikingly shown by the fact that although it measures the same in diameter on a plane as the binary $20 coin, it (the metric) is 24 grains heavier, or 540.25 plus grains in weight, showing as well as in the rich orange color its superiority for practical use, as it flows with a sharper and more distinct finish into the dies." (Adams and Woodin, 1959, p. 172). In the April, 1879 volume of the American Journal of Numismatics, a brief paragraph appeared commenting on the attractive appearance of the new design. "A new twenty-dollar metric gold coin has been shown by Mr. Stephens. It is said to be one of the most beautiful coins ever executed." However, despite the glowing report by the Coinage Committee and the favorable comments on the coin's appearance, the metric double eagle was not adopted by Congress.

In John Haseltine's "Type Table" sale of 1881, where the metric double eagle was offered for sale for the first time, the cataloguer noted that three specimens had been struck. One piece, the specimen in the sale, had been given to W.W. Hubbell. The other two pieces were reportedly in the Mint Collection. Since the Smithsonian Institution, which now houses the Mint Collection, does not have a metric double eagle, it is obvious that the latter two specimens were subsequently traded or sold.

It is certainly possible that restrikes exist although I am not aware of any specimen that can definitely be attributed as a restrike. (Also, if a restrike does exist, I do not feel that it necessarily follows, as both Judd and Taxay state, that it would weigh only 516 grains than the metric 540¼ grains. After all, restrikes of the 1879 flowing hair stella vary in weight from 103.2 grains to 109 grains and so, if a restrike of J-1643 exists, it could weigh the full 540¼ grains.)

I know the definite locations of four different specimens, One is owned by Paramount International Coin Corporation and was purchased in 1973 from Dr. Wilkison who had obtained it from the Olsen sale in 1944 for $3850.00. A second specimen is in the Johns Hopkins University collection and a third is owned by Stack's of New York City. The fourth piece is owned by the Finance Company of America in Baltimore, Md. The Jenks-Smith coin, described as "lightly hairmarked," is a possible fifth specimen and could be the Davis specimen that was described as having "small nicks in the field." The Menjou specimen and the Farouk coin may or may not be different from the others. Even if all the specimens mentioned are different, this would still account for a total of only eight pieces. This is not likely, however, and the actual total is probably only five or at most six.