1927-D Double Eagle, Ex: Dr. Steven Duckor, MS65+
1927-D $20 MS65+ PCGS. CAC. Ex: Fox-Duckor. It is an honor
and a privilege whenever Heritage Auctions has the opportunity to
offer a 1927-D double eagle, the rarest regular-issue United States
coin -- whether gold, silver, nickel, or copper -- struck during
the 20th century. The present example, certified MS65+ by PCGS,
rests solidly in the lower Condition Census for the issue, behind
the finest-known Phillip Morse coin in MS67 and four other pieces
in MS66 at PCGS (11/19).
Rarest Regular-Issue 20th Century American Coin
Likely Seven Examples Publicly Available
It has been five years now since we handled a 1927-D double eagle, the previous appearance coming during our March 2014 sale of the Donald E. Bently Collection, when we offered the piece listed as #7 in the roster below. That MS63 PCGS coin crossed our auction block at $1,292,500.
The small surviving population of 1927-D double eagles, 12 or 13 pieces all told, is neatly divided into three classes:
--Those which have appeared with some regularity (although not frequency) in the marketplace, and here we count seven pieces (#1-#7 below);
--Those one or two numismatic phantoms, coins that have seemingly disappeared from the numismatic marketplace, possible duplicates, one unseen since 1973, the other (if indeed it is another) unseen since 1957 (#8 and #9, respectively); and
--The four coins presumably off the market forever, ensconced in longstanding museum collections -- the Connecticut State Museum piece and the three in the Smithsonian (#10-#13 below).
The foregoing summary, showing an effective maximum population of seven coins in the marketplace, should make it quite plain to potential bidders how seldom auction or private offerings can be expected to occur.
It is noteworthy, examining the roster below, that only a single example of the 1927-D is currently graded MS63 by PCGS, while the majority of survivors that have traded in recent years are in the MS65-MS66 grade range at PCGS.
The present offering, the MS65+ PCGS example listed as #6 below, traces its provenance back to legendary Dayton, Ohio, dealer James Kelly (1907-1968). We recently had the pleasure of discovering that this example, prior to coming to the present consignor, was earlier in the Dr. Steven Duckor Collection. Dr. Duckor held the coin for nearly 15 years, having purchased it from Auction '84 for $198,000 including buyer's premium. Dr. Duckor later consigned it to the Dr. Thaine B. Price auction, cataloged by David Akers in 1998. It was unknown to most collectors, but Dr. Thaine B. Price never owned a 1927-D double eagle, even though he certainly had a monumental collection in many regards. Dr. Duckor's 1927-D, at the time graded MS65 PCGS, brought $577,500. Three years later it went unsold (as far as we can determine) in a Superior auction. It then appeared in our FUN Signature Platinum Night session in January 2014, where it realized $1,997,500 before making its way to our current consignor.
Heritage Auctions, of course, conducted the sale of the Dr. and Mrs. Steven L. Duckor Collection of Saint-Gaudens Double Eagles (minus the 1927-D) as part of our Platinum Night offerings at FUN 2012. For that incredible collection, we enlisted the services of David Akers once again as consulting guest cataloger, where he made many cogent comments concerning the series in general and the Duckor Collection in particular, contributions that added immeasurably to the depth and breadth of the cataloging.
Little did we know in 2012, however, that Akers had actually cataloged the Dr. Duckor 1927-D double eagle some 14 years earlier in 1998, when it was part of the Dr. Thaine B. Price catalog.
The back story to so many scarce and rare-date Saint-Gaudens double eagles -- and here we mean the 1924-D and 1924-S, 1925-S, 1926-D and 1926-S, 1927-S, the 1929-1932 issues, the 1920-S and 1921 -- is one of shifting rarity relationships over the decades. At one time, in the 1940s, the 1926-D issue was considered the premier rarity among Saint-Gaudens double eagles (excluding the pattern Ultra High Reliefs and the uncollectible 1933s).
As late as 1957, in the Schmandt/Eastern University sale, Stack's ranked the 1926-D as the rarest in the entire series, with the 1931-D second, and the 1927-D third. (Despite this ranking, the 1927-D in that sale brought more than the 1926-D even though both were called Brilliant Uncirculated, $1,230 versus $500.)
Collectors of the series from the 1940s onward were constantly having to reevaluate their perceptions of rarity among the various issues, as scattered individual pieces and the occasional minihoard would turn up in some overseas bank vault or family holdings.
