MS64+ 1920-S Saint-Gaudens Twenty
1920-S $20 MS64+ PCGS Secure. CAC. In the words of David
Akers, "The 1920-S is one of the prime rarities in the
Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle series, if not in the entire 20th
century U.S. gold series." Among regular-issue Saint-Gaudens double
eagles, only the ultra-rare 1927-D, the celebrated 1921, the
elusive late-date 1930-S, and the currently uncollectible 1933 can
claim to be more difficult to locate. Experts estimate a surviving
population of 65-75 examples in all grades. Considered as a
condition rarity, and discounting the 1933, the 1920-S occupies an
even higher spot in the rarity rankings. Only the 1921 is actually
rarer than the '20-S in higher Mint State grades.
Earliest Date to be Extensively Melted
Prime Absolute and Condition Rarity
The 1920-S suffered the same fate as many other issues in the series, being held in Treasury vaults and domestic banks until the Gold Recall of 1933, after which nearly the entire mintage was melted. The 1920-S is the earliest date to be melted in such quantities, and while the later dates in the series were recognized as rarities early on, the true rarity of the 1920-S was not fully appreciated until the late 1940s. Probably the first auction appearance of the 1920-S was in Sale Number 399 (Morgenthau, 5/1939), lot 546, "1920 S Uncirculated and very scarce." The lot realized $45, a respectable sum, but a far cry from the $260 realized by the 1921 in the same sale. The elusive nature of the 1920-S gradually became clear as collectors studied the series closely. By the time the coin sold in lot 2141 of the Frederic Geiss Collection (B. Max Mehl, 2/1947), the cataloger related:
"1920 A perfect uncirculated specimen of a real rarity. For some reason it was overlooked by the publishers of the Standard Catalog and only listed in 1946 at $65.00, although a specimen in 1944 brought $160.00, and another specimen, offered in January, 1946, brought $250.00. It is a real rarity and certainly worthy of its highest auction record, and then some."
The lot lived up to Mehl's expectations, realizing $285. Note that Wayte Raymond was the publisher of the Standard Catalog and a principal of the Morgenthau firm. He probably based his 1946 catalog price on the coin's performance in his 1939 auction. Of course, modern collectors appreciate the rarity of this issue even more than numismatists in Mehl's day, and auction prices realized have climbed steadily over the years. When the magnificent MS66 PCGS specimen sold in the Phillip H. Morse Collection (Heritage, 11/2005), it realized $517,500.
The present coin is a delightful MS64+ specimen, with pleasing greenish-gold surfaces and a sharper strike than normally seen on the 1920-S. The Capitol building shows just a touch of softness, but this is almost diagnostic for the issue. The mint luster is full and frosty, and the outstanding eye appeal is attested by the CAC sticker. Only a few minor handling marks are evident, clustered around Liberty's right (facing) arm, and they do not detract from the coin's tremendous visual appeal.
Rather than rely on population data, which has been inflated by resubmissions and crossovers, we have compiled a roster of known specimens of the 1920-S in MS64 or better condition, to obtain an accurate picture of its status as a condition rarity. Our findings indicate there are two coins in collectors' hands that grade MS66, another two specimens in Gem condition, and eight examples at the Choice level. There are also two high-grade pieces in institutional holdings. Compare those totals to the celebrated 1927-D, which is known to have one MS67 representative, eight MS66 specimens, one MS65 piece, two MS64 coins, and one circulated example. The status of the 1920-S as a condition rarity seems fully established.
The following roster of MS64 and finer specimens has been compiled from a study of auction records and private transactions over the past two decades.
1. MS66 PCGS. Louis Eliasberg; The United States Gold Coin Collection (Bowers and Ruddy, 10/1982), lot 1051, not certified at the time, graded Select Brilliant Uncirculated by the cataloger; Dr. Steven Duckor; Phillip H. Morse; The Phillip H. Morse Collection (Heritage, 11/2005), lot 6641 (realized $517,500).
2. MS66 PCGS. A coin with an unknown pedigree sold by Todd Imhof of Heritage Auction Galleries to Dr. Steven Duckor in early 2006.
3. MS65 PCGS. Jeff Browning; The "Dallas Bank" Collection (Sotheby's/Stack's, 10/2001), lot 185, not certified at the time, graded Gem Brilliant Uncirculated by the cataloger; Pittsburgh ANA (Heritage, 8/2004), lot 7782; "Dr. EJC" PCGS Registry Set Collection; (the Akers and Bowers plate coin).
4. MS65 PCGS. Milwaukee ANA (Heritage, 8/2007), lot 2074, (realized $264,500).
5. MS64 PCGS. Reed Hawn Collection (Stack's, 10/1993), lot 1118, not certified at the time, graded Choice Brilliant Uncirculated by the cataloger; Long Beach Signature (Heritage, 6/2000), lot 7702; Philadelphia ANA (Heritage, 8/2000), lot 7599; Benson Part II (Goldberg, 2/2002), lot 2271; Dallas Signature (Heritage, 10/2008), lot 2486; Los Angeles ANA (Heritage, 7/2009), lot 1128; CSNS Signature (Heritage, 4/2010), lot 2352.
6. MS64 PCGS. Dr. Thaine B. Price Collection (Akers, 5/1998), lot 100, not certified at the time, graded Very Choice Uncirculated by the cataloger; Dr. Richard Ariagno Collection (Goldberg, 5/1999), lot 895; FUN Signature (Heritage,1/2003), lot 9326; San Francisco ANA (Heritage, 7/2005), lot 10428; Long Beach Signature (Heritage, 9/2009), lot 1129.
7. MS64 PCGS. Phillip H. Morse Collection (Heritage, 11/2005), lot 6642; Pre-Long Beach Auction (Goldberg, 9/2007), lot 3523.
8. MS64 PCGS. FUN Signature (Heritage, 1/2007), lot 3287; FUN Signature (Heritage, 1/2010), lot 2314.
9. MS64 PCGS. The Rarities Sale (Bowers and Merena, 10/2004), lot 940.
10. Very Choice Uncirculated 64. Auction '90 (Akers, 8/1990), lot 1988.
11. MS64 PCGS. FUN Signature (Heritage, 1/2010), lot 2313.
12. MS64+ PCGS. The present coin. Provenance unknown.
Other Known Specimens:
A. A coin in the collection of the American Numismatic Society, reported as a Superb Gem by Jeff Garrett and Ron Guth.
B. A coin in the National Numismatic Collection, Smithsonian Institution, reported to grade at least MS64 by Garrett and Guth.
From The Bob Simpson Collection.(Registry values: N10218) (NGC ID# 26FZ, PCGS# 9171)
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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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