The first double eagle was minted in 1849, coinciding with the California Gold Rush. In that year, the mint produced one piece, which now resides in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC. In 1850 regular production began. Prior to that time, Eagles with a denomination of $10, were the largest denomination US coin with production beginning in 1795, just two years after the first US mint opened. Since the $20 gold piece had twice the value of the "eagle," these coins became designated "double eagles."
Regular issue double eagles come in two major and five minor types as follows:
The Saint Gaudens' double eagle is named for the designer, Augustus St. Gaudens, one of the premier sculptors in American History. Theodore Roosevelt imposed upon him in his last few years to redesign the coinage of our country at the beginning of the 20th century. St. Gaudens' work on the high relief $20 gold piece is one of the most extraordinary pieces of art on any American coin. It is truly breathtaking. Even in the flattened down version that the mint finally insisted upon, it is a beautiful coin. The high relief coin took up to eleven strikes to bring up the details. Working as hard as they could, they only managed to strike 11,250 of these wonderful pieces of art in 1907.
In the summer of 2002, a double eagle dated 1933 was auctioned off for over $7 million US dollars. This shattered the old record of just over $4 million dollars paid at a public auction for a coin. This is a unique piece in that it is the only one the US government has deemed legal to own. Of course, other dates of double eagles are legal to own. Even illegal copies of the 33 double eagle would be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, but it would be illegal for a US coin dealer to broker a deal with one of these coins. There is no other date of double eagle that is worth a significant fraction of this extraordinary coin. In fact a complete uncirculated set of all other St Gauden's double eagles could be put together for just over a million dollars including the extremely rare proof prototypes. Without these rare patterns, the set would be less than $50,000.
The St. Gaudens obverse design was reused in the American Eagle gold bullion coins that were instituted in 1986.
Liberty Coronet $20 gold pieces are less often encountered, and the common subtype commands less than the St. Gaudens' type, due to the less desirable artwork and therefore lower demand. In 1877, the motto "In God We Trust" was added to the Liberty Coronet double eagle creating another subtype.