These discoveries of rare-date American gold treasures were far from accidental. Knowledgeable coin traders were actively seeking scarce and rare double eagle issues that had left American shores. As Akers wrote for our 2012 offering of Dr. Duckor's 1921 double eagle in MS66 PCGS, lot 4630:
"Paul Wittlin [overseas buyer for James Kelly and Paramount] scoured European banks for more than 20 years and he had the best contacts in the Paris and Swiss banks of anyone. He uncovered numerous groups of rare dates over the years as well as some amazing individual rarities which were then shipped back to the U.S. to dealer James Kelly and later Max Humbert at Paramount. Shipments were still coming in regularly when I first started at Paramount in 1972. Undoubtedly, Wittlin's greatest discovery was the second known example of the 1861 Philadelphia Paquet double eagle; he purchased it in Paris for $7,500 in the late 1960s. Although he did find the occasional 1921 and even a couple of small groups consisting of several pieces, he never found a single specimen that was as nice as choice uncirculated. They were all what Max Humbert, the co-founder of Paramount with James Kelly, called 'lustrous EF,' generally today's AU50-58 grades, or 'lustrous AU' which were typically MS60-62 coins by current grading standards. I remember one shipment from Wittlin with four 1921 double eagles, all only 'lustrous EF' to Max Humbert, as was the 1861 Paquet by the way! He only graded a gold coin 'uncirculated' if it was very lustrous and minimally bagmarked as well as having no obvious friction or really severe marks. Who wouldn't like to buy from him today with that grading standard?"
Given the history of the 1927-D and the condition of the remaining coins in the marketplace, the issue is one that is strikingly different from this "found in overseas hoards and now not as rare as formerly thought" paradigm. In fact, the prevailing MS66 condition of most survivors would preclude their ever having been shipped overseas and returned. The shifting around in bank bags, and the subsequent bagmarks such storage would produce, would limit such coins to lower Mint State grades -- a phenomenon often seen on the issues known to have been found in quantity overseas. To our knowledge, not a single 1927-D ever turned up in any of those overseas hoards. It appears that most of the surviving 1927-D double eagles ultimately derive from collectors who obtained them directly from the Denver Mint. (Compare the condition of the 1927-D double eagles with the 1926-D, where today most examples grade MS62 or MS63.)
The provenance of the present coin becomes murky before James Kelly, who worked with Burdette G. Johnson in St. Louis until 1946, before subsequently going on to found Paramount with Max Humbert. We wonder if perhaps Johnson could have been the source for the Kelly-"Mr. Lima"-Duckor-Martin-Fox 1927-D. Johnson was, of course, heavily involved in evaluating and dispersing the collections of both Col. E.H.R. Green and Virgil Brand. But if Col. Green had had a 1927-D double eagle, it almost certainly would have gone to the flamboyant King Farouk of Egypt, yet his collection lacked a 1927-D. Chicago brewer Virgil Brand died in 1926, so a 1927-D would not have come to Johnson via that route. Johnson was resourceful and knowledgeable, however, and might have been able to acquire one through his network of contacts. St. Louis was considered a Western city in those days, and Johnson probably had a strong network of clerks and bank tellers and collectors in the Denver area. One such collector was Edward B. Morgan, who likely originally acquired the F.C.C. Boyd 1927-D. Morgan lived in Denver and seems to have purchased a specimen of every Denver Mint coin directly from the mint every year from 1906 until he died in 1935. Boyd acquired his collection (or one very similar to it) in 1937, according to the February 1937 issue of The Numismatist.
The 1927-D was one of 16 gold coins from earlier dates that the Treasury Department was offering to collectors for face value plus shipping in the summer of 1932. Most of the 1927-D double eagles we know today must have come from collectors who took advantage of offers like this. Johnson, or perhaps Kelly himself, was well-placed to acquire those coins when the original owners passed away or sold them in the hard times of the Depression-era 1930s.
Kelly sold the coin in the late 1940s for $2,000 to an anonymous Lima, Ohio collector, often called simply "Mr. Lima," who held onto the coin until the Auction '84 offering where Dr. Duckor acquired it. Thanks to some correspondence from "Mr. Lima" that Dr. Duckor preserved, we have recently identified the mysterious early owner as James Alfred MacDonell, a magnanimous philanthropist and oil company executive from Lima, who donated the proceeds from the sale of his 1927-D to the Allen County Museum. Dr. Duckor placed a letter from MacDonell detailing the prior history of the coin in a custom 13 x 15 inch Capital Plastics frame, along with the original flip from Jim Kelly and the flip from Auction '84. This coin was previously certified MS66 by NGC and the insert from that encapsulation, and the frame with the correspondence from "Mr. Lima" accompanies this lot (for an article on the frame and "Mr. Lima" be sure to check the Winter 2019-2020 edition of the Intelligent Collector).
