1910 $20 Experimental Finish SP66+ PCGS. CAC....Click the image to load the highest resolution version.
1910 Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle, SP66+
1910 $20 Experimental Finish SP66+ PCGS. CAC. The United
States Mint struggled to find a popular finish for gold proof coins
throughout the early 20th century Renaissance of American coinage
that Roger W. Burdette has so thoroughly chronicled in his popular
writings. Various types of sandblast and satin finishes were
adopted at different times, and even more experimental finishes
were briefly tinkered with, but none were found that addressed both
the technical needs of the coiners and the aesthetic sensibilities
of the collectors. Many issues with experimental finishes have
vanished without a trace, as the Mint did not carefully document
all their endeavors in this regard, as long as the bullion accounts
balanced. Experimental pieces that were not adopted for coinage
were usually melted for recoinage and forgotten. Fortunately, some
extremely rare experimental pieces have survived to give us a
glimpse of this colorful, "behind the scenes" era in Mint history.
The coin offered here is an exciting new find, with a unique
experimental finish, an example of an attractive coinage that was
not adopted, leaving us with this single amazing example of "what
might have been." Heritage Auctions is privileged to present this
SP66+ 1910 Saint-Gaudens double eagle, with its unique experimental
finish, in this important offering.
Unique Experimental Finish
Newly Discovered 20th Century Rarity
Although Augustus Saint-Gaudens' iconic design for the double eagle has often been called America's most beautiful coinage design, the new motifs posed many technical problems for the U.S. Mint's coiners. Even after the high relief of the initial design was lowered to allow high-speed production of business-strike coins, the basined fields and sculptural relief of the devices made it impossible to polish the dies to achieve the brilliant finish collectors prized on proof issues. Accordingly, the Mint switched to a dull matte, or sandblast, finish for proof coins in 1908, similar to that used on many medals of the period. Unfortunately, contemporary collectors failed to appreciate the artistic qualities of the matte format and sales of proof sets declined dramatically.
To address this customer dissatisfaction, the Mint switched finishes again in 1909, to the Roman, or satin, finish for gold proofs. In his Saint-Gaudens Double Eagles as Illustrated by the Phillip H. Morse and Steven Duckor Collections, Roger W. Burdette explains the satin finish proofs were simply carefully selected planchets struck with high pressure on the medal press to fully bring up the design and carefully handled to preserve surface quality. The only difference between the two finishes was the matte proofs were sandblasted after striking and the satin proofs were not. The satin proofs are brighter than the matte proofs and usually have a lighter color.
Experimentation with the matte finish continued in 1909, as well, as illustrated by the matte proof Indian half eagle that surfaced in lot 1004 of the Gaston DiBello Collection, Part II (Stack's, 5/1970):
"1909 Matte Proof. Well struck, with the matte proof finish found on the 1908 and 1911 through 1915 issues. The 1909 and 1910 are known only in the more brilliant Roman finish. This is the first example of this date in the dull matte proof finish we have encountered or could find record of. Mr. DiBello acquired a group of unusual proofs of the St. Gaudens era and the others are described under the Eagle and Double Eagle listings further on in this catalog. This coin is UNIQUE and should attract considerable interest by those who try to possess the rare and unusual."
The 1909 Indian eagle in lot 1177 of the DiBello catalog was also a matte proof experimental piece. Unfortunately, collectors still preferred the old brilliant proofs of earlier years, and sales of proof sets continued to languish. With no good alternatives to fix the problem, the Mint continued to use the satin finish on gold proofs in 1910.
Influential gold collector (and future Secretary of the Treasury) William H. Woodin was particularly unhappy with the satin proofs. In an August 3, 1910-dated letter to Philadelphia Mint Superintendent John Landis, Woodin requested that the Mint go back to the matte finish for gold proofs:
"I am going to take the liberty to make a little plea to you in regard to gold proof sets which the Mint is issuing. They are far from having proof surfaces and I believe it is impossible to make the St. Gaudens and Pratt designs of a proof surface that would be satisfactory. I want to ask you to consider going back to the 1908 issue ... having a dull finish ..."
Woodin went on to specifically request having two 1910 gold proof sets made up, using the matte finish, which he would purchase for his collection. He continued to lobby for a return to the matte finish in an August 19, 1910-dated letter to Assistant Secretary of the Treasury A. Piatt Andrew saying, "The present proofs [1909, 1910] of the St. Gaudens and Pratt designs are simply rotten." Andrew replied that he could not use Mint resources to produce "particular issues" for "particular people", but he agreed to return to the sandblast finish for proofs in 1911 if a consensus of American coin collectors favored that. Accordingly, Woodin posed the question to attendees of the 1910 ANA Convention, displaying a 1908 sandblast proof set next to a 1909 set with a satin finish and asking the members to vote on which was better. The members ruled in favor of the sandblast finish and a resolution was forwarded to Andrew, who ordered a return to the matte finish for proofs, effective the following year.
Although Andrew refused to produce sandblast proofs as delicacies for favored collectors in 1910, the Mint apparently experimented extensively with different proof finishes that year for their own purposes. At least one gold proof set with a matte finish has been certified by NGC, exactly the kind of set Woodin requested. The set surfaced in North Carolina in 2005 and the coins were offered individually by Heritage Auctions in 2007. This set might have been produced late in the year, as a trial run for producing sandblast proofs in 1911.
The present coin represents an entirely different direction in the search for a popular finish for gold proof coins. The surfaces of this coin are lighter and more reflective than the satin finish proofs, and much brighter than their matte proof contemporaries. John Dannreuther notes the surfaces are:
"Full of die polish. My guess is that they maybe were trying to polish the dies and see if they could make a brilliant proof. Just a guess, as the 1910 ANA held that survey and the Sandblast Proofs won the vote over the Satin Proofs! PCGS felt it was different enough to warrant a separate number, as it is not a grainy Satin Proof nor one of the reticulated surfaces Satin Proofs. We don't have records of their experiments in a lot of cases, of which this is one, in my opinion (and that of PCGS). It came in after I finished my book or I would have noted it, of course."
Perhaps the experimental issue this coin most closely resembles is the PR67 NGC 1907 Rolled Edge Indian eagle offered in lot 5238 of the FUN Signature (Heritage, 1/2011), which realized $2,185,000. That coin originally belonged to Mint Director Frank Leach and many collectors believe it was a trial piece. The present coin exhibits bright, virtually flawless orange-gold surfaces with brilliant satiny luster, much like Leach's satin proof Rolled Edge ten in the FUN sale. The surfaces of both coins show heavy die polish lines on both sides, a distinguishing feature that separates them from their satin proof counterparts. This Plus-graded Premium Gem Special Strike displays razor-sharp definition on the design elements, with individually countable columns in the Capitol and intricate detail in Liberty's facial features and the eagle's feathers. Only the slightest hint of softness is evident on the four stars below the Capitol. A partial wire edge is visible on both sides of the coin and the inner rim is sharply delineated, with marked concavity in the fields as they fall gracefully away from the rims. The overall presentation is simply stunning. This incredible unique coin possesses an aura of mystery all its own to go with its unparalleled absolute rarity, high technical quality, and terrific eye appeal. We believe it is one of the most important recent discoveries in 20th century American numismatics. This important coin has been certified by both NGC and PCGS. It shows on each service's population data, but there is just this single piece that has been certified.
Coin Index Numbers: (NGC ID# DWLF, PCGS# 680810)
Learn more at the Newman Numismatic Portal at Washington University in St. Louis.
Buyer's Premium per Lot:
20% of the successful bid (minimum $19) per lot.
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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