Select 1921 Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle
1921 $20 MS63 PCGS. The 1921 Saint-Gaudens double eagle is a
premier rarity in the series, ranking as the third rarest regular
issue, behind only the famous and ultra-rare 1933 and 1927-D
emissions. Considered as a condition rarity, the 1921 moves into
second place in the rankings, surpassing even the fabled 1927-D.
The date joined the elite group of coins that have sold at auction
for more than $1 million in 2005, when the finest known specimen
realized $1,092,500 as lot 6644 of the Phillip H. Morse Collection
(Heritage, 11/2005). Any offering of a 1921 double eagle is
noteworthy, but the opportunity to acquire a Choice specimen of
this prized issue, with a pedigree to one of the most famous
collections of all time, is truly a landmark in numismatic
Historic Absolute and Condition Rarity
Numismatists of the 1940s were mystified by the rarity of the 1921 Saint-Gaudens double eagle and many other issues in the series, because mint records reported substantial mintages for most dates (528,500 pieces in the case of the 1921). Of course we understand today that the great majority of them were destroyed in the Gold Recall of the 1930s.
While some dates found refuge in European banks and were later repatriated to augment the meager supply of coins in this country, this has not been the case with the 1921 twenty. The only reference to any examples of this date returning from European holdings is found in Breen's Encyclopedia, where he speculates about five pieces that may have surfaced since 1981 and about a half-dozen examples David Akers mentioned from his days at Paramount (possibly the same coins). When describing the 1921 double eagle in our recent FUN Signature Auction (Heritage, 1/2010), lot 2315, we published the following information about the actual number of 1921 double eagles officially released:
"In an interesting and remarkable letter first published in the June 2006 American Numismatic Rarities auction catalog, Dr. Charles W. Green writes to Louis Eliasberg in February 1947. Dr. Green had inquired of Mint officials about the availability of Saint-Gaudens twenties, realizing at an early date how rare certain issues were relative to their mintage. Mint officials told Dr. Green 'the true record would be, not the number struck, but the number 'put out'; that is actually issued from the producing mints, all the rest having gone to the melt and of course very possibly some of those put out went to the melt also.' He listed several rarities, among which was the 1921: 'Of the 1921 Philadelphia double eagle, only 25 coins were put out. So there we have a perfect record of rarity. The rest went to the melt.' It is natural to assume that with certain rarities more pieces were rescued prior to melting by Treasury Department or Mint employees."
In the case of the 1921 twenty, the Mint employees must have been particularly industrious in their efforts to preserve the coins from the melt. Most experts today believe 45-60 examples of the 1921 double eagle survive in circulated grades, with a like number extant in Mint State. Clearly the surviving population is much larger than the 25 coins that were officially issued.
The auction history of the 1921 double eagle probably begins with lot 547 of Sale 399 (J.C. Morgenthau, 5/1939). The coin was simply described as "Uncirculated, brilliant and excessively rare." Apparently, numismatists recognized the rarity of the 1921 Saint long before the other rare dates of the series were appreciated. The lot realized $260, a large sum at the time. The Morgenthau firm was actually a partnership of noted numismatists Wayte Raymond and James Macallister. Raymond published the popular Standard Catalogue of United States Coins, the leading price guide of the era.
The date 1944 was a breakout year for the 1921 double eagle. On page 181 of his Standard Catalogue for that year, Raymond published his opinion that only four or five specimens of the 1921 Saint were known. The widespread readership of this publication ensured hobby-wide knowledge of the 1921's rarity. When B. Max Mehl cataloged an example in his Belden E. Roach Collection (Mehl, 2/1944), lot 179, he repeated Raymond's estimate of the coin's rarity and seriously compared it to the 1933 in terms of desirability and value. The 1933 was a hot topic at the time, as the coin was being offered for the first time at auction in the Flanagan Collection (Stack's, 3/1944), lot 1681. Of course, Mehl did not foresee the seizure of the Flanagan coin by the Secret Service. The 1921 double eagle in the Roach sale realized $945, not far from the $1,200 going price for a 1933. Later in the year, the 1921 example in the J.F. Bell Collection (Stack's, 12/1944), lot 882, passed the four-figure mark by realizing $1,125. Numismatists today know Raymond greatly overestimated the rarity of the 1921, but the supply of coins has not increased nearly as much as most of the other dates in the series over the last 50 years. The 1921 Saint remains the third rarest issue in the 54-coin series today.
