The Finest Known 1920-S Indian Head Eagle, The Only Specimen Graded MS671920-S $10 MS67 PCGS. This is an astonishingly beautiful and Superb example of this famous 20th century rarity. It is the highest graded specimen by both PCGS and NGC, and the only 1920-S graded MS67. "Finest Known" is a term that is perhaps used too often by enthusiastic catalogers when describing a particularly notable example of a rare issue, but that accolade can be applied without hesitation or dispute to the 1920-S eagle offered here.
The coin is boldly struck on the obverse with LIBERTY sharp and full, including the last three letters RTY, which are often weak or even missing on many examples of this issue. The hair curls around the face are also complete and sharply defined, something rarely, if ever, encountered on a 1920-S eagle. The numerals 19 in the date are slightly weak, as usual. The reverse is also generally well struck except on the eagle's trailing leg feathers, talons, and the arrows below. Weakness in this area is characteristic of every example of this issue that we have seen, but even here the strike is well above average. Overall, this coin is quite different in appearance from virtually every other known 1920-S eagle since it has an almost medallic look with sharp, squared edges and broad, flat inner borders. In addition to its unusually sharp striking qualities, the things that are most impressive about this particular coin are its originality, color, luster, and overall eye appeal. The color is a rich, deep orange-gold and the nearly flawless, mark-free frosty surfaces have a radiant luster that sets this coin above and apart from virtually any other known Indian Head eagle, regardless of date. In our opinion, this is the most important and desirable Saint-Gaudens eagle in existence. The interest and subsequent bidding on this lot will almost certainly justify that claim with a new record price for the issue as well as the series. However, remember that when Dr. Steven Duckor purchased this coin for $85,000 at auction in 1979 he also paid a record price, an amount that was widely considered to be excessive for the time. But that is what it almost always takes to buy a coin like this, and yet no matter what the winning bid is today, it will ultimately prove to be a bargain since, once this coin is sold, the same amount of money (or possibly much more) could not buy its equal.
Since at least the 1930s, the 1920-S eagle has been known and appreciated as rare and, by the time of the publication of the first edition of the Red Book in 1947, the 1920-S was already considered tied with the 1930-S for the position of third rarest issue of the series after the 1907 Rolled Rim and 1933. (It is intriguing to note that after 60 years, the top four population rarities of the series have remained constant, although the 1920-S is now recognized to be clearly rarer than the 1930-S in all grades.) The mintage of 126,500 pieces, although relatively low, barely places the 1920-S in the top 10 lowest mintage regular issues of the series, but its survival rate obviously has been extremely low. At the present time, fewer than 100 pieces of this issue have been certified in all grades by PCGS and NGC combined, split almost evenly between circulated examples and Mint State ones. Most circulated examples are at the high end of the scale, AU55 to 58, while most of the Uncirculated ones are at the low end of the Mint State scale, MS60 to 63. Allowing for an unknown but presumably small number of examples that exist but have not been certified, as well as duplication among those that have already been graded, a reasonable estimate of the total number of examples of this issue in existence would be in the range of 125-150 pieces at most, and that estimate actually may be high. In terms of overall population rarity, this estimate places the 1920-S third behind the 1933 and 1907 Rolled Rim, of which fewer than 50 examples of each issue are known. However, in addition to its significant rarity in terms of the total number of examples known (the "population rarity") the 1920-S is also the quintessential example of what is commonly called a "condition rarity." In fact, it is the premier condition rarity in the entire Indian Head eagle series, with fewer examples known and graded MS63 and higher and MS64 and higher than any other issue in the series. A review of the most recent population data from PCGS and NGC shows that in grades of MS63 and higher, the condition rarity ranking of the top five issues in the series is as follows: 1. 1920-S; 2. 1933; 3. 1913-S; 4. 1911-D; and 5. 1907 Rolled Rim. In this ranking, the 1920-S is approximately 50% rarer than the next rarest issue, the 1933. When considering the condition rarity ranking in grades of MS64 and higher, the order looks like this: 1. 1920-S; 2. 1911-D; 3. 1933; 4. 1913-S; and 5. 1907 Rolled Rim. In this ranking, the 1920-S is roughly two and a half times rarer than the next three, which are virtually equal, and more than five times rarer than the 1907 Rolled Rim. This analysis clearly shows why the appearance at auction of a high grade 1920-S ten always generates excitement among prospective bidders.
1920-S Eagle Extended Condition Census
Following is a list of the 10 finest known collectible examples of the 1920-S Indian Head eagle:
1. The Dr. Steven Duckor specimen, the coin offered here. MS67 and possibly even deserving of a higher grade since it is at least the equal of several examples of other issues in the series that have been certified as MS68.
Purchased by dealer Dennis Forgue for $3,500 from dealer Jerry Cohen of Abner Kreisberg Corporation at the April 1968 Central States convention in Detroit for Dr. William J. Blackwell, invoice included; Stack's (6/79), lot 571, where it was purchased by Dr. Steven Duckor for $85,000 after opening at $35,000.
