Gem 1921 Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle
1921 $20 MS65 PCGS. CAC. Discounting the uncollectible 1933
issue, the 1921 Saint-Gaudens double eagle is the leading condition
rarity of the series, with only four known examples that grade MS65
or finer. Even in MS64 condition, the 1921 is a rare date, as we
can account for fewer than 10 specimens at that level, and two of
them are permanently impounded in institutional collections. Unlike
some other issues, which have either risen to great heights from
relative obscurity, like the 1927-D, or fallen precipitously from
the top of the rarity rankings, like the 1924-S, the 1921 has
always been counted as one of the premier rarities of the series.
In this lot, Heritage is privileged to offer the coin David Akers
considers the third-finest 1921 Saint-Gaudens double eagle.
Rarest Collectible Saint in High Grade
The Bureau of the Mint was under extreme pressure in 1921 because of the provisions of the Pittman Act requiring the resumption of silver dollar coinage, which had been discontinued in 1904. The three active mints succeeded in striking a huge total of nearly 87 million Morgan dollars in 1921, but their resources were strained to the limit. No gold coinage was struck until the final two months of the year. Late in 1921 it was deemed necessary to strike some double eagles to serve as currency reserves, and a small delivery of 90,000 examples was accomplished in November, followed by a larger 438,500 pieces in December.
The coins were tightly held by the Treasury Department; research by Dr. Charles W. Green indicates only 25 coins were actually released through official channels before the Gold Recall of 1933 took effect. The great majority of the mintage was then melted and stored as ingots in the Fort Knox Bullion Repository around 1937. Of course, a certain number of coins must have escaped through unofficial channels, as numismatists know of about 40-60 Mint State examples today, mostly in the MS60-MS62 range, and a like number of circulated specimens. A few examples have surfaced in European holdings over the last 70 years, but never enough to alter the 1921's availability to any noticeable extent.
Double Eagles Become Popular
Collecting large-denomination gold coins became popular for the first time in the late 1930s, as the effects of the Gold Recall set in. Shrewd investors like Louis Eliasberg and Green realized that a gold coin collection was one of the few legal avenues of investing in gold, quite aside from the increased value the coins experienced when the supply was drastically reduced by the government recall. The 1921 was offered at public auction for the first time in the New York Collection, Part II (Morgenthau, 5/1939), lot 547. The coin realized $260, a staggering price in 1939 for a coin that was only 18 years old.
The Present Coin Surfaces
The coin offered here first came to the attention of the numismatic community when it was offered in lot 179 of the Belden E. Roach Collection (B. Max Mehl, 2/1944). The Roach sale was a watershed event in the history of double eagle collecting, and Mehl waxed eloquent in his description of this remarkable coin. Sometimes Mehl's enthusiasm for his subject got the better of his grammar, but we reprint the description in its entirety because of the picture it gives of the state of knowledge concerning Saint-Gaudens double eagles at this early date:
"1921 $20.00. Brilliant uncirculated. Perfect in every respect. Excessively rare. This is a rather 'mysterious' great rarity. According to the Mint report an ample quantity was minted, and until about four years ago it was not thought so rare, but very few collectors owned a specimen. However, in a sale held about four years ago, while this coin was then listed at $150.00, it brought $285.00.
"After making some inquiry, I found that not more than four or five specimens were known to exist and also find that it is one of the rarest of all Double Eagles! It was not in the Hale Collection, although the late Mr. Hale made a practice of securing direct from the mint a specimen of each year as issued. I know of several great collections of Double Eagles in which this rarity is lacking.
"Since a 1933 Double Eagle, of which eight or ten specimens are now known to exist and of which a far greater number than the 1921 is reported to have been minted, and to my own personal knowledge a 1933 Twenty sold for $1,600 and I have myself handled two of them at a price well over $1,000, this is the very first specimen of the 1921 Double Eagle that I have ever offered. I really believe that the 1921 is equally as rare and valuable as the 1933 and should bring a correspondingly high price. It would not surprise me to see this coin sell for near the four-figure mark. In the new Standard Catalog it is listed at $500.00, and I know of more than one dealer who offered that much for a specimen and could not obtain one. In order to save time I have placed a starting bid of $500 on this coin. The new Standard Catalog states that only 4 or 5 specimens are known."
Mehl's description is particularly interesting for his comparison of the 1921 to the 1933 double eagle, which was scheduled to be offered at auction for the first time one month later in the Colonel James Flanagan Sale (Stack's, 3/1944). Of course Mehl could not know that the Secret Service would confiscate the coin in that sale, along with all known examples of the 1933 double eagle, in a controversial turn of events reminiscent of the court battles of recent times. Mehl must have been pleased when the 1921 realized $945, quite close to the "near four-figure mark" he had estimated.
