Truly remarkable quality in an example of this rare and challenging double eagle issue, the amount of remaining detail is the first feature that impresses us in this regard. The obverse is bold apart from minor softness to a few of the stars, while the reverse is even sharper with particularly intricate detail to the eagle's plumage. Clearly this is a well produced piece, although the exceptional level of surface preservation also helps to explain the crispness of detail on the reverse. The principle downfall of the Paquet reverse design was its inability to wear well due to the narrowness of the rim, so the present example obviously saw very little commercial use.
Further confirming the accuracy of the near-Mint designation from PCGS is the vibrancy and virtual fullness of the luster that remains on both sides. The texture is a blend of equally desirable satin and softly frosted qualities that mingle nicely with fresh, original, rose-orange patina. Scattered abrasions are typical in a circulated 1861-S Paquet Reverse double eagle, although we stress that most are small enough to be singularly inconspicuous to the eye. In fact, the only readily evident pedigree markers are a concentration of shallow scuffs over and around Liberty's nose and another faint obverse scuff in the field between stars 12 and 13. Thoroughly appealing in all regards, and rare as such for this key date issue, this beautiful Condition Census piece would serve as a highlight in the finest double eagle cabinet.
Anthony C. Paquet was born in Hamburg, Germany in 1814 and emigrated to the United States in 1848. The son of a bronze worker, he opened an engraving business in New York before being hired as assistant engraver at the Philadelphia Mint in 1857. He prepared several unsigned patterns while at the Mint, as well as numerous signed medals. Most notably, he also engraved the military's highest decoration, the first pattern Medal of Honor (which bears his script signature on the obverse). The double eagle reverse remains the only coin design positively attributed to Paquet. He died in Philadelphia in 1882.
Paquet preferred a tall and thin logotype style easily discernible from Chief Engraver James Longacre's more squat font. The differences between the two dies can be readily seen with the letter O: the space between the uprights is extremely thin on Paquet's reverse while Longacre's O is much wider. In addition, the central halo of stars above the eagle are separate from the background rays on Paquet's dies, but are nestled in the rays in Longacre's work. Four pairs of dies with Paquet's reverse were prepared at the Philadelphia Mint in November 1860 and shipped to San Francisco in December. On January 5, 1861 production with the new reverse dies began at the Philadelphia Mint. It was almost immediately halted after concerns were raised that the narrow rim of the reverse design would lead to poor wearing characteristics. Mint Director James Ross Snowden sent a directive to the San Francisco Mint to halt coinage with the new dies and revert to Longacre's older reverse. The message -- sent via telegraph and overland express -- did not reach the San Francisco Mint in time to prevent production. A total of 19,250 double eagles with Paquet's reverse were struck in the San Francisco Mint and subsequently issued before the cease order could be implemented.
While only two Philadelphia Mint Paquet reverse double eagles are presently known, approximately 100 S-mint examples are in numismatic circles. No Mint State examples have been graded by either PCGS or NGC, however, and the vast majority of surviving examples are heavily worn. The appearance of a Choice AU example, as here, is certainly a newsworthy auction event. A legendary coin from an often overlooked engraver.