The present coin has a rich numismatic history of its own, as it can be traced to the fabulous Norweb Cabinet. The Norweb/Holden family were wealthy and influential numismatists who formed their collection over the course of several generations. Liberty Holden began the collection in a modest way in the 19th century and passed his interest on to his son, Albert, who became one of the country's foremost industrialists around the turn of the century. The Holdens had interests in Western mining, real estate, and hotels. The family acquired a palatial home in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, and owned the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the most influential newspaper in the state. Albert Holden collected fervently, securing many prizes from the auctions of Thomas Elder, Henry Chapman, and other leading dealers of the time. He used his collection as a way to connect with his young daughter, Emery May Holden, who would become the greatest female coin collector of all time.
After her father's untimely death, Emery May Holden retained her interest in coin collecting, but world events turned her attention elsewhere for some years. She volunteered as a nurse in World War I, and married The Honorable R. Henry Norweb, a career diplomat and future Ambassador, in Paris on October 18, 1917. Their first child was born in an air-raid shelter, and the Norwebs had many exciting adventures in their diplomatic postings around the world.
Eventually, the Norwebs returned home and pursued their collecting interests for the rest of their lives. The Norwebs acquired many specimens from the Virgil Brand Collection and were especially close to John Ford and the New Netherlands Coin Company in the 1950s. They were among the few American collectors to actually attend the sale of King Farouk's fabulous collection in Egypt in 1954 and acquired many rare coins at that sale, including a 1913 Liberty Head nickel. Bowers and Merena sold the main body of the American portion of the Norweb Collection in a series of sales in the late 1980s. The 1921 double eagle was included in the third and final catalog of the series, as lot 4113, where it realized a hefty $18,700.
The present coin is a magnificent example of this important and elusive date. The striking details on all 1921 twenties are notoriously weak, but this example is much more detailed than the average specimen. Only some slight softness on the eagle's breast feathers is noted. The surfaces are a pleasing yellow-gold, with a minimum of handling marks for the grade. Vibrant luster enhances the outstanding visual appeal on both sides. Pedigree markers include a notch in the stem of the olive branch, a few nicks near the tops of rays 6, 7, and 8 from the left on the obverse rays, a small color spot at 3 o'clock near the obverse stars, and a small gouge on the sun under the first T in TRUST on the reverse.
When viewing the grade of this coin and its place in the hierarchy of certified examples, consider that many important coins, including 1921 double eagles, have been submitted to the grading services multiple times in order to secure higher grades. A case in point is the Eliasberg 1921 double eagle, which was graded AU55/MS60 at the time of that sale in 1982. When the same coin was sold in 2005 as the second best 1921 in the Morse Collection, it had improved its grade to MS65. To be clear, grading standards and techniques have changed over the last two decades, and we believe the Eliasberg-Morse coin is a legitimate Gem specimen today. But while many coins have been involved in repeated submission events--swelling the number of high grade examples reported in the population data--the present coin has been conservatively graded MS63 in every one of its appearances since 1988. Clearly, there has been no grade inflation experienced by this coin. The present offering is an important opportunity to secure one of the rarest dates in one of the most popular series in U.S. numismatics, with the added cachet of its connection to one of the most storied collections of all time. Population: 9 in 63, 7 finer (3/10).
Ex: The Norweb Collection Part III (Bowers and Merena, 11/1988), lot 4113, realized $18,700; El Dorado Collection; The Norweb Collection (Stack's, 11/2006), lot 1466.
From The Carter Family Collection.(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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