Collecting Saint-Gaudens, Part VI - 1915-1923-D $20

Posted on 4/26/2012

Part VI of this series covers 1915 to 1923-D Saint-Gaudens Double Eagles

1915. Mintage: 152,000. As the mintage would suggest, the 1915 Philadelphia issue is moderately scarce in all grades. It is similar in rarity to the 1914 issue and is usually found in MS 60 to MS 63. Choice examples become quite scarce and at the Gem level the date becomes very rare and valuable. Just a single example of the 1915 Double Eagle has been graded by NGC as MS 66. That coin last sold for $54,625 in January 2009. Most seen are well struck and bag marks are usually minimal for the denomination. The Smithsonian collection contains two coins that would grade MS 64.

1915–S. Mintage 567,000. This date ranks as one the most common for the series before 1920. Large numbers are known in all grades from MS 60 to MS 65. Examples continue to be found in fresh shipments from the European banks. The date usually well struck with ample luster. The 1915–S can be found in Gem condition with relative ease. As with most dates, anything above MS 66 is extremely rare. A single coin has been graded by NGC as MS 67. That coin has not traded at auction.

A few readers have asked why so many United States Double Eagles were shipped overseas in the first place. This is an interesting subject of which little has been written. Prior to 1933 gold coins circulated freely in the US and were considered hard currency. Europeans have long traded gold among each other and international trade at that time was commonly conducted in hard currency. It must be remembered that this was long before transferring large sums of money by electronic means was possible. Europeans also have a different view of gold than most Americans. It is valued for its hard currency aspect and for decades most major European banks have offered gold coins to its customers. Many have inventory of gold coins and frequently purchase coins from other institutions and retail clients. For years American dealers have traveled regularly overseas in search of scarce US gold coins that were shipped there. That business has become difficult lately as the premium for common date gold coins have fallen to historic lows. This interesting topic would be a great subject for further research—how much was sent overseas and how much still remains!

1916–S. Mintage: 796,000. This date is moderately scarce, but can be found in MS 64 or MS 65 with minimal effort. The 1916–S was more difficult to locate until a large hoard of 4,000–5,000 coins were discovered in El Salvador around 1983. MTB of New York masterfully sold the coins to several large retail rare coin companies and the coins were widely distributed to retail customers with little market disruption. The quality of production for the 1916–S issue is quite high and choice examples display radiant luster. Just three coins have been graded by NGC as MS 67. One sold for $24,450 in 2009.

1920. Mintage: 228,250. The 1920 Double Eagle is the ultimate condition rarity of the series. In grades of MS 60 to MS 63 the dates trade for little or no premium above that of the most common issues. An MS 65 example of the 1920 is extremely rare and seldom offered. There are no MS 66 examples graded by either service. The quality of production for the date is very poor for the series. Many of the coins seen are struck less than average and most have extensive bag marks. I have also seen several high grade examples with deep patches of copper staining. The metal content for the issue must have been poorly prepared. The finest graded of the date, NGC MS 65, last sold for $44,563 in February, 2012.

1920–S. Mintage: 558,000. The 1920–S Double Eagle is one of the most significant rarities of this series. Many show minor striking weakness on the lower portion of the obverse and this area is prone to the similar weaknesses that are seen on other dates as well. Luster is average for this date. No significant numbers have turned up from overseas hoards. The 1920–S is the first of the latter dates Saint–Gaudens Double Eagles with large mintages that are now very rare. Most were melted in the great gold recall of the 1930s. More significantly, none that I am aware of have been found in the large hoards that have returned from overseas trade. The date is rare in all grades and only four or five are known at the Gem level. The finest example I have seen is the Eliasberg specimen. The Smithsonian collection contains a fabulous MS 64 example. Around this time the US Mint carefully preserved Choice examples of US gold coins each year for its collection. As we proceed in this narrative, you will be astounded at some of the coins that were saved by Mint employees of the era. The American Numismatic Society also contains a superb example.

