Collecting Saint-Gaudens, Part IV - 1907-1909-S $20s

Posted on 3/29/2012

For the next few installments of my articles on Saint-Gaudens coinage I will discuss the Double Eagle series. The series is quite long, but full of interesting issues that will be sure to fascinate. Be careful, you might get hooked on these incredible coins!

1907 Ultra High Relief. Mintage: 16 to 22 (estimated). This is probably the most magnificent coin to have ever been produced. The coin was designed by Augustus Saint–Gaudens who was America’s greatest living artist at the time. Unfortunately, the coins were impractical to strike and these patterns are all that remain of the initial efforts by Saint–Gaudens. There are about 14 or 15 examples known. The first coin struck has a plain edge. The die was cracked and replaced. This example first surfaced in the incredible set offered in the early 1908s by Stack’s as the Colonel North set. Some experts speculate that the set actually came from the Charles Barber family. Two are known with inverted edge lettering, one of which is lightly circulated (can you imagine). The Smithsonian collection contains three examples of this fabulous issue. Most of the known examples are superb, with the finest coins graded PR 69. I have often stated that it’s a shame that 1907 Ultra High Relief Double Eagles cost so much. Every collector would own one if it were possible.

1907 High Relief, Roman Numerals (MCM VII), Wire Rim and Flat Rim. Mintage: 11,250. The 1907 High Relief Double Eagle is one of the most popular coins ever struck by the United States Mint. The coins are sculptural in appearance and are considered by many to be the most beautiful regular issue gold coin ever produced. Unfortunately, the design was also impractical and redesigned by Charles Barber later in the year. The date is given in Roman numerals (the coins nickname by some) and lacks the Motto, IN GOD WE TRUST. President Roosevelt believed that money could easily be used for ungodly pursuits such as gambling and thus the name of the Lord should not be used on coinage. The 1907 High Relief is categorized by most as either Wire Rim or Flat Rim. The coins are identical except for raised metal around the rims. This is probably the result of some tinkering by the Mint while they struggled to produce coins with such extreme relief. Around the late 1960s or early 1970s experts began to describe certain 1907 High Relief Double Eagles as Proof. These coins are certainly different, but not exactly like the latter Proof Double Eagles of the series. There are no mintage figures and the origins of the coins are a mystery. The coins have deep swirling die lines and exhibit a satiny surface similar to the Roman finish Proof gold coins. A fairly large number exist and it is my opinion that they are the result of experimentation with the new design by Mint employees. Many, if not the great majority of the original mintage was saved when the 1907 High Reliefs were issued. Thousands still exist and most seen are in some form of Mint State. Gem examples can easily be purchased if budget permits. A few nearly flawless examples are known. The finest High Relief graded by NGC is a PR 69 that sold for $534,000 in 2005.

1907, Arabic Numerals. Mintage: 361,667. After much struggle Charles Barber greatly reduced the relief for the Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle from the original design. Finally, the coins could be struck in large numbers. The digits in the date were changed to Arabic numerals and over 300,000 coins were released in late 1907. Most examples seen are Mint State and Gems can be found with little effort. Many were shipped to European banks and are still being found to this day among recent gold shipments. The finest business strike example I have seen is in the Smithsonian collection. The coin is nearly flawless and would easily grade MS 68. None have been graded by NGC above the MS 67 level, with one selling in that grade for $27,600 in 2008. A unique example is known in matte proof that was part of the earlier mentioned Colonel North set of Saint–Gaudens coinage.

1908 No Motto. Mintage: 4,271,551. After some struggles in 1907 producing gold coins, the United States Mint got the ball rolling in 1908. The 1908 No Motto Double Eagle is one of the most common issues of the series. Large numbers were sent to European banks and a steady supply of the issue has been flowing back to the states for decades. An incredible hoard of the date was discovered in the 1990s by Ron Gillio. There were 19,900 pieces and most were Choice to Gem in condition. Temporarily stored in a Wells Fargo Bank vault, the coins were named “The Wells Fargo Hoard.” Luckily for Type coin collectors, the short lived “No Motto” design may be easily obtained. The 1908 No Motto is the only date of the series after 1907 to have been certified as MS 69.

1908–D No Motto. Mintage: 663,750. This issue can be found rather easily in Mint State thanks to several large groups that have been discovered in the last several decades. However, most of the coins seen are in the lower levels of Mint State and Gems are seldom encountered. None have been certified by NGC above the MS 66 level. The best in the Smithsonian collection grades MS 63. The average 1908–D No Motto Double Eagle is well struck with subdued, golden–yellow luster.