While Mehl's estimate of the surviving population seems absurdly low today, it was probably an accurate guess about the number available to collectors in the 1940s. The roster below represents all the 1921 Saint-Gaudens twenties known to us in grades above MS64. These were probably the coins that were obtained by collectors at the time of issue, and were in numismatic hands during the 1940s. The first two coins in the roster were impounded in the Godard Collection until 1982, so they would have been unknown to Mehl. He probably took no account of the coins in institutional collections, so the ANS and Smithsonian examples would not enter his calculations. That leaves exactly five high-grade specimens in the population, as Mehl postulated. The 25 coins that Green noted as being released by the Mint were quietly dispersed and account for many of the circulated examples we know about today. The bulk of coins in lower Mint State grades probably trickled out of foreign sources over the years, one by one or in small groups, but never in large quantities.
A Landmark Appearance
Many years later, the present coin was a cornerstone of the Dr. Hesselgesser Collection (Ira and Larry Goldberg, 9/2007). David Akers viewed the coin at the Goldberg's table at the ANA convention that year and pronounced it the third-finest-known Saint-Gaudens double eagle, and said the coin could be graded MS66. The lot realized an amazing $1,012,000, still the highest price realized for any MS65-graded 1921 Saint-Gaudens twenty. Recalling this coin in his description of another 1921 in the Dr. and Mrs. Steven Duckor Collection (Heritage, 1/2012), Akers was almost as enthusiastic about it as Mehl had been 68 years earlier:
"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.'; 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."
A careful comparison of plates in the various catalogs convinces us that Akers was correct in his speculation that the Hesselgesser piece and the Roach example are the same coin. Pedigree markers include a tiny spot of die polish on the obverse ray near the 1 in the date, a larger area of die polish on the reverse periphery at 7:30, and a tiny, almost invisible nick on the reverse rim at 4 o'clock. Since the Roach sale was the first time Mehl handled a 1921, it is unlikely that he had a stock photo, and we feel confident that the image in the catalog actually represents the coin sold. We also see similarities between this coin and the plate in the World's Greatest Collection sale, but the match is not as definitive. The plate in the Bell sale shows a thin scratch in the shape of a sideways "V" in the left obverse field that we believe matches the Eliasberg specimen. However, Stack's used many stock photos in the Bell sale and, if the Eliasberg coin was originally from Col. Green's collection, they may have had such a photo to use in the catalog.
The coin offered here is a magnificent Gem that possesses tremendous eye appeal to complement its high technical grade. In fact, the coin may have the greatest visual appeal of any 1921 Saint. This example displays even fewer surface marks than the Eliasberg coin and shows no trace of the red alloy spots seen on the Duckor and Morse specimens. The design elements are sharply detailed, with razor-sharp definition on Liberty's nose and toes. The eagle's feathers display exquisite detail, and the Capitol exhibits bold, if not quite full, definition. The vivid yellow-gold surfaces are enhanced by highlights of orange and lilac, with vibrant mint luster on both sides. Close inspection with a glass reveals no mentionable distractions on either side, and we would not question Akers' assertion that the quality of this specimen suggests an even higher grade. This coin will bring great credit to the finest collection or Registry Set.
1921 Double Eagle Roster, MS64 and Finer Specimens
1. MS66 PCGS. Dr. Thomas Louis Comparette; George Seymour Godard; Godard Collection; Auction '82 (Stack's, 8/1982), lot 447, realized $32,000; Premier Sale (Superior, 1/1984), lot 1875, realized $57,500; Dr. and Mrs. Steven L. Duckor Collection (Heritage, 1/2012), lot 4630, realized $747,500.
2. MS66 PCGS. Possibly the second specimen purchased from Dr. Comparette by George Seymour Godard, the Connecticut State Librarian, for Senator Hall's collection; Senator Hall's widow; Godard again; Godard estate; 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. CAC. Belden Roach Collection (B. Max Mehl, 2/1944), lot 179; possibly the coin in the World's Greatest Collection (Numismatic Gallery, 1/1946), lot 923; 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. The present coin. 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.
4. MS65 PCGS. Possibly from the J.F. Bell Collection (Stack's, 12/1944), lot 882, realized $1,125; 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.
5. MS64 PCGS. New York 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.
The 1921 Saint-Gaudens double eagle is one of the few issues of the series that is known in proof format. While proofs are usually considered in a separate category from business-strike issues, we include these appearances in the roster for the sake of completeness, and because of the extraordinary interest in these pieces.
A. 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.
B. SP64 NGC. Another presentation example surfaced in 2006 and was mistakenly auctioned as a business-strike MS63 specimen in the Denver ANA Auction (Bowers and Merena, 8/2006), lot 4504. Knowledgeable numismatists recognized the true nature of this coin, and it sold for $1,495,000. The coin was later certified SP64 NGC and exhibited by Brian Hendelson at the 2010 ANA World's Fair of Money in Boston.(Registry values: N14284) (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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