Impressive 1931-D Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle, MS66
1931-D $20 MS66 PCGS. The 1931-D Saint-Gaudens double eagle
claims the sixth lowest mintage of the series, a paltry 106,500
pieces. The issue was probably intended for use in foreign trade,
as there was little call for large denomination coins in the
domestic economy during the Great Depression. Whatever their
intended purpose, it seems certain that only a few specimens were
ever released into circulation, and the great majority of the coins
were melted after the Gold Recall of 1933. Today, experts estimate
a surviving population of 100-150 specimens, with nearly all
examples seen in Uncirculated grades.
Second Rarest Issue from the Denver Mint
Scarce Late Date Key
Collectors have always prized Denver Mint Saint-Gaudens double eagles, but accurate information about the relative rarity of issues in the series has been particularly hard to come by. Today the 1931-D is recognized as one of the rarer issues and a great prize, but its place in the series was not always understood. When David Akers cataloged the 1931-D in the Thaine B. Price Collection (Akers, 5/1998), lot 121, he had this to say about the issue:
"In the distant past, the 1931-D was widely regarded as the fourth or fifth rarest issue of the Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle series, surpassed in rarity only by the 1924-S, 1926-D and 1926-S, as well as possibly the 1927-S, although the latter was usually considered about the equal of the 1931-D. The 1927-D, now the premier issue of the series, was actually thought to be less rare than this issue until the early-1950s when small quantities of the 1931-D first began showing up in European banks. Over the next two decades, several mini-hoards of the 1931-D were discovered, but relatively few of these pieces graded better than Choice Uncirculated and the majority were heavily marked and lackluster."
Today numismatists consider the 1931-D to be the second rarest issue from the Denver facility behind the 1927-D, and its status as a condition rarity is undiminished. Coins at the Gem level are decidedly rare, and extremely rare any finer. This is the only coin NGC has certified at the MS66 level (PCGS has graded four) and none are finer (11/09).
Dr. Charles Green was a keen student of the Saint-Gaudens double eagle series, as well as an important collector and correspondent of Louis Eliasberg during the 1930s and 1940s. He was given access to many Mint records from the 1920s and 1930s, enabling him to determine the exact number of coins the Mint released into circulation during key dates of this period. Unfortunately, the Denver Mint records were in such disarray that he was unable to review them when he made his study in 1947. In his letter to Louis Eliasberg, reproduced in the Lake Michigan and Springdale collections (American Numismatic Rarities, 6/2006), Green reported:
"As to the Denver mint, the records apparently were in bad shape as far as answering my query was concerned. It was stated that it would take a year to provide the information whereupon Mrs. Ross, the Director, because of the rush of work there, told the Denver Mint to forego the matter."
If the Mint was totally confused about the number of coins released during the years in question, it is no wonder the numismatic community had a false picture of the relative rarity of the Denver issues.
The early auction history of the 1931-D reflects the initial confusion about its rarity, and the gradual understanding of its true place in the series that numismatists have attained over the years. Possibly the first auction appearance of the issue was in Sale Number 399 (Morgenthau, 5/1939), lot 557. Wayte Raymond and J.G. MacAllister were the proprietors of the Morgenthau firm, and they were famous for their terse commentary. The lot description read simply, "1931 D Uncirculated and extremely rare." If this was indeed the first offering of this date, it proved an auspicious beginning. The lot realized $130, a significant sum for a coin that could be purchased for face value from the Mint only six years previously.
The issue appeared in several sales in the mid-1940s, and prices continued to be uniformly high, but the gap between the 1931-D and the 1927-D began to close, as the extreme rarity of the latter coin became more apparent. Of course, the 1926-D was still perceived as the rarest coin in the series throughout the decade. Charles Green decided to sell his collection in a landmark auction through dealer B. Max Mehl on April 26, 1949. Lot 918 was impressively presented as:
"The Excessively Rare 1931 Denver Mint $20.00
"1931 $20.00 Gold, Denver Mint. Uncirculated. Perfect in every respect, full frosty mint luster. Extremely rare and valuable. Record in the Bell Sale, in 1944, $1,100.00. Dr. Green purchased this specimen in a Philadelphia Sale, December, 1944, for $920.00. The coin catalogs now at $750.00. It is a great rarity and it is worth well into the four-figure mark."
The lot realized $760, slightly more than its catalog value, but still the lowest price of the 1940s. The 1927-D was close behind, at $630, while the 1926-D continued to lead the pack at $2,500.
The impact of repatriation of European holdings began to be apparent in the 1950s, but catalogers were slow to revise their rarity rankings. An example of the 1931-D double eagle was featured in the J.W. Schmandt Collection (Stack's, 2/1957), lot 1075. In the lot description, the Stack's cataloger reiterated the old beliefs about the relative rarity of the Denver issues, which were clearly out of date by that time.
The cataloger correctly positioned the 1931-D as the second rarest issue in the series, but he continued to record the more numerous 1926-D in the number one spot, with the true champion 1927-D in third place. Collectors were clearly ahead of the catalogers at this juncture, in terms of understanding the true rarity of these issues. The 1926-D in the sale declined sharply, realizing only $500, because knowledge of the finds in Europe had spread. The 1927-D gained more ground, realizing $1,230, while the 1931-D posted an impressive gain at $1,625. Apparently, the public had not become aware of the smaller number of 1931-D coins that had emerged from overseas havens, but the adjustment would soon be made.
By the time of the Wolfson Collection (Stack's, 10/1962), the true order of rarity among the Denver Mint issues had finally been established. Lot 1043 of that sale expounds:
"1931 'D' Uncirculated, with full mint bloom. This coin is the second rarest Denver Mint Double Eagle of the St. Gaudens design, exceeded in rarity only by the elusive and extremely rare 1927 'D'. It is interesting to record here that 15 years ago it was not too difficult to locate a 1927 'D' and yet almost impossible to find a 1931 'D'. Since the recent demand for rare dates and mintmarks has far exceeded the supply, we have been better able to determine which coins are rarer than others. The 1927 'D' is definitely rarer than the 1931 'D'."
The 1931-D was the last double eagle produced at the Denver Mint. A period of 31 years after its date of issue, the true place of the 1931-D double eagle was finally established throughout the numismatic community. The lot realized $1,750, while the once-mighty 1926-D garnered only $500. Despite the emergence of a hoard of 15-20 pieces in 1984, the 1931-D continues to hold its place as the second rarest Saint-Gaudens double eagle from the Denver Mint today.
The mint luster on this piece is nothing short of spectacular. It is frosted and both sides exhibit richly intermingled reddish-gold and lilac patina. As usually seen, the striking details are complete throughout. Only two small marks can be used as pedigree identifiers: One is located on the obverse across ray 7 in the left field; the other is a short, diagonal mark on the top of the sun. This is an opportunity for the Saint-Gaudens specialist to acquire one of the finest examples known of this late-date rarity.
From The Ralph P. Muller Collection.(Registry values: N1) (NGC ID# 26GP, PCGS# 9193)
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 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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