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1921 $20 MS66 PCGS Secure....
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Probably the Finest Known Specimen
Among the coins of the U.S. federal series, only the rarest and most valuable can claim to have realized more than $1 million at auction. The 1921 Saint-Gaudens double eagle joined that elite fraternity on November 3, 2005, when Heritage sold the Morse specimen for $1,092,500. That coin was a spectacular MS66 PCGS example that most numismatists consider the finest known 1921 double eagle. On two later occasions, in August 2006 and September 2007, other examples of the date surpassed the million-dollar barrier, but the status of the Morse coin as "Finest Known" has never been seriously challenged, until now.
The present specimen was uncertified at the time of the Morse sale, having no auction appearances since 1984, so most collectors were unaware of its high quality. Dr. and Mrs. Steven L. Duckor include this magnificent piece in their current PCGS Registry Set. Dr. Duckor is both a connoisseur and an astute student of the Saint-Gaudens series, and he spent more than 33 years building his two sets. Needless to say, only the finest specimens found a home in his collection. When this coin was recently certified, PCGS awarded a grade of MS66, tied with the Morse coin for finest certified at either leading grading service. This coin is sharply detailed in most areas, showing just a touch of softness on the eagle's feathers. Close inspection reveals no mentionable contact marks with a few small dark color spots on the reverse, probably from grease strike-throughs. A few spidery die cracks can be seen among the obverse rays and the tops of the letters in LIBERTY. This coin possesses vibrant mint luster, vivid color, and tremendous eye appeal. It also lacks the large red alloy spots seen on the obverse of the Morse coin. This majestic specimen will bring great credit to any fine collection or Registry Set.
The present coin claims a provenance unmatched by any other 1921 double eagle and traces its history back to the day it was made. The 1921 has always been a challenging date, even at its time of issue. Coinage of double eagles was not a priority for the Mint in 1921, and no coins were struck until 90,000 pieces were delivered in November. Another delivery of 438,500 pieces was made in December, so the total mintage was quite respectable, but for most of the year collectors were unable to obtain specimens from any source. It seems the Treasury Department had these coins specifically struck to serve as currency reserves, and only a few specimens ever escaped from the Treasury vaults. That was a problem for George Seymour Godard, the Connecticut State Librarian, as one of his duties was to update the magnificent collection of coins donated to the state by Joseph C. Mitchelson in 1911. Godard ordered coins from all the U.S. mints every year to update the collection, but this proved impossible in the case of the 1921 double eagle.
Fortunately, Godard had a good relationship with Dr. Thomas Louis Comparette, curator of the Mint Cabinet, who had unusual access to coins from the Mint, including assay coins. Some of the dealings between Comparette and Godard would be viewed as highly irregular today. Their relationship was only recently discovered when Roger W. Burdette uncovered records of their correspondence in the archives of the Connecticut State Library.
Knowing of Godard's desire to obtain a 1921 double eagle, Comparette wrote on December 15, 1921:
"Some  double eagles are being struck here at the mint. Do you wish one? Also some Two Colono gold pieces have been struck here for Costa Rica. They are about the size of a gold dollar. Have you secured specimens?"
Godard replied the next day:
"We [Senator Hall and Godard] both, too, desire to have specimens of the double eagles and of the two Colono gold pieces now being struck for Costa Rica.
Comparette experienced considerable difficulty obtaining the double eagles, as he related on December 22:
"...up til now I have not been able to secure the Double eagles. I confidently expect to succeed, however, though it may not be until the last days of the year."
And finally on January 3, 1922:
"By express I am sending you two Double Eagles, two Dos Colones gold pieces, and four Peace dollars."
The foregoing suggests that Godard acquired two specimens of this rare-date directly from the Mint in early 1922, but this must have been a private transaction, as the 1921 never found its way into the library's collection. David Corrigan, the present-day curator of the Connecticut State Library, was kind enough to check the records of the library's collection and found no record of a 1921 double eagle ever being included there, the only date of the 1920s not represented in their remarkable collection. Perhaps Godard had to close out the appropriations account for 1921 before the coins became available, since they were minted so late in the year. In any case, Godard purchased the coin from Comparette for his own account, and not for the library. William Henry Hall, for whom Comparette customarily sent duplicate coins, was president pro tempore of the Connecticut State Senate at the time of his death in February 1922, and a good friend of Godard. His widow tried to maintain and update his collection for a short time after his death, and the second 1921 double eagle was presumably in her possession. When Mrs. Hall lost interest in the collection, Godard persuaded her to sell it to him for little more than face value. These events were unknown to the Stack's catalogers who cataloged the "Godard Collection" in Auction '82. Most of the coins in that offering were originally from Senator Hall's collection. Thanks to Roger W. Burdette for generously sharing his findings on this matter.
