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    Description

    1907 Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle, PR69
    High Relief, Wire Rim Variant
    Tied for Finest Certified
    Ex: Dallas Bank, Phillip Morse, Tacasyl

    1907 $20 High Relief, Wire Rim, PR69 NGC. Ex: Tacasyl Collection. Only a small portion of the already limited mintage of 12,367 High Relief double eagles produced in 1907 qualify as proof impressions today. The status of these coins has always been controversial, but their outstanding technical quality and iconic beauty cannot be denied. Heritage Auctions is privileged to present this magnificent PR69 specimen, tied with one other example for finest-known honors, in this important offering.

    Proof High Reliefs: A Controversial Issue

    Despite extensive investigation in Mint archives by scholars like Roger W. Burdette, no specific documentation on the striking of proof High Relief double eagles has ever come to light. The fact that all High Reliefs were specially produced is not in doubt. All the coins received special treatment and handling, and every High Relief received more than one blow from the medal press to bring up all the details of the intricate design. This special production process has caused some numismatists to believe all High Reliefs should be considered proofs, but other factors work against that.

    The mintage of more than 12,000 pieces was extremely high for a proof issue in those days. Although few examples ever reached circulation, the mintage was officially handled like a business-strike issue and the coins were ostensibly released to Subtreasuries for distribution in the normal way. The High Reliefs were specially produced, like proofs, but they were routinely distributed, like business strikes, making it difficult to classify them as one or the other. Of course, Mint and Treasury personnel actually intercepted almost every coin released and either kept them as souvenirs or sold them at a profit to coin dealers and favored collectors, further complicating their perceived status with the general public, who seldom encountered any example.

    Although the debate over the existence of proofs was never settled to everyone's satisfaction, coins classified as proofs began appearing in major collections at an early date. By the 1980s, numismatists like David Akers and Walter Breen were convinced certain coins with sharper details and satiny surfaces had been struck as proofs, but other experts disagreed. Expert opinion is still divided today, as PCGS has not certified any High Reliefs in proof format, while NGC has determined that some coins with specific diagnostic features are really proofs.

    Proof Diagnostics

    NGC numismatist Scott Schechter has identified 13 different die varieties for the 1907 High Relief Saint-Gaudens double eagle, but only one die pair was used to strike the coins NGC certifies as proofs. Both the obverse and reverse dies were later used in combination with other dies to strike business-strike High Reliefs of both the Wire Rim and Flat Rim types, but the dies were in their earliest die state when they were used to strike the proofs. Coins struck from the early state of these dies show distinctive satiny surfaces and sharply detailed design elements, with outstanding surface quality and eye appeal. Most tellingly, in their proof die marriage the dies were paired with the same collar used to strike the famous Ultra High Relief double eagles. The "proof" collar, designated Edge 3 (or Edge B-II) by Roger W. Burdette in Renaissance of American Coinage 1905-1908, features serif letters and was not used in combination with any other dies to strike High Relief double eagles. In addition to the distinctive Edge 3 collar, all proof High Reliefs exhibit the following features:

    • A heavy die line that runs through the base of the Capitol dome.
    • Swirling die polish can be seen in the right obverse field, and two lines seem to emerge from the base of the branch.
    • Die lines are visible within the raised portion of the sun's rays and follow the direction of the die recesses.
    • Heavy die polish is seen in the negative space between the eagle's wing and neck.
    • Heavy die polish is also seen along the left periphery of the reverse, especially from 9 to 11 o'clock.


    All proof High Reliefs are of the Wire Rim variety, as they were struck earlier in the year, before the Flat Rim coins were produced in December. The present coin exhibits all the proof diagnostics.

    The Present Coin

    This virtually perfect PR69 High Relief double eagle last appeared in lot 1024 of the famous Tacasyl Collection (Bonhams, 9/2013). The cataloger of that sale suggested this coin might have originated in Chief Engraver Charles Barber's collection, based on its definitive proof diagnostics and virtually perfect preservation. While we know of no documentation to confirm this origin, we see no reason to doubt it. This coin may have been obliquely mentioned in lot 1846 of the Adolphe Menjou Collection (Numismatic Gallery, 6/1950), where the cataloger described another proof High Relief and noted, in part:

    "Mr. Menjou made a particular point to acquire a number of the high relief coins and still owns a number of them. Aware of this keen interest in this artistic item, we offered this proof lot to him a few years ago, together with a brief history of the piece which accompanied the coin ... It had come from the widow of a gentleman associated with the mint in 1907. She had two proof double eagles in high relief, the $10 rolled edge with periods and the wire rim with periods. A letter accompanied the coins stating that 42 of the rolled edge pieces had been minted ... The coin now offered is one of the two we acquired at that time. These are the only two proof specimens that have come to our attention."



