Gem 1927-D Double Eagle--The Rarest Regular Issue Coin of the 20th Century1927-D $20 MS65 NGC. The Saint-Gaudens series of twenties is replete with scarce, rare, and valuable issues. It is an unusual series for the average collector to understand as the mintages for most issues are meaningless because of mass meltings in the 1930s. Value in this series is based on estimated numbers of survivors rather than mintages and taking a percentage of the mintage and estimating how many may be extant in a given grade. This method works for many Federal U.S. coins, but mintages in the Saint-Gaudens series are nothing more than an interesting footnote.
From 1927 until the early 1930s, 1927-D twenties were available for face value from the Treasury Department. However, virtually no one capitalized on this unique opportunity. From the 1940s through the 1960s, the rarity ratings of the various issues of Saints were in a state of flux as hoards, both large and small, were found in Europe and Central America. Many premier rarities were located, sometimes by the hundreds, and their former glory was tarnished by the appearance of these newly discovered pieces. Examples of this are the 1924-S and the 1926-D, once considered the two keys to the series and both of which turned up in overseas holdings. Fifty years ago the 1926-S, 1927-S, and 1931 were also considered scarcer than the 1927-D, but examples of these issues also appeared overseas. But as the years went by, no "new" 1927-D twenties appeared on the market. Today we still have the same 10-12 coins that were in collections in the 1940s, four of which are permanently impounded in institutions. Below is the current roster of known specimens, which undoubtedly includes some duplication:
1-2) Two specimens in the Smithsonian Institution, from the Denver Mint in 1927.
3) J.F. Bell (Stack's, 12/44), lot 1004, the earliest auction appearance of this issue; Dr. Charles Green Sale (BMM, 4/49), lot 917.
4) The Schermerhorn specimen, sold by Stack's in a private treaty transaction to Josiah K. Lilly in 1953, now in the Smithsonian. This may be a duplicate listing of the #3 specimen above.
5) The F.C.C. Boyd Specimen in WGC (Numismatic Galleries, 1/46), lot 1045; sold by private treaty by Stack's to Louis Eliasberg; Eliasberg (Bowers and Ruddy, 10/82), lot 1067; "prominent Eastern collector."
6) Schmandt Collection (Stack's, 2/57), lot 1072.
7) Lester Merkin 10/69 Sale, lot 626; Gilhousen (Superior, 2/73), lot 1041.
8) Auction '84 (Paramount, 8/84), lot 999; Dr. Steven Duckor.
9) 50th Anniversary Sale (Stack's, 10/85), lot 868.
10) Dallas Bank Collection; "Dallas Bank" Collection (Sotheby's/Stack's, 10/01, lot 206.
11) Western Collection (Stack's, 10/81), lot 1252; "King of Siam" Collection (B&M, 10/87), lot 2201; Charles Kramer Collection (Stack's and Superior, 11/88, lot 913; Century Collection (Superior, 2/92), lot 3339.
12) Connecticut State Library; Museum of Connecticut History Sale (Heritage, 6/95), lot 6026.
13) Connecticut State Library specimen.
14) Orlando Sale (Superior, 10/92), lot 686. The present specimen.
15) Charlotte Collection (Stack's, 3/91), lot 1217; where it was bought by Jay Parrino; Phillip Morse Collection (Heritage, 11/05), lot 6698.
As mentioned above, there are surely some duplicate listings in the above listing, and we make no claim to completeness. The attrition rate for the 1927-D was almost complete. Even if the roster above is correct, a maximum of only 15 specimens are known today out of an original mintage of 180,000 pieces. The only other issue that comes to mind that was even more thoroughly wiped out is the 1895 Morgan dollar, and apparently all 12,000 of the business strikes were melted of that date as only proofs are known today. According to Walter Breen's research, four pairs of dies and two edge collars were shipped to the Denver Mint to produce this issue. It is not known how many die pairs were actually used, but all of the known specimens outside of the Smithsonian are from the same dies as this coin. There is a short star-to-star die crack that passes through the top of the L. Another, longer crack passes from the bottom of the L through the top of the torch and on to the B. On the reverse a long, near-vertical crack passes through the eagle's beak. This is valuable information and not simply meaningless minutiae as alterations have been attempted of this issue in the past. In 1990 John Ford related to the present cataloger (MVW) that he was once offered a 1927-D twenty for sale by a major dealer. The coin lacked the die crack through the eagle's beak. Ford pronounced it to be a counterfeit and pressed the mintmark with his thumbnail. The D popped off and fell on the coin show floor. A mad scramble then ensued for the mintmark while Ford got a great laugh out of the scene.
The 1927-D double eagle is universally considered the rarest U.S. gold coin of the 20th century, and it is also the rarest coin of any denomination or metal from this century. The only close rival is the Ultra High Relief, and while it is valued higher, more examples are known of it than the 1927-D, and many consider the Ultra High Relief a pattern issue. This particular coin has outstanding frosted mint luster, a characteristic that seems to be consistent whenever this issue is located. The centers appear to have been basined and are slightly dished as a result and brighter, while the peripheries show noticeably deeper coloration. Each side shows rich reddish-gold coloration with one identifying light alloy spot in the upper left obverse field. Additionally, a horizontal mark across the breast of Liberty and a mark on the fourth ray to the right of Liberty's thigh also serve to identify this important specimen. Sharply defined except on the stars on the lower left of the obverse, as always, this is a magnificent Gem example of this important 20th century rarity.
Ex: Orlando Sale (Superior, 10/92), lot 686.
From The Delbert McDougal Set of $20 Saint-Gaudens Coins.(Registry values: N19439) (NGC ID# 26GH, PCGS# 9187)
Weight: 33.44 grams
Metal: 90% Gold, 10% Copper
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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
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