The 1850s saw the first Coronet Head double eagle production, and in 1854 the first double eagles were produced at the new San Francisco Mint. It was, however, a branch mint and such facilities did not get the best of attention from Philadelphia. This may be part of the reason why there are two different 1866-S double eagles.
The Civil War had not changed the way of life for many in California. Gold coins were still being produced and used even though back in the East gold, silver and even some copper-nickel cents had been hoarded. In California, small change was either ignored or paid out in gold dust or other items.
During the Civil War it had been decided to add the motto ?In God We Trust? to the coins. For the double eagle and a number of other denominations, the change came in 1866.
The addition of the motto came quickly at Philadelphia, but shipping the new dies to San Francisco took time. Moreover, there was pressure in San Francisco to produce double eagles. If the facility got a load of gold, it could not ask the gold owner to wait a few weeks for a new die.
Like other branch mints, the San Francisco facility was operating on a very limited budget. It did not junk a perfectly good die simply because of a small change. In 1866 at least two dies were on hand. The old dies did not have the motto, and San Francisco did not have the patience to wait for new ones.
The total 1866-S no-motto double mintage would stand at 120,000 pieces. The 1866-S no-motto double eagle lists for $3,400 in VF-20 and $60,000 in MS-60. The reason for the hefty premiums is that for some reason the 1866-S no-motto double eagle just did not survive, especially in Mint State. The grading services have never seen one, and most experts doubt one exists. Even nicer circulated examples of the no-motto 1866-S tend to be heavily bagmarked and ?scruffy,? so even if a Mint State example does surface there are real doubts about its eye appeal.
A total of 842,250 1866-S double eagles were produced from the new dies that included the motto. While readily available in circulated grades, the 1866-S with the motto is a tough coin in Mint State. Very few people would have been collecting double eagles in San Francisco at the time. At $15,500 in MS-60, the with-motto 1866-S is probably underpriced, but at least a few do exist.
The two 1866-S double eagles make for a very interesting and historic pair. The no-motto 1866-S double eagle will always be the dominant coin of the two. It probably deserves much more attention than it receives. Since it is simply never in Mint State and rarely in good condition, it is a true test of a nice double eagle collection.