1920-S Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle, MS64
1920-S $20 MS64 PCGS. CAC. Ex: Brahin. The 1920-S
Saint-Gaudens double eagle, with an original mintage of 558,000
pieces, is one of the outstanding rarities of the series. Most
examples were apparently kept in government vaults until the 1930s,
when nearly the entire mintage was melted. Noted gold specialist
David Akers nicely summarized the rarity of the 1920-S in his
recently published A Handbook of 20th Century United States Gold
Second Rarest Collectible Issue in High Grade
"The 1920-S is one of the prime rarities in the Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle series, if not in the entire 20th century U.S. gold series. In fact, it is the rarest collectible Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle after only the 1927-D, 1930-S and 1921. The 1920-S is actually rarer than the 1927-D and 1930-S in high grades. Virtually the entire mintage was destroyed during the gold recall of the 1930s--the first of several Saint-Gaudens Double Eagles from the 1920s and 1930s to suffer this fate. The majority of survivors fall somewhere in the Choice AU to MS-64 grade range. High-grade examples, of which there are very few, were almost certainly obtained at the time of issue by collectors who had close ties to Mint or other government officials."
Historically, numismatists estimated the rarity of an issue by keeping track of specimens seen at shows, auction appearances, and in dealer's advertisements. Experts were able to form an accurate impression of a coin's availability on the market at any particular time. Of course, the perceptions changed if a coin became more available through hoard or shipwreck finds. The 1920-S has never been included in such a find, and the supply of high grade coins has remained constant for decades.
In recent times, the importance of data from third party grading services has become a dominant factor in determining the overall rarity of certain issues. Unfortunately, in the case of the 1920-S, the data has been distorted by resubmissions and crossovers, and no longer reflects the true rarity of the issue in higher Mint State grades. To date, NGC has certified 13 examples in MS64, with two finer, at MS65; PCGS has graded 11 specimens in MS64, with four examples in MS65, and two coins in MS66 (10/09). To test this data, we have conducted a search of auction records to see how many coins have appeared at auction and private sale in grades MS64 and above since 1990. The resulting roster reveals that only six coins account for all appearances of the date in MS64, while two separate examples have been cataloged at the Gem level, and two specimens are known in MS66. There are also two coins reported in institutional collections, one MS64 and one MS67. The roster shows a total of seven coins in MS64, versus 24 coins certified by the grading services; two examples in MS65, versus six seen by NGC and PCGS; and the two coins in Premium Gem condition coincide exactly with the population data. It is easy to understand how the population data came to be inflated when the roster is studied for duplicate appearances of the same coin. The Reed Hawn specimen has appeared in six different auctions since 1990, and the Thaine Price coin has appeared in five. It has become common practice to resubmit such a coin to the grading services before any auction appearance, in the hopes of receiving an upgrade. In recent times, some attempt has been made to adjust the population totals when this occurs, but there was no such accounting effort in earlier days. Of course, some auction appearances may have been overlooked, as this is the first attempt to compile such a listing, and it is conceivable that a few high grade specimens have not been offered at auction in the last 20 years. Still, the disparity between the 24 coins certified in MS64 and the seven near-Gem examples that can be documented from the census is dramatic. The roster provides a compelling argument that the 1920-S is much rarer at the near-Gem level than the population data indicate.
The extraordinary near-Gem specimen presented in this lot displays bright peach-gold surfaces that are imbued with just the slightest hint of mint-green undertones. Strike can be a problem on most 1920-S double eagles, and some minor softness is noted on the Capitol building of this example. All in all, though, the design features are strongly impressed, particularly on the fingers of both hands, on the olive branch, and on the eagle's breast feathers. Both sides are well preserved, and reveal fewer handling marks than expected, suggestive of an even higher grade. Outstanding visual appeal and the high technical grade make this specimen an appropriate choice for a fine Registry Set of double eagles.
The following roster of MS64 and finer specimens has been compiled from a study of auction records and private transactions over the past two decades.
1. MS66 PCGS. Louis Eliasberg; The United States Gold Coin Collection (Bowers and Ruddy, 10/1982), lot 1051, not certified at the time, graded Select Brilliant Uncirculated by the cataloger; Dr. Steven Duckor; Phillip H. Morse; The Phillip H. Morse Collection (Heritage, 11/2005), lot 6641 (realized $ 517,500).
2. MS66 PCGS. A coin with an unknown pedigree sold by Todd Imhof of Heritage Auction Galleries to Dr. Steven Duckor in early 2006.
3. MS65 PCGS. Jeff Browning; The "Dallas Bank" Collection (Sotheby's/Stack's, 10/2001), lot 185, not certified at the time, graded Gem Brilliant Uncirculated by the cataloger; Pittsburgh ANA (Heritage, 8/2004), lot 7782; "Dr. EJC" PCGS Registry Set Collection; (the Akers and Bowers plate coin).
4. MS65 PCGS. Milwaukee ANA (Heritage, 8/2007), lot 2074, (realized $264,500).
5. MS64 PCGS. Reed Hawn Collection (Stack's, 10/1993), lot 1118, not certified at the time, graded Choice Brilliant Uncirculated by the cataloger; Long Beach Signature Sale (Heritage, 6/2000), lot 7702; Philadelphia ANA (Heritage, 8/2000), lot 7599; Benson Part II (Goldberg, 2/2002), lot 2271; Dallas Signature Sale (Heritage, 10/2008), lot 2486; Los Angeles ANA (Heritage, 7/2009), lot 1128.
6. MS64 PCGS. Dr. Thaine B. Price Collection (Akers, 5/1998), lot 100, not certified at the time, graded Very Choice Uncirculated by the cataloger; Dr. Richard Ariagno Collection (Goldberg, 5/1999), lot 895; FUN Signature Auction (Heritage,1/2003), lot 9326; San Francisco ANA (Heritage, 7/2005), lot 10428; Long Beach Signature Sale (Heritage, 9/2009), lot 1129.
7. MS64 PCGS. Phillip H. Morse Collection (Heritage, 11/2005), lot 6642; Pre-Long Beach Auction (Goldberg, 9/2007), lot 3523.
8. MS64 PCGS. FUN Signature Auction (Heritage, 1/2007), lot 3287.
9. MS64 PCGS. The Rarities Sale (Bowers and Merena, 10/2004), lot 940.
10. Very Choice Uncirculated 64. Auction '90 (Akers, 8/1990), lot 1988.
Other Known Specimen:
A. A coin in the collection of the American Numismatic Society, reported as a Superb Gem by Jeff Garrett and Ron Guth.
B. A coin in the National Numismatic Collection, Smithsonian Institution, reported to grade at least MS64 by Garrett and Guth.
From The Jay Brahin Collection.(Registry values: N10218) (NGC ID# 26FZ, PCGS# 9171)
Weight: 33.44 grams
Metal: 90% Gold, 10% Copper
Learn more at the Newman Numismatic Portal at Washington University in St. Louis.
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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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