    The "gentleman associated with the mint" was almost certainly Chief Engraver Charles Barber, whose collection included a number of rare patterns, proofs, and specially struck coins at the time of his death. It is known that the present coin was handled by Abe Kosoff, a principle of the Numismatic Gallery, who sold it to legendary California collector R.E. Naftzger, sometime in the 1940s. It is therefore possible that this piece is the second proof High Relief from Barber's collection that the cataloger mentioned in the Menjou lot description.

    Many of Naftzger's double eagles, including this example, were later sold en masse to Texas collector H. Jeff Browning, via Mike Brownlee, in the 1970s. Browning retained this piece in his collection until his death, after which his collection was famously stored in a Dallas bank for many years. Sotheby's and Stack's combined to sell the renowned Dallas Bank Collection in a blockbuster auction in 2001, where this coin was described in lot 151 as a "Superb Gem Satin Finish Proof" which realized $115,000.

    The next owner of record was Phillip H. Morse, who compiled possibly the all-time best collection of Saint-Gaudens double eagles. Heritage Auctions handled the sale of the Morse Collection in November 2005 and this coin stood out, even among the fabulous rarities in that extraordinary numismatic gathering. Described in lot 6529 as, "Possible Finest Known 1907 Specimen Striking ... essentially perfect ..." the lot realized a staggering $534,750.

    The next appearance of the coin offered here was in the Tacasyl Collection, mentioned above. The Tacasyl Collection was a nearly complete gold proof type set consisting of 27 coins that included many finest-known specimens when it sold in 2013. This coin was featured in lot 1024, where it realized $573,300. It has been off the market ever since.

    Physical Description

    A spectacular coin in all regards, both sides are essentially perfect as would be dictated by the assigned grade. There are numerous die striations in the fields, but we stress that this feature is diagnostic of this issue in general. Both sides display a warm, green-gold sheen that accents the uncommonly sharp strike. Liberty's facial features are intricately detailed, the stars are fully delineated, and the central design elements stand out in three-dimensional sculptural relief. A partial wire rim is seen circling most of the obverse and about half of the reverse peripheries. For pedigree purposes, we mention a microscopic group of four tiny, mint-made planchet imperfections in the reverse field at the leading edge of the eagle's wingtip under the period preceding TWENTY. These are visible only with magnification. Similarly, there is another mint-made artifact that is visible on close inspection, a tiny raised lump of metal that appears as a shadow at the obverse rim at 5:30. Overall visual appeal is tremendous. This coin possesses a combination of absolute rarity, the highest available technical quality, and outstanding eye appeal. Series specialists and Registry Set enthusiasts will find no adequate substitute for this remarkable proof specimen. Census: 2 in 69, 0 finer (7/20).
    Ex: Possibly Chief Engraver Charles Barber; unknown intermediaries; Abe Kosoff in the 1940s; R.E. Naftzger; Mike Brownlee; H. Jeff Browning; Dallas Bank Collection (Sotheby's/Stack's, 10/2001), lot 151; Phillip H. Morse Collection (Heritage, 11/2005), lot 6529, realized $534,750; Tacasyl Collection (Bonhams, 9/2013), lot 1024, realized $573,000.
    From The James Dines "Original Goldbug" Collection. (Registry values: N1)

    Coin Index Numbers: (NGC ID# 26F2, PCGS# 9135)

    Weight: 33.44 grams

    Metal: 90% Gold, 10% Copper


    Learn more at the Newman Numismatic Portal at Washington University in St. Louis.

    View all of [The James Dines "Original Goldbug" Collection ]

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    September, 2020
    18th-20th Friday-Sunday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 33
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
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    Saint-Gaudens Double Eagles as Illustrated by the Phillip H. Morse and Steven Duckor Collections
    Revised Edition by Roger Burdette, and edited by James L. Halperin and Mark Van Winkle

    Saint-Gaudens Double Eagles is an issue-by-issue examination of this 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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