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The 1886 double eagle - one of only 10 known surviving examples of its type - was donated to the GracePoint Church in Valparaiso, Indiana, to help the congregation get its own church building.

Prayers were well and truly answered when it made a premium-inclusive $517,000 at Heritage Auctions in a Chicago area sale on April 27.

The name of the winning bidder was not disclosed, but there was fierce competition between bidders in the room and online as the eagle soared above the estimated $300,000.

The anonymous donor is a widow whose husband bought the coin in 1993. She told church Pastor Ben Lamb the coin survived an attempted theft at her home four years ago.

This double eagle features one of the earliest uses of the motto, In God We Trust, on a US coin.

According to United States Mint records, only 30 proof Liberty double eagles were struck in 1866. Today only 10 known surviving specimens can be tracked, and three of them are part of permanent collections, including one in The Smithsonian Institution.  The In God We Trust motto first appeared on US coins in 1864, starting with copper two-cent denomination coins, and was used on $20 denomination gold coins starting in 1866.

GracePoint congregation was founded in 2009 and has been conducting Sunday morning services in an elementary school in Valparaiso.

Sarah Miller, director of numismatics at Heritage Auctions, said: “The coin was donated earlier this year to the church.  After our experts examined the coin, Heritage wired a $150,000 advance payment to the church so it would not miss a financial deadline for its building project.”

Pastor Ben, as he is referred to by his congregation, said: “It’s ironic that the last few hours before our financial deadline, the congregation had to do exactly what the coin’s motto said over a hundred years ago: trust God.”