Premium Gem 1920-S Saint-Gaudens Twenty
1920-S $20 MS66 PCGS Secure. CAC. Coins that appear on the
numismatic scene unexpectedly have a special cachet and mystery,
much like buried treasure. Numismatists prize these "fresh"
examples far above the run-of-the-mill pieces that are offered at
one auction after another in quick succession. Like many coins in
Dr. Duckor's collection, this delightful Premium Gem has no recent
auction appearances, and present-day collectors will be amazed at
its technical quality and spectacular eye appeal. This piece was
discovered in an old-time collection around 2006 and sold to Dr.
Duckor in a private treaty transaction. We have been unable to
trace its last public offering, and series enthusiasts will be
excited to see it offered for the first time in many years.
Extraordinary Rarity and Quality
Tied for Finest Certified
The present coin is a magnificent Premium Gem, with vivid orange-gold surfaces that display a few highlights of lilac and green. The mint luster is vibrant and frosty, creating extraordinary visual appeal. The design elements are sharply detailed throughout, with just a touch of flatness on the stars below the Capitol. The surfaces are free of significant distractions, but a shiny mint-made depression can be observed between two of the obverse rays, and a small luster graze on the sun could serve as a pedigree marker. This coin is tied with one other MS66 example at PCGS for the title of "Finest Certified" (10/11). Altogether, this piece is one of the most attractive and important coins in the remarkable Duckor collection.
The 1920-S is the first date in the series to owe its rarity to the great Gold Recall of 1933. The recorded mintage of 558,000 pieces should have ensured future generations of collectors an ample supply of high-grade coins to choose from, but such was not the case. The 1920-S is the fifth rarest issue of the 53-coin series in terms of number of specimens known, and it occupies the third spot in terms of high-grade rarity. The great majority of the coins were stored in Treasury vaults as backing for gold certificates, and few examples escaped the mass meltings of the mid-1930s.
A small number of coins were undoubtedly released into circulation, as the 1920-S is one of the few double eagles from the era that is seen nearly as often in circulated grades as it is in Mint State. The June 1920 edition of The Numismatist records that 15,000 double eagles were struck in April 1920, the first double eagles struck at any mint since 1916. It would be logical to assume this small emission was in response to a need for coins in the local economy, while the larger deliveries later in the year would have served as currency reserves, but that is uncertain. Unfortunately, The Numismatist does not specify if these coins were from Philadelphia or San Francisco. New research by Roger W. Burdette reveals that no Philadelphia 1920 double eagles were released into circulation until March 26, 1926, so if the April delivery was intended for circulation, it must represent San Francisco coins. The remnants of this small delivery would then represent the circulated examples of the 1920-S we know about today. Further research is needed to confirm the theory.
Some resourceful numismatists succeeded in acquiring specimens of the 1920-S directly from the Mint at the time of issue. Others relied on inside connections with Mint officials or Treasury Department personnel. Two collectors who followed this practice were Connecticut State Senator William Henry Hall and his friend George Seymour Godard, the Connecticut State Librarian. Godard and Hall often obtained their coins through Dr. Thomas Louis Comparette, the curator of the Mint Cabinet, and many of those pieces were acquired for the collection of the Connecticut State Library, where they can be seen today. It would not surprise us to learn that the present coin, with its unparalleled quality and appearance, was originally obtained through connections at the Mint or the Treasury Department.
Unlike some dates of the series, only a few specimens of the 1920-S have turned up in European holdings over the years. Appearances have been few and widely scattered, with no significant number of pieces recovered from foreign sources at any time. The supply of high-grade specimens remains small today, with different experts estimating the surviving Mint State population in the range of 40-75 pieces. In higher Mint State grades, the 1920-S is even rarer. PCGS has certified only two coins in MS66, with another four in MS65, one in MS64+, and 11 examples in MS64 (10/11). We have compiled a roster of all specimens graded MS64 and above that we are aware of from a search of auction records over the last 15 years. We can account for only 16 pieces that grade MS64 or finer, and two of them are in institutional collections. Clearly, the chance to acquire a specimen of this quality will only occur rarely, and we doubt that any other example of this rare date could bestow the pride of ownership this specimen will provide some determined collector.
1920-S Double Eagle Roster, MS64 and Finer Specimens.
1. MS66 PCGS. The present specimen. A coin from an old-time collection, sold by Todd Imhof of Heritage Auctions to Dr. Steven Duckor in early 2006. Depicted on the PCGS Coin Facts website.
2. MS66 PCGS. Louis Eliasberg, Sr.; 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 Collection (Heritage, 11/2005), lot 6641, realized $517,500.
3. MS65 PCGS. Jeff Browning; 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. MS65 PCGS. FUN Signature (Heritage, 1/2011), lot 5314, realized $212,750.
6. 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 (Heritage, 6/2000), lot 7702; Philadelphia ANA (Heritage, 8/2000), lot 7599; Benson Collection, Part II (Goldberg, 2/2002), lot 2271; Dallas Signature (Heritage, 10/2008), lot 2486; Los Angeles ANA (Heritage, 7/2009), lot 1128; Central States Signature (Heritage, 4/2010), lot 2352, realized $126,500; Central States Signature (Heritage, 4/2011), lot 5518; Chicago Signature (Heritage, 8/2011), lot 7700.
