As the smoke cleared from the First Battle of Bull Run in July, 1861, there was no more talk of a short war. Instead, both North and South dug in for a prolonged struggle.(1)
Today, of course, we know that tragic conflict ended with a Union victory in 1865. However, those living at the time had no way of foreseeing the outcome, certainly not in the early phases of the war.
Thus, the anxiety and fear that gripped the nation led to massive hoarding of gold and silver coinage, as precious metals were viewed as a “safe harbor” in times of peril. Circulating coinage in the East and Midwest came to a virtual halt.(2)
In response to these events, the Philadelphia Mint in 1862 sharply curtailed production of $20 gold double eagle coins. The trend carried into 1863, when less than 143,000 pieces were struck.
Compare that to west coast San Francisco, far removed from the cannon fire, where the branch mint there operated at high capacity, turning out nearly one million 1863-S double eagles.
Of the relatively small original number of 1863 Philadelphia double eagles, many of them were exported and melted, leaving approximately 427 survivors of this important Civil War relic.(3)
Fascinating Fact 1: One method the North relied on to finance the war was the issuance of paper money, known as “Greenbacks.” The value of the Greenbacks fluctuated, depending on the government’s perceived ability to redeem them in gold or silver at some future date. Thus, their exchange value rose or fell according to military news. Prior to the pivotal Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863, it required $250 in Greenbacks to purchase $100 in gold coins, but by 1865, with victory in sight, the Greenback/Gold ratio had narrowed to $128/$100.(4)
For the longest time, 1863 double eagles in Mint State condition were considered borderline non-existent. This changed in 2003 upon the discovery of the S.S. Republic, a steamship laden with gold cargo that sank in an 1865 hurricane about 100 miles off the coast of Georgia.(5)
Among the thousands of coins recovered from the shipwreck were 35 examples of the 1863 double eagle, many that were later certified as Mint State. When these starting appearing in the coin marketplace, they were greeted by spirited bidding from collectors appreciative of the opportunity, propelling this Civil War witness to center stage of American numismatics, where it has remained ever since.
Fascinating Fact 2: In 2023, a hoard of more than 800 gold coins was unearthed in a Kentucky cornfield. The “Great Kentucky Hoard” contained nearly 20 examples of the fabulous 1863 $20 double eagle!(6)
|Estimated survivors in all grades: 427
? The survivor estimate from PCGS represents an average of one or more experts' opinions as to how many examples survive of a particular coin in all grades. Survival estimates include coins that are raw, certified by PCGS, and certified by other grading services.
Learn more at PCGS.
|PCGS Rarity Scale: 6.1
? The 'PCGS CoinFacts Rarity Scale' assesses the relative rarity of all U.S. coins, based on estimated surviving examples. The scale runs from 1.0 to 10.0. The higher the number, the rarer the coin.
Learn more at PCGS.
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