Godard controlled both specimens purchased from Comparette after he secured Senator Hall's collection, and one of them, the present coin, appeared in Stack's session of Auction '82. A second Premium Gem, the finest of the Morse coins, surfaced in a Stack's sale in March the same year. It is tempting to speculate that the specimen in that sale is the other piece obtained through Comparette, but direct evidence is unavailable at this time.
As can be seen from the roster below, the 1921 double eagle is extremely rare in high grade. A few coins must have been released into circulation, as this date is seen more often in circulated grades than Mint State, unusual for a Saint-Gaudens double eagle. The great majority of the mintage was undoubtedly melted after the Gold Recall of 1933, and no significant number of specimens have been recovered from European holdings. Experts estimate a surviving population of only 40-60 examples in all Uncirculated grades, with most in the MS60-MS63 range. Population data on high-grade specimens coincides well with our roster below. PCGS has certified only two coins in MS66, one example in MS65+, and three pieces in MS64; NGC has graded only a single specimen in MS64, with none finer (10/11).
The following roster contains all examples of the 1921 double eagle graded MS64 and above known to us. There are nine confirmed specimens, of which seven are in collectors' hands. Clearly, this offering is incredibly important to series specialists, as a comparable example may not become available for many years.
1921 Double Eagle Roster, MS64 and Finer Specimens.
1. MS66 PCGS. Dr. Thomas Louis Comparette; George Seymour Godard; possibly Senator Hall's widow, before Godard purchased his collection; Godard Collection; Auction '82 (Stack's, 8/1982), lot 447, realized $32,000; Premier Sale (Superior, 1/1984), lot 1875, realized $57,500. The present coin.
2. MS66 PCGS. Public Auction Sale (Stack's, 3/1982), lot 1471, realized $41,000; Crawford Collection; Phillip H. Morse Collection (Heritage, 11/2005), lot 6644, realized $1,092,500.
3. MS65 PCGS. Louis E. Eliasberg, Sr.; United States Gold Coin Collection (Bowers and Ruddy, 10/1982), lot 1052, realized $28,600; Dr. Steven L. Duckor; Jay Parrino (1990); Phillip H. Morse Collection (Heritage, 11/2005), lot 6645, realized $805,000, Simpson Collection.
4. MS65 PCGS. Belden Roach Collection (B. Max Mehl, 2/1944), lot 179; October Long Beach Sale (Heritage, 10/1994), lot 7207; Dr. Hesselgesser Collection (Ira and Larry Goldberg, 9/2007), lot 3524, realized $1,012,000; Pre-Long Beach Auction (Goldberg, 1/2010), lot 2629. Note: This coin is a match for the plates in the following offerings, but it is possible that Mehl used stock photos in these catalogs, a common practice in the 1940s and '50s: Dr. Charles W. Green Collection (B. Max Mehl, 4/1949), lot 791; Jerome Kern Collection (Mehl, 5/1950), lot 639
5. MS64 PCGS. ANA Signature (Heritage, 8/1997), lot 7883, realized $126,500; Dr. Richard Ariagno Collection (Goldberg, 5/1999), lot 896; Bradley Bloch Collection (Goldberg, 9/1999), lot 1940; Dr. Jon Kardatzke Collection (Goldberg, 2/2000), lot 1978.
6. MS64 PCGS. FUN Signature (Heritage, 1/1998), lot 8078; Public Auction Sale (Superior, 2/1999), lot 3564; Phillip H. Morse Collection (Heritage, 11/2005), lot 6646, realized $402,500; Kutasi Collection (Heritage, 1/2007), lot 3288, realized $373,750; Long Beach Signature (Heritage, 5/2007), lot 2772, realized $402,500; Baltimore ANA Signature (Heritage, 7/2008), lot 2106, realized $474,375; Chicago Signature (Heritage, 8/2011), lot 7701.