7. MS64 PCGS. Dr. Thaine B. Price Collection (David 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 (Heritage, 1/2003), lot 9326; San Francisco ANA (Heritage, 7/2005), lot 10428; Long Beach Signature (Heritage, 9/2009), lot 1950, realized $132,250.
8. MS64 PCGS. Phillip H. Morse Collection (Heritage, 11/2005), lot 6642; Pre-Long Beach Auction (Goldberg, 9/2007), lot 3523; Pre-Long Beach Auction (Goldberg, 1/2010), lot 2628.
9. MS64 PCGS. FUN Signature (Heritage, 1/2007), lot 3287; Jay Brahin; FUN Signature (Heritage, 1/2010), lot 2314, realized $161,000.
10. MS64 PCGS. Rarities Sale (Bowers and Merena, 10/2004), lot 940.
11. Very Choice Uncirculated 64. Auction '90 (David Akers, 8/1990), lot 1988.
12. MS64 PCGS. FUN Signature (Heritage, 1/2010), lot 2313, realized $133,975.
13. MS64+ PCGS Secure. CAC. Simpson Collection; ANA Signature (Heritage, 8/2010), lot 3622, realized $161,000.
14. MS64 Secure PCGS. Chicago Signature (Heritage, 8/2011), lot 7699.
15. MS64 Uncertified. The example in the National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian Institution.
16. A specimen in the ANS Collection, reported to be a "superb gem" by Jeff Garrett and Ron Guth.
David Akers Comments:
This is the third most valuable collectible regular issue of the series in all grades, exceeded by only the 1927-D and 1921. Not surprisingly then, it is one of the most important coins by which the quality of any set of Saint-Gaudens double eagles is ultimately judged. The 1920-S is not the third rarest issue in the series in terms of total population rarity, however, since there are many more examples of this issue in existence than there are of the 1930-S and 1932 although most of them are EF, AU and the lowest uncirculated grades below MS63. While the half million plus mintage of the 1920-S is less than that of most of the other rarities of the 1920's, like the others this issue was not really intended for general circulation. However, the number of circulated examples around shows that at least some small quantities were released into public hands, and other modest quantities were also sent to Europe between 1926 and 1933, probably in mixed date, mostly circulated bags (same for the 1921). I doubt if any single date bags of uncirculated 1920-S double eagles were ever sent overseas since no large quantity or even small groups of uncirculated 1920-S Saints were ever returned to the U.S., just the occasional circulated or minimal uncirculated specimen. Paul Wittlin, the European buyer for James Kelly and later Paramount, searched more than 20 years for rare and scarce date U.S. gold coins in Paris and Swiss banks and acquired some amazing things yet managed to find only the occasional single AU or uncirculated 1920-S double eagle, never any quantities of uncirculated pieces and not a single one that was really nice, like MS63 or better. So it is my opinion that the known population of the 1920-S has not materially changed in decades and nearly all of the specimens in the hands of collectors and dealers today, and certainly all of the better grade ones, were most likely the ones known in the 1940's. That is probably why the 1920-S was considered only rare at that time but not really one of the major rarities of the day. Since then the 1920-S has risen to the top of the rarity pyramid of Saint-Gaudens double eagles, not because it has been found to be more rare than originally thought but rather because all of the others ahead of it at that time (except the 1921) were subsequently found in sufficient quantities to prove them less rare.
It is in the grades of choice uncirculated and above that the 1920-S really makes its case as a major rarity today. Relatively few grade as high as MS63 and MS64, perhaps only 25-35 pieces between the two grades combined and, in gem MS65 condition, no more than 6-8 are known, if that many when strict grading is applied, including the Jeff Browning (Dallas Bank Collection) specimen as perhaps the finest of that grade group. Only two MS66 examples have been graded and both have been owned by Dr. Steven Duckor. He and I attended the Eliasberg sale together in 1982 when he bought the first of the two coins. The Eliasberg coin was very conservatively graded MS63 but it was obviously a gem with great color, luster and eye appeal. It subsequently was graded MS66 by PCGS. Almost 20 years later, Dr. Duckor decided to sell the coin because he received an offer for it that was simply too good to turn down. He didn't expect to ever own another 1920-S again, but fortunately, some years later, he had the opportunity to purchase the 1920-S now offered here with his collection, also graded MS66 by PCGS. In my opinion, his current MS66 coin is clearly finer than the Eliasberg specimen he previously owned even though they are both in holders with the same technical grade. I believe that this coin is actually deserving of a (+) designation at the very least and that it is every bit as superb as any of the other MS66+ coins in his set, if not finer.
From The Dr. and Mrs. Steven L. Duckor Collection.
Seller is donating a portion of their proceeds, and Heritage is donating the same portion of the Buyer's Premium, from the sale of this lot to the National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian Institution. See page 3 for details.(Registry values: N1) (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.
View all of [The Dr. and Mrs. Steven L. Duckor Collection ]
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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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