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The Price-Morse 1931-D Double Eagle, MS66

1931-D $20 MS66 PCGS. CAC. Ex: Price. With hindsight and a smidgen of knowledge about American history, one could easily predict that there would be little demand for twenty dollar gold pieces in 1931. That year was two years into the Great Depression, and as it turned out, 1931 was also the nadir of that massive economic downturn. Demand for all denominations was minimal; while cents and dimes were struck in all three mints, nickels were only produced in San Francisco, and twenties were struck only at Philadelphia and Denver. The 1931-D double eagles marked the end of a quarter-century of gold coin production at that Mint; they would be the last gold coins struck there until the Olympic ten dollar commemoratives of 1984.
With 106,500 pieces struck of the 1931-D twenty, one would assume that these coins were produced for export. But it appears that few were actually shipped overseas, as no substantial hoards have been found in Europe. The best guess is that almost the entire mintage was held in Treasury vaults, melted in 1937, and converted into gold ingots. It is generally thought that today only 100 to 150 examples survive of the 1931-D. That low survival rate places it at the top of both absolute and condition rarities in the Saint-Gaudens series. The only hoard of note was a group of 15 to 20 pieces that turned up in the Midwest in 1984. There is also the tantalizing story of four other pieces that is mentioned in Dave Bowers' American Coin Treasures and Hoards:

"In 1960 a Sidney, New York, businessman took from his bank safety deposit box four 'ordinary' $20 pieces and brought them to a coin dealer [Bowers], for he had heard there was a premium above face value for all gold coins.
"The dealer glanced at them, found they were all of the extremely rare 1931-D variety and in blazing gem Mint State, showed him the listing in The Guide Book, and expected that the finder would be delighted. Just the opposite occurred. Uncertainty set in--what were they really worth? Could they be sold for more elsewhere? Maybe they shouldn't be sold after all.
"Back into the safe deposit box the rare 1931-D $20 pieces went. Had they been common dates they would have been sold for the current market value at the time, which would have been between $40 and $50."

What happened to those four coins?

The present piece is tied for the finest known in the combined certified population. The data from the two foremost services states that NGC has just one listing in MS66, while the PCGS Population Report shows three such pieces (6/08). An apparent duplicate in the NGC Census Report apparently has been removed since November 2007. The Garrett-Guth reference states that "The finest known examples are a pair that PCGS graded MS-66, and one of each in the collections of the American Numismatic Society and Smithsonian." This is the Price/Morse coin and this magnificent piece realized $184,000 in November 2005. It had formerly sold for $79,750 when Dr. Thaine Price's collection sold in May 1998.
The 1931-D is one of the best-produced issues in the Saint-Gaudens series, and this exemplary survivor showcases the 1931-D at its best. The lovely surfaces on this coin are bright and the mint luster shows a mixture of light rose and lilac on each side. Fully struck throughout. The only flaw of any significance is shallow and located between the TY of LIBERTY and the arm of Liberty. Any impact on the overall visual appeal is minimal.
From the Stephen Stokely Collection, Part Five.(Registry values: N1) (NGC ID# 26GP, PCGS# 9193)

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Auction Dates
Jul-Aug, 2008
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The Coinage of Augustus Saint-Gaudens as Illustrated by the Morse and Duckor Collections
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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