2. The Harry W. Bass, Jr. specimen. Uncertified, but certainly MS66 at least.
Ex: R.L. Miles Collection (Stack's, 10/68), lot 819, where it brought $5,100; Winner F. Delp Collection (Stack's, 11/72), lot 856, where it sold in that auction to Harry Bass for $7,500. This coin was last seen by David Akers in 1985 in the Bass Collection, but the coin did not appear in the Bass sales of 1999-2000 conducted by Bowers and Merena and it is also not in the Bass core collection on display at the American Numismatic Association in Colorado. Perhaps this piece was sold or traded by Bass sometime after 1985. Current location and status unknown.
3. The John Kutasi specimen. MS66.
Ex: Alan Burgheimer Collection of U.S. Indian Head Gold Coins (Stack's, 11/01), lot 720, where it brought $86,250; William Thomas Michaels Collection (Stack's, 1/04), lot 3028, where it realized 241,500; The Kutasi Collection (Heritage, 1/07), lot 3187, where it sold for a record $402,500.
4. The Bartle Family Collection. Uncertified, but a solid Gem, certainly at least MS65 and possibly even MS66.
Ex: Bartle Family Collection (Stack's, 10/84), lot 1373, where it brought $57,750 and was bought by Dr. William Crawford; the coin was later sold by Dr. Crawford to a prominent specialist in Saint-Gaudens coinage.
5. The Thaine B. Price Collection. MS65. From the estate of George S. Godard who, as the Connecticut State Librarian, had been directed by state legislation enacted in 1913, a little more than a year after Joseph C. Mitchelson's death in 1912, to "Continue The Joseph C. Mitchelson Collection of coins, tokens, and medals by adding each year a proof specimen, or if not so coined, an uncirculated specimen of each variety of coin minted in the several mints of the United States." Godard fulfilled this directive faithfully during his long tenure as librarian and one of his principal sources for superb quality coins was T. Louis Comparette, curator of the Philadelphia Mint coin collection. Godard obtained two 1920-S eagles from Comparette from the pyx coins reserved for use by the Annual Assay Commission, one for the Mitchelson Collection, where it still resides, and one for Connecticut State Senator William Henry Hall. Godard later acquired this specimen from Hall's estate, and it remained in his own estate until sold by Stack's in 1982.
Ex: T. Louis Comparette; George S. Godard; Connecticut State Senator William Henry Hall; George S. Godard; Auction '82 (Stack's session, 8/82), lot 404, where it realized $27,000; Thaine B. Price Collection (David Akers, 5/98), lot 67, where it brought $82,500.
6. The Harry Einstein Collection specimen. MS65.
Ex: Harry Einstein Collection (Bowers and Merena, 6/86), lot 509, where it brought $29,700; purchased shortly after the sale by David Akers, who subsequently sold it privately to Robert Kruthoffer, Jr. in 1988; Superior (5/92), lot 2919, where it realized $79,750; several unknown intermediaries; acquired by a prominent doctor from Augusta, Georgia; Chicago '96 (RARCOA/David Akers, 7/96), lot 464, where it was purchased by Dwight Manley for a client for $143,000; later sold in the Goldberg's Sale (6/04), lot 2618, where it brought $186,875, the cataloger noted that the consignor owned both this coin and the Kutasi specimen (Number 3 on this list) at the same time, and considered this to be the better coin.
7. The Norweb specimen. MS64 to MS65, graded a full Gem by some, but graded MS64 by others (the Norweb Collection catalogers, for example) due to the identifying planchet defect in the reverse field near the rim at 4 o'clock.
Purchased by Mrs. R. Henry Norweb from John J. Ford of New Netherlands Coin Company in May 1953; Norweb II (Bowers and Merena, 3/88), lot 2325, where it sold to a prominent specialist in Saint-Gaudens coinage for $52,800.
8. The Robert E. Kruthoffer, Jr. specimen. MS64 to MS65.
Ex: Auction '79 (Paramount's session, 8/79), lot 362, where it was purchased by Kruthoffer for $44,000; Kruthoffer Collection of Indian Head Half Eagles and Eagles (Paramount, 9/81), lot 61, where it brought $42,000.
9. The Louis E. Eliasberg specimen. MS64 to MS65, certainly MS65 at the time of the Eliasberg sale, but dipped in a solution not intended for coins by the successful bidder, Ed Trompeter, and now more reasonably graded MS64.
Acquired by T. Louis Comparette, curator of the Philadelphia Mint coin collection for face value in February 1921; sold to John H. Clapp; sold to Louis Eliasberg in 1942 when Eliasberg purchased the John H. Clapp Collection; Eliasberg Collection (Bowers and Ruddy, 10/82), lot 869, where it was purchased by Ed Trompeter for $40,700; Trompeter Collection (Superior, 10/82), lot 205, where it brought $50,500.
10. The 1979 ANA Sale specimen. MS63 to MS64. This is a Choice Uncirculated example but definitely not the equal of any of the preceding nine coins and, in fact, perhaps three or four other 1920-S eagles of similar quality could also have an equally legitimate claim to the tenth position on this extended Condition Census.
Ex: 1979 ANA Sale (NERCA, 7/79), lot 413, where it realized $37,500.
We would like to thank David Akers for writing this description and sharing his notes for the above extended Condition Census.(Registry values: N1) (PCGS# 8881)
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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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