Rare 1921 Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle, MS62
1921 $20 MS62 PCGS. The 1921 Saint-Gaudens double eagle is
one of the landmarks of the series, a rare coin in absolute terms
and a prime condition rarity as well. If the essentially
uncollectible 1933 date is discounted, the 1921 is the rarest
Saint-Gaudens double eagle in high grades. Even the famous 1927-D
is more available in Gem condition though, of course, the 1921 is
much more common in lower grades. Offerings of Mint State 1921's
have occurred just often enough in recent years to keep the issue
fresh in the minds of advanced collectors, but not so frequently as
to dull the luster of its rarity.
The Rarest Collectible Series Issue in High Grade
The distribution of the 1921 double eagle is a major mystery to numismatists, past and present. While other dates were exported in large numbers to pay foreign debts and then repatriated from European and Central American sources at later dates, this was not the case with the 1921 issue. Only about a half-dozen examples were ever recovered from Europe. Clearly, the great majority of the mintage was held domestically and destroyed in 1937. Curiously, more than half the total number of examples known today are in circulated grades, an unusual circumstance for Saint-Gaudens twenties. This would seem to indicate the date circulated to some degree in the days before the great Gold Recall of the 1930s, but the number released must have been small. In fact, inquiries made by Dr. Charles W. Green in the 1940s suggest only 25 coins were released through official channels. Since experts estimate a surviving population of 50-70 examples in circulated grades and 40-60 specimens in Mint State, it is evident the supply of coins was augmented by unofficial releases of some kind. Mint officials and Treasury employees must have made a small cottage industry of rescuing the coins held in government vaults after 1933, perhaps exchanging other, more-common double eagle dates for the 1921s and selling them for considerable profits to coin dealers.
The auction history of the 1921 begins in the late 1930s, when astute collectors like Louis Eliasberg and Charles W. Green began collecting large-denomination gold coins as a means of investing legally in gold. Perhaps the first appearance was in Sale 399 (Morgenthau, 5/1939), lot 547, "1921 Uncirculated, brilliant and excessively rare." The lot realized a surprising $260, a respectable sum for an 18-year-old coin that could have been purchased for face value a few years before.
The date quickly achieved superstar status, with appearances in several of B. Max Mehl's auctions of the 1940s. Mehl seriously compared the rarity of the 1921 to that of the 1933 double eagle, which caused a sensation when it was seized by the Secret Service in its first auction appearance in the Flanagan Collection (Stack's, 3/1944). King Farouk purchased the 1921 double eagle in the fabulous Colonel Green Collection via Stack's in 1944 for $850. The 1921 offered in the J.F. Bell Collection (Stack's, 12/1944), lot 882, finally broke the four-figure mark when it realized $1,125--not far from the $1,200 going price for a 1933.
Currently, the 1921 Saint-Gaudens double eagle occupies the 20th spot on the "Top 250 Auction Prices" listed in the 2011 Guidebook, with a price realized of $1,495,000. The 1921 has broken the million-dollar barrier on two other occasions, a feat matched by the 1927-D Saint, the famous MCMVII Ultra High Relief double eagle, and the 1913 Liberty Head nickel. Among U.S. coins, only the 1804 dollar has achieved more million-dollar auction appearances.
The present coin is an attractive Mint State example of this rare and valuable date. The pleasing greenish-gold surfaces display vibrant mint luster, with none of the alloy spots that frequently trouble this issue. Sharp striking details are evident on all design elements, with just a touch of softness on Liberty's torch hand and toes. Like most examples seen, the coin offered here exhibits some scattered handling marks, but none are individually distracting. Few specimens of this elusive issue can match the eye appeal of this piece, with its combined advantages of luster and clean surfaces. We expect spirited competition from advanced collectors when this lot is called. Population: 20 in 62, 15 finer (6/10).(Registry values: N10218) (NGC ID# 26G2, PCGS# 9172)
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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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