Great rarities sometimes involve great mysteries and that is the case with the 1861 Paquet reverse double eagle. With only two examples known, it ranks in the top group of great U.S. rarities, although it has so far not proven that at public auction. That day, however, may be coming.
The Paquet reverse was the creation of Anthony Paquet, who had been directed by Mint officials to create a design that, while similar to the regular reverse, would be modified slightly. This was done in the hope of preventing dies from cracking, which had been a problem with double eagles.
The differences were subtle, involving taller letters in the inscriptions and a more compact arrangement. Apparently there were high hopes for the new reverse as dies were made for Philadelphia, San Francisco and New Orleans. The idea never really had a chance to be used in New Orleans as the facility was taken over by the South, and only double eagles with the old reverse were produced.
In San Francisco, they cheerfully started making and releasing 1861-S double eagles with the Paquet reverse only to receive the order to stop using the reverse and return to the old one. By the time the message arrived on Feb. 2, 1861, a total of 19,250 examples of the Paquet reverse had been struck and released.
Philadelphia, being the main facility, was where use of the new reverse would take place first. We know that happened on Jan. 5, 1861. It also ended that day. The fear was that the rim might abrade quickly, which was even worse than cracking dies as had been the problem in the past. Mint Director James Ross Snowden halted production and sent out the order to the other facilities.
Precisely how many were made at Philadelphia and what happened to them remains a mystery. Some suggest that however many were made, all but two were melted. It is the opinion of others that a few may have been released.
We know there has been some dispute over the idea that all Philadelphia 1861 Paquet reverses were melted and that those known were made especially for collectors later. The possibility exists, but the proof of that fact is lacking.
If there was a case for the coin being specially made, it is with the glorious MS-67 example that sold in the Norweb sale in 1988 for $660,000. Even in MS-67, a regular mintage and not a special one is perfectly consistent with the grade as they only made a few and were probably taking special care.
Without more evidence, the idea of a special collector production cannot be proven. Even if it was the case, it would not influence the potential price much.
What the Philadelphia 1861 with a Paquet reverse needs is increased recognition of being a significant rarity. If that happens at the right auction, it is likely to break all sorts of records.