• Longacre Doubling, A discussion

        By Frank J. Colletti

        To start with: who was James B. Longacre? Christian Gobrecht, designer of the famous (and valuable) Gobrecht dollars, was the chief engraver at the US mint, and died in 1844. The opening provided a place for James B (Barton) Longacre. The first design that Longacre provided was the Flying Eagle cent of 1856 to 1858. Although the design was very short lived, today it is extremely popular with collectors (this design is important, as we will see later). Among other designs that Longacre produced for circulating coinage were the Liberty Head used on the gold $1 (1849 to1854) and $20 Liberty Head (1849 to 1907), the Indian Princess gold $1 and $3 of 1854 to 1889, the shield design on the two cent piece (1864 to 1873); the Shield Nickel (1866-1883); the silver three cent piece (1851-1873); the nickel three cent piece (1865-1889) and, perhaps most importantly, the Indian head cent ((1859 to 1909).

        To put it mildly, James Longacre had an important effect on the design and style of the coinage of the United States. His art work lived long after his death on January 1, 1869, when he was succeeded by William Barber, father of Charles Barber (who designed the coinage that was produced from 1892 to 1916, and was often mocked as a hack).

        Back to the subject at hand: what is Longacre doubling? On many of his designs, most notably the Indian Head cents of 1859 to 1909, and many Seated Liberty coins (although those are actually designed by Christian Gobrecht, the effects are the same) there is a notable doubling of the design elements on many coins. For beginners (and advanced collectors alike) this doubling is often encountered on the legends. Easily encountered examples are on high grade Indian Head cents, in the “United States” legend. Close examination will reveal an apparent doubling to the legend.
        There is usually a clear ‘doubling’ to the letters. This doubling is commonly on BOTH sides of a letter, surrounding it almost like a halo. As opposed to the more ubiquitous machine (mechanical, strike) doubling of all time periods, the ‘Longacre Doubling is rounded and there is a clear ‘secondary image’ to the ‘so-called doubling’. As you examine the secondary image, using a 10 X lens is usually sufficient, you will see that the apparent doubling often surrounds both sides of the letters, and occasionally the design elements.

        But, what could possibly cause this effect? There are theories, but no definitive answers. The first, and most popular reason is the master die was placed into the die steel to form the master die. In order to add details, the engraver would shave the sides of the die punch , leaving a lip on the punch’s sides. The engraver could have added an ‘extra hard punch’ to the punch thereby leaving the shaved sides effect to the die.
        This added effect would eventually wear off as the die was used, and that is why not all coins from that die will show the effect. Apparently those with the effect are earlier strikes from the die. Then there is the second theory.
        After punching the design elements into the master die the engraver would move the punch a microscopic bit. This would produce a ‘lip’ on the die, and the effect would be to enable the metal to flow more easily into the devices in the die. The theory is that this improvement to the design striking would also have prolonged the life of the dies.
        Remember, this effect was added to the master die, not individual dies, and as such is not a doubled die, that is because the master die is only hubbed one time, and that, by definition cannot produce a doubled die. Use of a die would wear away the effect, as would die polishing, since the Longacre effect ‘doubling’ is delicate and not intended to be reproduced as a part fo the design, but, rather, for improving the strike of the coins.

        Which theory you may accept is dependent upon your own ideas of the mint’s workings at the time. However, regardless of which one you accept, remember, there is ‘no added value’ for Longacre doubling. This becomes especially apparent when you realize that it is as a result of the master die. So, therefore, all dies produced for that master die will have the effect.

        Important note: There are doubled dies in the series above, especially on the Shield nickel series. This doubling is not a part of the above discussion, and is very collectible. For more information on Shield nickel doubled dies, there are numerous references that discuss them, including Cherrypickers Guide.

        Obverse Star on an 1850 O $1/2 showing the Longacre Doubling as discussed.

        The first A in America on the Reverse of an 1850 O

        1877 CC Seated $1/2 Star on the Obverse

        The T in United on an 1877 CC Seated $1/2.