1921 Double Eagle, Vibrant and Well-Struck MS63
1921 $20 MS63 PCGS. Saint-Gaudens double eagles are one of
the most popular series in American numismatics. Even common dates
are prized for their high intrinsic value and artistic beauty. In
addition to these valuable attributes, the 1921 is a close match to
the rarity and desirability of the 1920-S issue and one of the
prime condition rarities among all 20th century coins. High-grade
examples are very rare, and any auction appearance of this date is
a noteworthy event, as examples have realized more than $1 million
on three different occasions (Heritage, 11/2005, MS66 PCGS; Bowers
and Merena, 8/2006, MS63 PCGS; Goldberg, 9/2007, MS65 PCGS PQ).
Noted gold specialist David Akers remarks, "Coins that grade MS63
or finer are offered only once in a very long while."
A Prime Condition Rarity Among 20th Century Coins
The revival of the Morgan dollar in 1921 absorbed most of the resources of the Bureau of the Mint, and gold coinage was a low priority at all three facilities. In fact, the small mintage of 528,500 double eagles achieved at the Philadelphia Mint were the only gold coins of any denomination struck that year. Mintage only began in November, when the Treasury Department determined that some coins were needed to serve as currency reserves. Only 90,000 specimens were delivered in November, with a larger production of 438,500 pieces coming in December. Virtually all these coins were stored in Treasury vaults at the time of issue, and none were available to collectors through regular channels. However, a few well-connected numismatists were able to secure examples from Mint personnel and Treasury officials. These unofficial acquisitions account for the few high-grade coins that survive today, as the great majority of the mintage was melted after the Gold Recall of 1933.
The surviving population includes a surprisingly high percentage of circulated examples, indicating that a small number of coins must have been released into circulation in the 1920s. Very few coins have surfaced in European holdings over the years, suggesting that the 1921 was not used in international specie payments to any great extent. While the rarity of other dates in the series has varied widely over the last eight decades, as hoards of some dates were discovered in foreign banks and the true rarity of issues like the 1927-D became appreciated, the relative rarity of the 1921 has remained stable. The 1921 was regarded as the third or fourth rarest date of the series in the 1940s, and it has held that position to the present day.
The great difficulty collectors experienced in obtaining an example of the 1921 at the time of issue must have become well-known throughout the hobby, because the rarity of this coin was understood at an early date. In what was probably the first auction appearance of a 1921 double eagle, in lot 547 of the remarkable Sale Number 399 (J.C. Morgenthau, May 1939), the cataloger noted, "Uncirculated, brilliant and excessively rare." The coin realized a staggering $260, the fourth highest price in the sale, an impressive achievement for a coin that was only 18 years old at the time. The popularity of the 1921 remains undiminished today.
Experts are in close agreement about the rarity of the 1921 in today's market. David Akers estimates 50 to 60 examples survive in Mint State grades, with a like number in circulated condition. Q. David Bowers postulates 40 to 60 Uncirculated specimens, with 50 to 70 coins in lower grades. The PCGS website estimates about 150 known in all levels of preservation. PCGS and NGC have combined to certify 162 specimens in all grades, including resubmissions and crossovers.
The present coin is a spectacular Select specimen, with mingled orange and greenish-gold surfaces that show a few highlights of lilac. The vibrant mint luster complements the vivid color of the surfaces to produce outstanding eye appeal. The design elements are well-detailed, including Liberty's fingers on the branch hand and the panes and pillars on the Capitol building. An interesting die crack runs through the letters of LIBERTY. Close inspection reveals a few minor contact marks on the rays of the sun, but the fields are remarkably free of distractions for such a large gold coin. The historic rarity, high technical quality, and terrific visual appeal of this example will likely result in intense competition when this lot is called. Population: 10 in 63, 7 finer (11/13).(Registry values: N10218) (NGC ID# 26G2, PCGS# 9172)
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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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