7. MS64 PCGS. FUN Signature (Heritage, 1/2010), lot 2315.
8. A specimen in the ANS Collection, purchased from the Mint in 1921. Reported to be a "superb gem" by Jeff Garrett and Ron Guth.
9. A specimen in the National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian, obtained from the Mint in 1921. Reported as MS66 by Garrett and Guth.
A. A second specimen purchased from Dr. Comparette by George Seymour Godard, the Connecticut State Librarian, for Senator Hall's collection, possibly the Morse coin in number 2 above. Since the two coins purchased by Godard came directly from the Mint, it would make sense if they represent the two finest pieces known today, but it is impossible to prove this theory without more documentation.
Proofs: The 1921 Saint-Gaudens double eagle is one of the few series issues known in proof format. While proofs are usually considered in a separate category from business strikes, we include these appearances in the roster for the sake of completeness, and because of the extraordinary interest in these pieces.
1. A specimen in the possession of Mint Director Raymond T. Baker, struck to commemorate the birth of his nephew, Joseph Baker, in 1921. Described as a "Proof Roman Finish Presentation Striking" by Sotheby's in their catalog of 6/2000. The coin realized $203,500.
2. SP64 NGC. Another presentation example in the possession of Brian Hendelson, Classic Coin Company, exhibited at the 2010 ANA World's Fair of Money in Boston. Since the NGC Census shows only one presentation example, and none have been certified at PCGS, this piece may be another appearance of the coin listed above, but this example is described as "not known to exist until 2006."
David Akers Comments:
The standing of the 1921 in the overall hierarchy of Saint-Gaudens double eagle rarities has changed less over the last seven decades than any other regular issue in the series. During that time, some issues have dropped precipitously from their place at the top (1924-S and 1926-S for example) and others have risen substantially (1920-S, 1930-S and especially 1927-D) but the 1921 has always been recognized as being among the top four rarities of the series, both 70 years ago and today, at least with respect to value. The only thing that has changed is the other three coins with it at the top. The 1921 is now considered to be the second most valuable regular issue Saint-Gaudens double eagle, surpassed only by the 1927-D whose extreme rarity was not recognized fully until the 1950s, at least in comparison to other issues in the series. Judged solely on its population rarity, meaning the total number of specimens known in all grades, the 1921 is certainly rare, but not exceptionally so, comparable overall to the 1920-S, but actually less rare than the 1930-S and 1932. However, as a condition rarity it is the unrivaled "Queen" of the Saint-Gaudens series because the condition at which it becomes extremely rare and valuable is lower than for any other issue. Of course, every Saint is a condition rarity at a certain level. For example, any issue is (or would be if one existed) a great rarity in MS68 or 69. For some issues MS67 is the rarity point, for others it is MS65 or MS66. But no issue, not even the 1927-D, is as difficult to locate in MS64 or higher grades as the 1921. Only four or possibly five specimens are known in the MS65 and MS66 grades combined with nothing finer. Even in the MS63 and 64 grades, the 1921 is a major rarity with no more than 12-15 examples known of those two grades combined.
The three best examples of this issue and probably the fourth one as well were always in collector hands in the U.S. in the 1940s and I would venture to say that all of the known MS63 and MS64 examples probably were as well. There are quite a few slightly circulated examples ("sliders") known as well as some heavily bagmarked, minimal uncirculated pieces, some of which have returned to the U.S. from European banks over the years. However, I am of the opinion that these were originally sent to Europe only in mixed date bags of circulated and uncirculated double eagles (same scenario for the 1920-S) between 1926 and 1933, and that no bags of uncirculated 1921 Saints were ever included in the European shipments. Paul Wittlin scoured European banks for more than 20 years and he had the best contacts in the Paris and Swiss banks of anyone. He uncovered numerous groups of rare dates over the years as well as some amazing individual rarities which were then shipped back to the U.S. to dealer James Kelly and later Max Humbert at Paramount. Shipments were still coming in regularly when I first started at Paramount in 1972. Undoubtedly Wittlin's greatest discovery was the second known example of the 1861 Philadelphia Paquet double eagle; he purchased it in Paris for $7,500 in the late 1960s. Although he did find the occasional 1921 and even a couple of small groups consisting of several pieces, he never found a single specimen that was as nice as choice uncirculated. They were all what Max Humbert, the co-founder of Paramount with James Kelly, called "lustrous EF," generally today's AU50-58 grades, or "lustrous AU" which were typically MS60-62 coins by current grading standards. I remember one shipment from Wittlin with four 1921 double eagles, all only "lustrous EF" to Max Humbert, as was the 1861 Paquet by the way! He only graded a gold coin "uncirculated" if it was very lustrous and minimally bagmarked as well as having no obvious friction or really severe marks. Who wouldn't like to buy from him today with that grading standard?