It is worth noting that, according to the pedigree we can trace, this coin has traded hands an average of less than once per decade, having had possibly only five or six recorded owners between James Kelly and the present consignor.
The overall rarity of the 1927-D double eagle almost instantly reminds us of that of the 1804 silver dollar; in fact, counting the restrikes and museum pieces, the surviving populations are not far different. What is different, though, is that the 1804 dollars were struck under "unusual circumstances" -- backdated dies and diplomatic presentation pieces for the originals, "midnight minters," well-connected cronies, and crooked Mint directors for the restrikes. Many of the standout rarities of U.S. coinage were struck and/or left the Mint under circumstances that are unusual, unexplained, or unknown.
None of those cloudy, murky beginnings apply to the 1927-D double eagles. Simply put, they were a low-mintage issue from the outset -- although not extraordinarily so, with 180,000 pieces struck -- and most appear to have simply been melted after the Gold Recall of 1933.
As we noted earlier, David Akers cataloged the present piece when Dr. Duckor consigned it as lot 115 in the Price Collection. Given Akers' preeminence in the field (and that we now know that this is, in fact, the ex: Dr. Duckor coin), we believe it fitting to quote some of his comments from the Price Collection where the piece was offered, certified MS65 PCGS at the time:
"This is a truly magnificent example of this renowned rarity which is undoubtedly the rarest, most famous, and most desirable collectible regular issue United States gold coin of the Twentieth Century. It is completely original and fully struck with lustrous, frosty surfaces and superb light to medium orange gold color. There are just a few trivial bagmarks and hairlines present and the coin is clearly a Gem of the highest order, one that is very conservatively graded by PCGS. This piece was struck from the die pair most commonly seen, identifiable by a small die break running from the bottom serif of the L across the I to the torch, and by a vertical die break through the eagle's beak on the reverse."
We would add little to the Akers description above. Akers, Dr. Steven Duckor, and Rollo Fox had remarkable eyes for quality, which is blatant throughout this coin in every respect. The present coin is a magnificent Plus-graded Gem that possesses extraordinary eye appeal to complement the high technical grade. The design elements are fully struck, with countable columns in the Capitol building and razor-sharp definition on the eagle's claw and feathers. The often-seen vertical die crack through the eagle's beak is present, as well as another break on the obverse that passes through the bottom of LI in LIBERTY, through the torch, and on to B. Radiant, frosty mint luster is evident on both sides. The completely original and well-preserved orange-gold surfaces display highlights of lilac and mint-green at the peripheries, with no alloy spots. A few minor contact marks are well-hidden in the rays on the left, providing the only obvious pedigree markers. The strike is better in hand than it may look in the photograph, where glare often obscures the definition on the Capitol and lower stars.
1927-D Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle Roster
David Akers, cataloging in 1998 the present coin in the Price Collection (#6 below), said he had examined 12 different examples of the 1927-D and that there are a "few auction records for pieces that I cannot match with the specimens that I am familiar with." With the benefit of 21 more years of hindsight that Akers lacked, we stand by the roster below, yet admit the possibility that a small handful of examples may have gone for many decades without ever appearing in the public eye. Even so, there are, today, effectively only seven examples trading in the numismatic marketplace, and they appear infrequently.
Infrequently Traded Examples
1. MS67 PCGS. Charlotte Collection (Stack's, 3/1991), lot 1217, $522,500; Jay Parrino; Phillip H. Morse Collection of Saint-Gaudens Coinage (Heritage, 11/2005), lot 6697, $1,897,500; Todd Imhof (then at Pinnacle Rarities) on behalf of a private client. A small diagonal mark appears at the center of Liberty's waist.
2. MS66 PCGS. Primary Bartle Collection (Stack's, 10/1985), lot 868, $275,000; Orlando Sale (Superior, 8/1992), lot 686, unsold; Delbert McDougal Set of $20 Saint-Gaudens Coins (Heritage, 1/2006), lot 3624, $1,322,500; FUN Signature (Heritage, 1/2007), lot 3303, unsold. A mark at the midpoint of the fourth ray right of Liberty identifies this example.
3. MS66 PCGS. Lester Merkin via private treaty (per Julian Leidman); Herb Tobias; Mike Brownlee and Julian Leidman; H. Jeff Browning (9/24/1974), $175,000; Dallas Bank Collection (Sotheby's-Stack's, 10/2001), lot 206, $402,500; ANA Sale (Bowers and Merena, 8/2003), lot 4417, unsold; later, Rare Coin Wholesalers (6/2005, $1,650,000); Legend Numismatics; BRS Legacy Collection (6/2005). Small marks appear on the rays above the 19 in the date.
