Near-Gem 1921 Saint-Gaudens Twenty
1921 $20 MS64 PCGS. The 1921 double eagle is one of the
legendary rarities in the Saint-Gaudens series. It is often
compared to the 1920-S. However, it is only comparable in the total
number of pieces known of each. The 1921 differs significantly from
the 1920-S because of the lack of Uncirculated survivors. The
majority of 1921 twenties are in circulated grades. It is
significant that the Thaine Price Collection lacked a 1921, and the
Browning, Eliasberg, Amon Carter, and Floyd Starr collections all
had AU coins. Clearly the challenge for the advanced collector of
Saint-Gaudens twenties is not to hold out for a Gem or better
example, but just to have the opportunity to acquire a coin in any
grade. That said, there are a couple of extraordinary pieces known,
both of which trace their origin to George Godard, who provided the
Museum of Connecticut History with coins through Louis Comparette
after the death of Joseph Mitchelson in 1911. Both of Godard's
coins (an MS66 and MS65) were sold in 1982, and the coins were
reunited in the Phillip H. Morse Collection. The MS66 brought
$1,092,500 and the MS65 realized $805,000 when we sold both in
November 2005. There is also an intriguing coin that is called a
Roman Finish proof striking. This unusual coin traces its pedigree
to Raymond T. Baker, Mint director in 1921, and was struck on the
occasion of his nephew's birth.
Second Only to the 1933 in High Grade Rarity
As a high grade rarity, the 1921 is second only to the 1933. Both major services have graded a total of 154 pieces in grades that range from VF35 to MS66. We estimate that no more than 45 to 60 circulated pieces exist, plus another 55 to 70 examples in Uncirculated grades. Most of the Mint State coins cluster around MS62, but that total is a mere 34 pieces (minus obvious resubmissions). In MS63 and finer, the survivors known probably number no more than 20 pieces.
Obviously almost the entire mintage of 528,500 pieces was melted in the 1930s, a situation that does compare to the 1920-S. In both cases, the number known today has remained stable over the past 50 years with only a few (Walter Breen says five) examples recovered from European sources. The rarity of the 1921 was recognized early on. Breen writes that forgeries of the 1921 were made in Europe before 1953. Such pieces show the numerals leaning to the right and lettering that differs from genuine pieces.
In an interesting and remarkable letter first published in the June 2006 American Numismatic Rarities auction catalog, Dr. Charles W. Green writes to Louis Eliasberg in February 1947. Dr. Green had inquired of Mint officials about the availability of Saint-Gaudens twenties, realizing at an early date how rare certain issues were relative to their mintage. Mint officials told Dr. Green "the true record would be, not the number struck, but the number 'put out'; that is actually issued from the producing mints, all the rest having gone to the melt and of course very possibly some of those put out went to the melt also." He listed several rarities, among which was the 1921: "Of the 1921 Philadelphia double eagle, only 25 coins were put out. So there we have a perfect record of rarity. The rest went to the melt." It is natural to assume that with certain rarities more pieces were rescued prior to melting by Treasury Department or Mint employees. Such would seem to be the case with the 1921, with the number known at least six times larger than the number "put out."
The 1921 has brought strong prices at auction since double eagles were first collected as a series beginning in the late 1930s. Henry Morgenthau's Sale Number 399 (5/1939) had a 1921 that he termed "excessively rare" and the coin brought $260. Five years later, the 1921 in the Belden Roach Collection (Mehl, 2/1944) realized $945. At that time, Mehl stated "After making some inquiry, I found that not more than four or five specimens were known to exist." The Bell coin (Stack's, 12/1944) crossed the four-figure mark at public auction when it brought $1,125.
The 1921 is such a rare coin in Uncirculated grades that not much is known about its luster characteristics. It is generally regarded as having a satiny finish rather than a frosted surface, but this is one of the few coins that display soft mint frost. Additionally, the color is a lovely reddish-gold with a pale accent of lime-green around the margins. Striking details are usually incomplete on the high grade pieces known, and this piece follows suit, with soft definition on Liberty's nose, toes, and the center of the eagle's breast. This piece is easily identifiable by a star-shaped mark or possible die flaw in the center of Liberty's forehead. Apparently all 1921 twenties show peripheral die cracks on the reverse. With a mintage of more than half a million pieces, it is obvious that numerous die pairings were used; no single set of die cracks should fit all known pieces. This coin shows the usually seen cracks from below the eagle's beak, through the beak, and into UN. The tops of TWENTY are all connected by another crack, and an even more prominent one begins at the R in AMERICA and terminates in the eagle's tailfeathers. Perhaps most noticeable is an arc-shaped crack through the sun on the lower reverse that parallels the rim.
The opportunity to acquire a 1921 in any grade is rare. This splendid MS64 affords the advanced collector a seldom-seen chance to add this rarity to a first-rate set of Saint-Gaudens twenties.
From The Ralph P. Muller Collection.(Registry values: N14284) (NGC ID# 26G2, PCGS# 9172)
View all of [The Ralph P. Muller 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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