Civil War $20 Gold Piece Minted by New Orleans Under Siege

The 1861-O $20 gold pieces struck in New Orleans bear the dubious distinction of having been minted partially by Union forces, partly by the State of Louisiana, and partly by the Confederacy!

by Heritage Auctions l Published on July 12, 2021

Most people may think of the US Mint as a fairly non-political institution, simply making coins for all people in America to use equally. However, mint buildings have been political pawns at a few points in history, especially during the Civil War. The 1861-O $20 gold pieces struck in New Orleans bear the dubious distinction of having been minted partially by Union forces, partly by the State of Louisiana, and partly by the Confederacy! One such historic and fascinating coin will be part of the upcoming July US Coin Auction #1332.

As our catalogers explain, the 1861-O double eagle is among the most historically significant issues in the series. Its production coincides with the outbreak of the Civil War, and, more specifically, the period in which the New Orleans Mint fell out of the control of the Union into that of the State of Louisiana, and later the Confederacy itself. Only one die variety has ever been confirmed to exist, so determining which coins were struck by which governing body has long been a subject of debate and speculation. The usually quoted division of the mintage is 5,000 pieces struck under federal control, 9,750 under the State of Louisiana, and 2,991 under the Confederacy. In Gold Coins of the New Orleans Mint, limited edition: updated 2020, Doug Winter presents a plausible hypothesis, based off of die states, for identifying coins struck by the Confederacy:

"After looking through hundreds of auction catalogs and studying images of 1861-O double eagles offered for sale, Joe Gaines and I have determined that around one-fifth of the coins offered had a strong date and showed the obverse crack. When one considers that the Confederacy is said to have struck approximately 17% of the original mintage of this issue (2,991 of the 17,741 struck) this is almost exactly the percentage of coins which exhibit the strong date and crack. We believe that these coins are the ones made by the Confederacy."

Under Winter's theory, the present Choice XF example would fall under those pieces likely struck by the Union or the State of Louisiana, since the date numerals are weak at the bottom and the radial die crack toward Liberty's chin from the dentils near star 2 is absent. The coin is certified by PCGS as XF45.

Similar coins have sold for around $30,000 and up in the past. Here is a link:
https://coins.ha.com/itm/liberty-double-eagles/double-eagles/1861-o-20-xf45-pcgs-variety-1-pcgs-8934-/p/1332-16005.s?ic4=ListView-Thumbnail-071515

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Source: Heritage Auctions

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