4. MS66 PCGS. Possibly Edward B. Morgan, directly from the Denver Mint in 1927; F.C.C. Boyd; World's Greatest Collection (Numismatic Gallery, 1/1946), lot 1045, $650; Stack's (privately); Louis E. Eliasberg, Sr.; U.S. Gold Coin Collection (Bowers and Ruddy, 10/1982), lot 1067, $176,000; later, Dr. William Crawford. A July 2005 NGC press release stated that the coin was submitted by an anonymous Western dealer at the 2005 New York Invitational Coin Show, and that it was previously from an old private collection; later, North American Certified Trading (1/2006); East Coast dealer; Legend Numismatics (12/2009), to collector via private treaty. The coin was graded MS65 in the Eliasberg catalog. The obverse has a tiny spot in the field just above the right (facing) shoulder. There appears to be an alloy spot on the fourth feather down from the top of the eagle's wing, below the S in DOLLARS.
5. MS66 PCGS. Denver Mint (1927); Museum of Connecticut History-Connecticut State Library (Heritage, 6/1995), lot 6026, $390,500 (as MS66 NGC); Jay Parrino; numerous intermediaries; FUN Signature (Heritage, 1/2010), lot 2331, $1,495,000; Legend Numismatics, to collector via private treaty (1/2010); John Albanese in 2011, private collection.
6. MS65+ PCGS. James Kelly (late 1940s); "Mr. Lima" (private Lima, Ohio collector J.A. MacDonell), $2,000; Auction '84 (Paramount, 7/1984), lot 999, $198,000; Dr. Steven Duckor (1984); Dr. Thaine B. Price Collection [consigned by Dr. Duckor] (David Akers, 5/1998), lot 115 (as MS65 PCGS), $577,500; National Money Show (Superior, 3/2001), lot 989, unsold; Douglas Martin Collection; FUN Signature (Heritage, 1/2014), lot 5597, as MS66 NGC, $1,997,500; Fox Collection. The present coin. Several tiny marks or spots are visible on or between the rays left of Liberty.
7. MS63 PCGS. Western Collection (Stack's, 12/1981), lot 1252, $220,000; Julian Leidman; Vermont collector; King of Siam Sale (Bowers and Merena, 10/1987), lot 2201, $242,000; Charles Kramer Collection (Stack's and Superior, 11/1988), lot 913, $187,000; Century Collection (Superior, 2/1992), lot 3339, unsold; January-February Auction (Superior, 1/1993), lot 1595, $137,500; Richmond Collection, Part I (David Lawrence, 7/2004), lot 2431, $575,000; Bob Green, acting as agent for the owner of the Lord Baltimore Registry Set; Park Avenue Registry Set; Donald E. Bently; Bently Collection (Heritage, 3/2014), lot 30506, realized $1,292,500; D.L. Hansen Collection. A diagonal field mark is visible between the end of Liberty's flowing hair and the rays below. A linear field mark runs southwest from near the bottom of the olive stem.
These are coins that have gone unseen, to our knowledge, for decades -- one since 1957, one since 1973. They could possibly represent duplications of other coins on this list, or else they seem to have disappeared. We can assume that they are off the market unless they resurface.
8. MS64. Blaise Dantone Collection (Lester Merkin, 10/1969), lot 526, $32,000; anonymous collector (perhaps Edwards Metcalf), after 10/1969, $32,000+; Gilhousen Collection (Superior, 2/1973), lot 1041, $60,000. A small spot is evident below the second L in DOLLARS. A small field mark is visible below the forearm.
9. MS64. An Eastern university; Schmandt Collection/Eastern University Sale (Stack's, 2/1957), lot 1072; present location unknown. A small spot is visible in the field below the tip of the fourth feather down from the top of the eagle.
These pieces are housed in museum or institutional collections and presumably off the market forever. The Museum of Connecticut History deaccessioned its duplicate example in 1995 and auctioned it through Heritage.
10. MS66. Smithsonian Institution 1984.1046.0812. Likely obtained directly from the Denver Mint in the late 1920s-early 1930s. Depicted in Jeff Garrett and Ron Guth's Encyclopedia of U.S. Gold Coins 1795-1933 and illustrated on the Smithsonian website. A tiny tick appears on Liberty's exposed right (facing) knee, and a small mark shows on the ray just left of the D mintmark and one slightly further down the ray above the 9. The strike is incredibly sharp. On the reverse, a wispy die crack runs through the crossbar of (AMERIC)A, through two adjacent feathers and into the field below, a diagnostic shared with the Smithsonian coin 11, just below. The reverse shows a small scrape through three rays above (TRU)ST on the right side. On the lower left rays, tiny ticks occur on rays 5, 7, and 9 counting from the left inward.