1921. Mintage: 528,500. The 1921 Double Eagle is a close match to the rarity and desirability of the 1920–S issue. Virtually the entire mintage was destroyed during the 1930s and no hoards of any size have been discovered. The 1921 Double Eagle is one of the few dates that have about an equal number known of circulated and uncirculated examples. The AU 58 population numbers (20 coins) reported for the date are probably exaggerated due to re–submissions as the coin climbs rapidly in price from AU to Mint State. The 1921 Double Eagle is a prime rarity, but several Gem examples somehow survived. Interestingly, both the American Numismatic Society and the Smithsonian collection contain a Superb Gem example of the date. Both were obtained from the Mint at the time of issue. The Connecticut State Library contained two Gem examples that entered the market several years ago, one of which sold at auction for over $1,000,000 in 2007.

The numismatic community was stunned in the summer of 2000 when Sotheby's auction house offered a previously unknown example of a Proof Roman Finish presentation–strike 1921 Double Eagle. That coin traces its pedigree to Raymond T. Baker, who was director of the US Mint in 1921. Reportedly the piece was struck for the director's nephew, Joseph Baker, on his birth. The coin, which is lightly cleaned, sold for $203,500. In 2006, a second example of this incredible rarity surfaced. This time it was offered at auction incorrectly attributed as an MS 63. Two very knowledgeable numismatists battled until the hammer fell at $1,495,000. The newly discovered coin is nearly identical to the Sotheby's specimen but is original and unmolested. These presentation strikes rank as one of the most interesting issues of the Saint–Gaudens series. The auction record for business–strike examples of the 1921 Double Eagle has now crossed the million–dollar mark. One can only guess what these two rarities would bring on today's market.

1922. Mintage: 1,375,500. The mintage for the 1922 issue soared above the levels of 1921 and many, many more have survived. The date is quite common in all grades from MS 60 to MS 64. Over 65,000 pieces of the 1922 Double Eagle have been certified. The strike for the issue is somewhat shallow and bag marks are a persistent problem for the issue. They must have been stored and handled quite roughly over the years. Gem examples are rare and not easily found. Very few have been graded as MS 66 and none as MS 67. An NGC MS 66 coin sold for $14,375 in 2009.

1922–S. Mintage: 2,658,000. The mintage for this issue is astounding considering that it is quite scarce today. This is a date that suffered tremendously from the massive meltings of gold coins in the 1930s. At one time is was considered one of the prime rarities for the series ranking along side the 1920–S, 1929, and 1930s issues. Small hoards of the date have surfaced continually over the years. This issue is now scarce, but collectible. Most seen grade MS 62 to MS 64. Gems are rare and only a few have been graded as MS 66. Production quality for the issue is high and luster and strike are not a problem for the issue. Some examples seen have a noticeable die bulge on the obverse and the rims are somewhat rounded. The Smithsonian collection contains a single MS 62 example.

1923. Mintage: 566,000. Similar to the 1922 Philadelphia issue, the 1923 Double Eagle suffered from the mass meltings of the 1930s, but more than enough survived in overseas hoards to keep it well within the ranks of any other common date. More than 30,000 examples have been certified and most show an attractive orange–gold color with strong luster. The striking quality is normally high for this date. The date is surprisingly available in MS 65 with more than 120 coins graded by NGC alone. Superb Gems are very rare and seldom offered for sale. The 1923 issue is also commonly found with large patches of copper discolorations. Some find these copper stains to be attractive, while others would decline to purchase such a coin.

1923–D. Mintage: 1,702,250. This is one of the most common dates of the entire series and is available in grades up to and including MS 67. Only one coin has been graded MS 68 by NGC. As most examples are boldly struck and show radiant luster, this date is often chosen to represent the type if just a single coin is desired. Many survived in overseas hoards. However, one particular group of coins was handled by Manfra, Tordella & Brooks during 1981 and 1982. The hoard contained more than 1,000 pieces and was rumored to be from the Brand Estate. I personally purchased quite a few of the coins at the time and have fond memories of seeing the coins in the original cigar boxes in which they had been stored. Minor positional variations are known for the mintmark and peripheral die cracks are common on this date.

More on Collecting Saint-Gaudens

Part I: Introduction

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

Part III: Indian Head Eagles, 1912-1933

Part IV: Saint-Gaudens Double Eagles, 1907-1909-S

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

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

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