As mentioned earlier there are only four 1921 double eagles that grade MS65 or MS66 combined. A fifth may exist if it isn't actually the fourth as I conjecture. The best two are the George Seymour Godard specimens which were probably obtained by Godard directly from the mint in the year of issue. Both came on the market in 1982, an extremely depressed coin market at the time, and were sold by Stack's in separate sales. The first, sold in March 1982, was purchased by a dealer and ended up a couple of years later in the William Crawford collection when he purchased it from a Superior sale in 1984; it is now owned by a prominent East Coast Saint-Gaudens specialist. The second Godard piece was sold in Auction '82 as Lot 447 where it was described by Norman Stack as "A twin to, or marginally better than the example we sold in our March sale." (It is important to note here that to every cataloger, including Norman Stack and myself, if you are describing two equal coins in separate catalogs, the second specimen you are describing is always "marginally better" than the one you just sold; it's our nature.) In my opinion, the two Godard pieces are so close in both overall quality and general appearance that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to choose one over the other as "the best". Both are absolutely fabulous coins. This second example is the one now offered here as part of the Dr. Steven Duckor Collection. The third notable 1921 is the Eliasberg specimen, sold with his incomparable collection in late 1982. (Obviously, 1982 was the greatest year ever for buying a gem 1921 Saint!) I purchased the Eliasberg specimen at the sale and subsequently sold it to Dr. Duckor, who later sold it in 1993. It is now in the Simpson Collection graded MS-65+. Many coins, especially the Saints, were ultra conservatively graded in the Eliasberg sale, but the 1921 takes first place in that regard by a comfortable margin. It was graded "AU55 obverse, MS60 reverse" and realized $28,600. The fourth great 1921 known to me is the only one graded MS65 by PCGS and I feel it could easily have been given the same (+) designation that the Eliasberg specimen received or even graded MS66. I had never seen this coin prior to its appearance in the Goldberg's Dr. Hesselgesser sale in 2007, but the million dollar price it realized confirms its high quality. Could this specimen be the Belden Roach (Feb. 1944)-J.F. Bell (Dec. 1944)-F.C.C. Boyd (WGC 1946) coin? That coin was described in succession by the three most prominent auction houses of the era, B. Max Mehl, Stack's and Numismatic Gallery, as: a) "Brilliant Uncirculated. Perfect in every way.", b) "Brilliant Uncirculated, absolutely flawless."; and c) "A brilliant uncirculated gem". This was the only 1921 Saint ever so described and since it is obviously not one of the Godard coins or the Eliasberg specimen, it may be the coin sold by the Goldberg's in 2007 or it could be a fifth gem quality specimen.
After selling the Eliasberg coin in 1993 when he received an offer for it that was just too much to refuse, Dr. Duckor never really planned on ever purchasing another 1921. However, when he recently had a chance to buy one of the two MS66 Godard specimens, he couldn't resist and now he has actually managed to replace and upgrade both the 1920-S and 1921 from the Eliasberg Collection with the even finer specimens now offered here in his collection.
From The Dr. and Mrs. Steven L. Duckor Collection.
Seller is donating a portion of their proceeds, and Heritage is donating the same portion of the Buyer's Premium, from the sale of this lot to the National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian Institution. See page 3 for details.(Registry values: N1) (NGC ID# 26G2, PCGS# 9172)
Service and Handling Description: Coins & Currency (view shipping information)
Revised Edition by James L. Halperin, Mark R. Borckardt, Mark Van Winkle, Jon Amato, and Gregory J. Rohan, with special contributor David W. Akers
The Coinage of Augustus Saint-Gaudens is an issue-by-issue examination of these two artistically inspired series of gold coins.
Each date and mintmark is reviewed with up-to-date information, much of which has never been previously published. The book is based on
two extraordinary collections: The Phillip H. Morse collection and the Dr. and Mrs. Steven L. Duckor collection.
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