Although the $10 "eagle" was the largest gold coin issued under the Mint Act of 1792, it would be over forty years before most citizens would see this "Flagship" denomination.
In 1861, in a letter to Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase, the Rev. M.R. Watkinson of Ridleyville, Pa. proposed recognizing the nation's faith in the Deity on the coinage. A religious man, Chase embraced the idea and directed Mint officials to proceed with designs. Patterns of several denominations struck between 1861 and 1865 experimented with various mottoes, such as "God and Our Country" or "God Our Trust." The final selection was IN GOD WE TRUST, familiar on our coins to this day. The new two-cent piece received the motto in 1864, and the Coinage Act of March 3, 1865 ordered its placement on gold and silver coins as well. It would first appear on the eagle in 1866.
The eagle issued since 1838 was the Christian Gobrecht designed Coronet Head, featuring a neoclassic head of Liberty adorned with a coronet inscribed LIBERTY. Thirteen stars surround the bust, with the date below. The reverse depicts an eagle holding arrows and an olive branch, encircled by the inscriptions UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and TEN D. Chief Engraver James Barton Longacre placed the new motto on a scroll over the eagle's head. From 1866 through 1869, only Philadelphia (no mintmark) and the increasingly important San Francisco (S) branch struck this new design. Production began at Carson City, Nevada (CC), in 1870 and continued through 1893. New Orleans (O) coins appeared in 1879, and the new Denver (D) facility began mintage in 1906. Mintmarks are found on the reverse, below the eagle.
The first twelve years saw especially low mintages and many later dates never exceeded 100,000. Over the entire life of the series, only 37 dates show six-digit production, and just 10 dates saw more than one million struck. There are five issues with mintages below 1,000: Philadelphia coins of 1873, 1875, 1876 and 1877, and the New Orleans issue of 1883. Proof eagles were struck in Philadelphia every year of the design. If business strike mintages were generally small, proof production was virtually microscopic, totaling just 2,327 coins. From 1866 through 1907, only in 1900, 1902 and 1904 did proof coinage exceed 100 pieces.
Counterfeits also exist of other dates, many made in the Middle East. Authentication of questionable specimens is highly recommended.
When grading this design, look for traces of wear on the top of the coronet over Liberty's forehead, on the top of her hair and just over her eye. On the reverse, check the tips of the eagle's wings, neck and claws. While describing the degree of wear is straightforward enough, severe bag-marking and abrasion are major problems on many of these large and heavy coins. Often, deep mint-frost remains, painfully highlighted by a forest of contact tics, reeding marks and scuffing.
Diameter: 27 millimeters
Weight: 16.718 grams
Metal Composition: .900 gold, .100 copper
Net Weight: .48375 oz pure gold
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Akers, David W., United States Gold Coins, Volume V, Eagles 1795-1933, Paramount Publications, Englewood, OH, 1980. Breen, Walter, United States Eagles, Hewitt Printing Corporation, Chicago. Breen, Walter, Walter Breen's Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins, F.C.I. Doubleday, New York, 1988. Taxay, Don, The U.S. Mint and Coinage, Arco Publishing Co., New York, 1966. Vermeule, Cornelius, Numismatic Art in America, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1971. Winters, Douglas, & Cutler, Lawrence, M.D., Gold Coins of the Old West: The Carson City Mint 1870-1893, Bowers & Merena Galleries, Wolfeboro, NH, 1994. Winters, Douglas, New Orleans Mint Gold Coins 1839-1909, Bowers & Merena Galleries, Wolfeboro, NH, 1992.
Coin Information Provided Courtesy NGC.
LIBERTY HEAD (With MOTTO) $10 DOLLARS OR EAGLE (1866-1907)