1861-S $20 Liberty “Paquet Reverse” NGC AU55. Only 19,250 coins were originally struck of this “Paquet” designed reverse and perhaps 200 or so exist today. Walter Breen, in his 1988 Complete Encyclopedia calls the Paquet Reverse twenties of 1861 an “abortive attempt to improve the design…”
Anthony C. Paquet, the Mint’s assistant engraver, was given the task of updating Longacre’s master hub for the reverse of the double eagle. His concept left the central device intact but changed the style of lettering around the periphery of the reverse, employing taller and thinner letters for UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and TWENTY D. In making this change somehow the rim of the hub became much narrower as well, thus any struck coins would have their devices and fields more open to contact and wear without the usual thicker style rim. The Mint Director Snowden apparently noticed the narrow rim after initial Philadelphia production in early 1861 and on January 5, 1861 ordered the Philadelphia mintage of these Pacquet reverse coins to be melted. All but two apparently survived and these exist in private hands today. Snowden telegraphed the San Francisco Mint and told them to use the old style Longacre dies left over from 1860 to continue coinage of the double eagle. However, at least two Paquet reverse dies had been sent to the San Francisco Mint. No other Paquet dies were sent to New Orleans, or if they were sent, no coins survive of this style. The “S” Mintmark is rather squeezed into the space below the eagle’s tail and nearly touches the tall letters below.
Most of the known coins were discovered in gold hoards in European banks and these survived entirely at random. Interestingly, and of great historical importance, one example was recovered in the S.S. Republic shipwreck. Of those known today they reflect the usual statistics for a Type 1 double eagle, the majority fall into the VF or EF grade range with a smaller fraction seen as nice as About Uncirculated – such as the present specimen. No San Francisco Paquet double eagles apparently survived in Mint State, while both known examples of the Philadelphia Paquet reverse are Mint State, likely saved as a memento of this attempted design update. Paquet remains known for his incredible die work making medals at the mint, and while his new style was not adopted because of the narrow rim, his elegant and tall lettering offers a bold glimpse into his artistic talent.
The present example displays the slightest amount of wear, perhaps indicative of a higher grade. There is a small nick on the cheek and a graze by the nose of Lady Liberty which could easily serve as identifiers for future numismatists. A couple of ticks appear in the obverse field. The reverse shows non of these but does have a few wispy hairlines typical for the AU grade. This is a grade addition to an advanced numismatic cabinet.