Magnificent, Rare 1920-S Eagle, MS661920-S $10 MS66 PCGS. This year marked the first production of gold coinage since 1916. From the time 126,500 eagles were struck at the San Francisco Mint in 1920, they were considered one of the rarest of all 20th century ten dollar gold coins. Evidently, nearly all were exported in commercial trade, or held in Treasury vaults and eventually melted in the 1930s. No hoards have ever turned up and the coin remains very rare to this day.
T. Louis Comparette, curator of the Philadelphia Mint coin collection, was an important conduit of new coins for the Connecticut State Library's Mitchelson Collection and a few other institutions. Although specimens struck in Philadelphia were usually available with little difficulty, pieces from the other mints were available only from the pyx coins reserved for use of the Annual Assay Commission. (Collectors could usually purchase issued coins directly from each mint, but the quality of specimens was often well below the pyx coins.) On March 1, 1921, Comparette sent George Godard, the Connecticut State Librarian, two of the San Francisco eagles.
"Here are two eagles struck at the San Francisco Mint in 1920. With some difficulty I was able to secure four specimens from the pyx, of which I send you these, one for your collections, the other for Sen. Hall, whose interests I am still willing to assist, though he will not answer my letters."
One of these was acquired by Godard from the estate of Connecticut State Senator William Henry Hall, whose personal collection included the duplicates sent by Comparette. It was sold by Stack's with Godard's personal collection in 1982. The Smithsonian National Numismatic Collection includes another example that was likely saved from the pyx.
The fact that individual specimens of this issue are so easily traced underscores the absolute rarity of the 1920-S. This particular coin that we offer here last appeared in the extraordinary collection of ten dollar Indians that was assembled by William Thomas Michaels. That set was sold in January 2004. The cataloger for Stack's wrote an insightful commentary on the 1920-S:
"Although 126,500 coins of this date are reported to have been struck, it is quite evident that nearly all were melted before ever leaving the Mint. Unlike other key dates in this series such as the 1930 'S' and 1933 that, when available, are almost always encountered in Mint State, this date is found in all grades. The fact that most known survivors range in condition from Very Fine to Choice Brilliant Uncirculated only intensifies the desirability of the small number of Gem quality specimens extant."
This wide range of grades of availability (or unavailability as the case is more apt to be) points to a curious duality that is alluded to in the Stack's description. That is, an effort was made to release the 1920-S into circulation, as indicated by the 51 coins certified by PCGS and NGC in VF30 to AU58 grades. Apparently, what need there was for ten dollar coins that had not been produced since 1916, was soon met and the remainder were eventually melted. Thus, the 1920-S is both an absolute and condition rarity.
Walter Breen elaborates on the rarity of the 1920-S ten dollar in his 1988 Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins:
"In my experience, the 1920-S is rarer than the 1930-S or 1933. For some decades one 1930-S turned up in the San Francisco area every three years, probably from a single roll. The 1933 is usually considered rarest. About 1952 a small hoard, possibly 20-30 in all ... showed up on the East Coast. A few others turned up later, from French and Swiss banks. No hoard of 1920-S ever appeared, though since 1980 possibly four or five have returned from Europe, and reportedly 10 more were found in upper New York State. Most of these late dates only come Unc. with varying amounts of bagmarks, testifying to their long residence in bank cash reserves."
Most of the known 1920-S tens show weakness of strike on the RTY of LIBERTY, but this is more of a tendency than an absolute diagnostic. This piece shows a full R but TY is not visible, and the typical weakness is noted on the trailing leg of the eagle. Otherwise, the remaining design elements are sharply defined. Both sides show the usual frosty mint luster that is always seen on mint examples of this rarity. The surfaces are remarkably clean, as one would expect for an MS66. A tiny planchet flake on the cheek of Liberty, and a small contact mark to the left of the left (facing) wing are mentioned as pedigree identifiers. The color on this coin is nothing short of extraordinary. Each side shows an intermixture of peach-gold, apricot, mint-green, rose-gold, and lilac patina that adds significantly to the overall eye appeal of this exceptionally well preserved coin.
This magnificent piece represents an opportunity for the advanced collector to add this key issue to a collection of ten dollar Indians. Rarely are such coins available in any condition, and at the Premium Gem level this piece is among the finest known. Population: 1 in 66, 1 finer (11/08).
Ex: William Thomas Michaels Collection (Stack's, 1/2004), lot 3028; Kutasi Collection (Heritage Auction Galleries, 1/2007), lot 3187.
From The Jim O'Neal Collection of Saint-Gaudens Eagles.
See: Video Lot Description(Registry values: N1) (NGC ID# 28H8, PCGS# 8881)
Weight: 16.72 grams
Metal: 90% Gold, 10% Copper
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