11. MS65. Smithsonian Institution NU283645. J.F. Bell Collection (Stack's, 12/1944), lot 1004, $500. Dr. Charles Green (B. Max Mehl, 4/1949), lot 917, $630. The Green coin is unplated in the catalog, but Mehl specifically attributes the coin as the J.F. Bell specimen in his lot description. Robert Schermerhorn; Stack's (privately, 1953); Josiah K. Lilly; Smithsonian Institution (1968). The 1944 Bell sale was the first public offering of a 1927-D double eagle. In 2009, Heritage catalogers obtained previously unpublished images of this coin from the late Dick Doty, former National Numismatic Collection curator, and plate-matched it to the photo in the Bell catalog. On the obverse, a near-vertical nick appears near the bottom end of the olive stem, clearly visible on both the Bell and SI images. There is a tiny dark spot below the L of LIBERTY, and a spot on Liberty's right (facing) knee. Luster grazes in the left field have a triangular-shaped top, with the bottom ending precisely at the tip of the third long ray from the left (visible on both). There is a near-vertical die crack through the forward portion of the eagle's beak.
12. MS66. Smithsonian Institution 1985.0441.1523. Likely obtained directly from the Denver Mint in the late 1920s-early 1930s. In 2009 Heritage catalogers obtained previously unpublished images of this coin from the late Dick Doty, former National Numismatic Collection curator; those photos revealed that this coin has a couple of amazing similarities and several distinct differences from the Bell-Lilly-Smithsonian coin #11. A nick appears at the bottom of the olive branch, but on this coin the nick is more diagonal than near-vertical, about paralleling the bottom stem edge. A tiny dark spot appears just to the right of the nick, in the field. There is also a near-identical (to the Bell coin) mark on Liberty's belly, but here it is just about horizontal. The luster grazes in the left obverse field are more minor on this piece, without a triangular top and not quite meeting the tip of the third long ray counting from the left.
13. MS66. Denver Mint (1927); Museum of Connecticut History -- Connecticut State Library C08433. In 2009 Heritage catalogers obtained previously unpublished images of this well-struck coin, one of two 1927-Ds obtained directly from the Denver Mint in the year of issue by then-Connecticut State Librarian George S. Godard; its sibling, #5 above, was offered by Heritage in 2010. This specimen has two near-parallel reverse toning streaks that provide a clear identification, running through the eagle's rear tail feathers to the rim beneath CA. A small die crack runs through the crossbar of the last A in AMERICA, through the eagle's longest tail feather and out in the field. A smaller crack connects the tops of CA, and there appear to be traces of the usually seen straight-line vertical crack through the eagle's beak. On the obverse a tiny tick appears near the top of the fourth ray counting from the right, along with the usually seen straight die crack through LI and the torch. Some light field marks appear between the olive branch, Liberty's right (facing) arm, and TY.
David Akers (2008) Comments:
The 1927-D is by far the rarest collectible, regular-issue Saint-Gaudens double eagle. Furthermore, it is also the rarest 20th century United States gold coin of any denomination. (the 1933 Double Eagle is considered essentially uncollectible because the federal government has legalized only a single example for private ownership). Estimates on the number of 1927-D Double Eagles extant vary, but we feel that a range of 12-20 pieces is most appropriate. This issue was noticeably absent from the hoards of Double Eagles that returned to the United States from South America and Europe during the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. It is likely, therefore, that all but a few of the 180,000 pieces struck remained secluded in federal vaults and were eventually destroyed during the 1930s. Most survivors were probably obtained directly from the Mint or Treasury Department during or shortly after the year of issue - a theory that gains support from the fact that virtually all 1927-D Double Eagles grade MS63 or finer. In fact, the 1927-D is not the rarest collectible Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle in high grades. The 1920, 1920-S, 1921, 1925-D, 1925-S and 1926-D are all more difficult to locate beginning in MS65.
From The Rollo Fox Collection of $20 Saint-Gaudens Gold. (Registry values: N19439) (NGC ID# 26GH, PCGS# 9187)
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 Rollo Fox Collection of $20 Saint-Gaudens Gold ]
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Revised Edition by Roger Burdette, and edited by James L. Halperin and Mark Van Winkle
Saint-Gaudens Double Eagles is an issue-by-issue examination of this 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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