1908 With Motto. Mintage: 156,258. Congress simply could not stand to see any coin without the motto IN GOD WE TRUST featured prominently. In 1908 it was decided to restore the motto on the reverse above the sun. Additional modifications were undertaken by engraver Charles Barber, which included slightly changing the font style of the lettering, adding a pupil to the eye of the eagle, adding a ninth feather to the tail of the eagle, and reducing the sun’s rays by one to total 33. The 1908 With Motto Double Eagle is actually quite scarce in all states of preservation. The issue is seen far less than many other double eagles of the era. Most are well struck with light green–gold colorations. The Smithsonian collection has only one example and the coin is graded AU 58. The finest coins of the issue graded by NGC have been at the MS 66 level, one of which sold for $32,200 in 2005. The mintage for proof coins for the year is 101 pieces. Most were struck with deep, matte surfaces. A unique example is known with satin Proof surfaces. The coin last sold for $276,000 at public auction in 2005.

1908–D With Motto. Mintage: 349,500. At one time this issue was quite scarce in all levels of Mint State. Starting in the 1980s, however, rather sizeable groups of the date surfaced. Examples were found in the vaults of South American and European banks. Gem examples can be found with a bit of patience and several rather superb coins are known. I have seen at least 4 or 5 coins that would grade superb MS 67. The Eliasberg example is probably the finest known specimen. Coins of the issue are well struck with green-gold colorations.

1908–S. Mintage: 22,000. The mintage for the 1908-S Double Eagle is tiny in comparison to other issues of the era. The coins must have entered circulation rather quickly, as no significant groups of the date have been discovered over the decades. Most of the coins encountered have been circulated. The date is extremely popular, probably due to the low mintage. Gems do exist for the date, as several superb coins are known. The metal quality for 1908-S Double Eagles must be somewhat different than others for the year. Many are seen with large splashes of copper staining. The colorations can be quite beautiful and does not seem to distract from the value of this popular date. An NGC MS 66 example sold for $74,750 in 2011.

1909. Mintage: 161,282. This issue is split into two groups: the regular date and the 1909 9/8 overdate. The regular date coins have just started to be recognized for their rarity in MS 64 or higher grades and none have been graded finer than MS 66 by NGC. This is one of the true condition rarities of the series, and a very difficult coin to find above MS 63. None have been certified by NGC above MS 66, one of which sold for $47,725 in 2011. Any serious collector of Saint-Gaudens Double Eagles will tell you that this is one of the toughest issues to find in Choice condition.

1909/8. Mintage: Included with the 1909 issue above. This overdate was created when the Mint engraver used a 1908 hub and a 1909 hub to create at least one die. Some believe that only a single die was used to coin the overdate, which is possible considering that the population reports show a virtually equal number of overdate and regular date 1909 Double Eagles have been graded. This overdate was first discovered in 1910 and published by Edgar Adams in The Numismatist. Later it was popularized by Wayte Raymond in his Coin Collector’s Journal in May 1943. This issue was once considered quite scarce until large groups were found in European bank hoards. The survival at the top levels for the 1909/8 is very close to that of the 1909. Mint State coins can be found, but it is very rare in Gem condition. An NGC MS 66 example sold at public auction in 2007 for $60,375.

1909–D. Mintage: 52,500. At one time this issue was considered very rare. In the last several decades, however, significant numbers were found in South American and European banks. The date is still quite scarce and usually seen in the lower levels of Mint State. Gem and Superb examples are extremely rare. The finest coin known for the date is from the famous, Eliasberg collection. The coin had been obtained by John Clapp at time of issue. Many of the greatest gold coins from this time period known have their origins from the Clapp collection.

1909–S. Mintage: 2,774,925. The mintage for this San Francisco issue soared after a slow start in 1908. The date can be found easily in all grades thru MS 65. In Gem condition, however, the 1909-S is very rare. Less than two dozen are known above MS 66. It is quite underrated in Gem condition. Most examples seen are well struck, but bag marks plague most examples. Several thousand were found in South American bank vaults. Most were distributed through a coin company (MTB) in New York City in the 1980s.

More on Collecting Saint-Gaudens

Part I: Introduction

Part II: Indian Head Eagles, 1907-1911-S

Part III: Indian Head Eagles, 1912-1933

Part V: Saint-Gaudens Double Eagles, 1910-1914-S

Part VI: Saint-Gaudens Double Eagles, 1915-1923-D

Part VII: Saint-Gaudens Double Eagles, 1924-1933

Questions about the rare coin market? Send them to wmr@ngccoin.com.

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