Jim Bisognani: Golden Memories as Gold Breaks $2,000

Posted on 8/6/2020

Gold inspires a trip down memory lane paved with numismatic treasures.

As I gaze at my computer screen, yours truly is transfixed. Forgive me, but being a data and history aficionado, I am mesmerized. I can’t take my eyes off the momentous run that gold is making. As I type away this Tuesday, August 4, the yellow metal has stormed over the $ 2,000 per ounce level — and rather convincingly. Perhaps this is not so much of a surprise given the current state of world affairs and faltering economies.

The precious metals, especially gold and silver, offer a strong alternative to the multitude of seemingly overvalued paper-backed options. There is no denying the rush to metals is a juggernaut. The flight to the still-perceived safer haven that the precious metals represent is at the strongest level that I can ever recall.

A prediction come true

Gold at $2,000 was the stuff of my fertile imagination. As a youthful preteen collector, I had envisioned and tried to preach that someday the $35-per-ounce price on gold in 1967 would soar to astronomic heights! While some pundits at the time were touting $500 or even $1,000, I vividly recollect espousing to my family that gold would be at $2,000 in my lifetime. Hey, it only took 53 years for my prophecy to come to fruition.

Ah, to return to 1967, the year my Boston Red Sox won the American League pennant on the last day of the regular season, going from worst to first after their 1966 campaign. On the numismatic front, my neighbor to the north, Canada, was celebrating its 100th Confederation anniversary.

Oh, Canada

Growing up in New England, the close proximity to the land of the maple leaf afforded me numerous opportunities to collect Canadian coins directly from circulation. The occasional Canada penny, nickel, dime and quarter were always eagerly accepted into my collection. I guess I could technically assess them as my first “foreign” coins, but I really didn’t think of them as such, as I was so used to seeing them appear in my pocket change all of my young life.  

I soon discovered that many local merchants were glad to rid themselves of the Canadian coins that resided in their tills — and at a discount no less, as the exchange rate at that time was such that the Canadian Dollar was only worth about three-quarters of the US Dollar. Coins at a discount! Through my gentle pestering, certain retailers even set aside a few dollars’ worth of Canadian coins for me on a regular basis.

In the spring and summer of 1967, the new Canadian Centennial issues began to trickle down to a few local establishments in my home base, the New Hampshire seacoast area. For me, as well as many other collectors, this wildlife-themed Canadian Centennial set was in extremely high demand. I was fortunate enough to pick up a handful of the Dove Cents and a few of the Rabbit Five Cent coins in my change.

Then, one Friday afternoon, an assistant manager at the local Woolworth’s called our residence to inform me that she had set aside a full roll of the Mackerel Dimes! I was thrilled; my networking of local merchants had certainly paid off! I remember that I had to twist my dad’s arm a bit, and agree to wash the car, to pick up that $4 deal! Currently, based on the ASW (actual silver weight), the roll is worth $81 — or a nifty 1,925% increase!

Well, my friends, that roll of Mackerel Dimes was my first roll of silver coins, and I still have it more or less (a few coins were given to my friends). Eventually, I located the Lynx Quarter and Wolf Half Dollar. Alas, I was missing the famous and majestic Canadian Goose Dollar.

Then, of course, there was the untouchable one — the $20 gold piece. I wasn’t really able to afford it anyway, and because there were restrictions regarding the import of modern gold coins (that pesky ban would not be lifted officially until January 1, 1975), I knew that I had no chance of getting the $20 to complete my Centennial set.

A “spirited” assist

My dad’s good family friend, whom we called “Uncle” Gilley, frequently traveled to Canada to purchase various liquors, namely whisky for my parents. During a visit from Uncle Gilley in late summer of 1967, I recall Dad “contracting” him to secure more bottled beverages, an ensuing “discussion” and funds being handed over to Gilley. Then, over Labor Day weekend, fresh from his most recent junket to Montréal, our Uncle Gilly stopped by to deliver a couple of bottles of prime spirits to my dad.

After that transaction was complete, Gilley gestured to me and said, “I have something for you, Jimmy.” He pulled three little brown craft envelopes from his pocket and handed two to me and one to my father. I was excited, as I could feel there were coins in those envelopes and based on the size and heft, I figured they were half dollars or maybe even dollar-sized coins.

I carefully opened the first envelope, and I was right. It was a dollar coin — the Canadian Goose Dollar! And it was gorgeous and totally Proof-like. I quickly gave Gilley a hug and thanked him. While I was gazing wistfully at my Goose Dollar, my dad reminded me of the other envelope. After I carefully placed the Goose dollar in its envelope, I opened the second envelope’s seal, and as the coin slid neatly into my hand, I’m sure my mouth flew open as wide as it ever had and probably ever will.

There, before my awestruck eyes, in all of its glorious golden splendor, was the $20 Centennial gold coin! As I stood there, shell-shocked, Gilley said, “Don’t tell anyone where you got it!” I never did (until now) and, in fact, I only enjoyed viewing that coin in the privacy of my bedroom with the door shut until the gold import ban was lifted! For those wondering: Yes, I still have that coin! See below:

Click image to enlarge.

A hoard to be had

Well, a year later, in 1968, gold began to drive higher as it blazed well over $40 per ounce! I fondly recall having my pick of English gold sovereigns at my local coin show, offered at $12.50 each or five or more for $11 each. In the sundry piles, there was a nice mixture of Victoria, Edward VII or George V coins.

Many of them, I remember, were also from Australia, as I discovered the mintmarks “M” (Melbourne), “P” (Perth) and “S” (Sydney) on the reverse below St. George and the Dragon. Many were Choice Uncirculated, too. The dealer advised me that this hoard totaled 175 coins, and more were coming in from Europe. Somehow, at that very moment, looking at the dealer’s showcase of gold, I instinctively envisioned a fortune there someday.

Numismatic value aside, the AGW (actual gold weight) of .2354 (with gold spot at $2,017 at the time of this writing) places each gold sovereign just under $475 per coin. The entire hoard of 175 coins, purchased at $11 per coin, could have been had for $1,925 in 1968 — or less than a single ounce of gold in early August 2020! Wow, to go back in time, as that hoard, just in AGW, would be worth $83,125 today, or an increase of 4,218%.

This doesn’t take into consideration the high catalog value of many of the Australian sovereigns. I still have this one — a 1915-S (Sydney) that I bought for $12.50 — that is quite lovely:

Click images to enlarge.

Saints alive

The gold bug stayed with me, of course. A few years had passed, and I was finally in a position to buy my first US $20 gold piece — specifically, a Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle. It was 1972, I was 15 years old and gold spot was now approaching $65 per ounce! Gold had muscled up by over 85% in less than five years! The AGW for any US Double Eagle was nearly $63, and the going price for BU Saints was around $80.

I still savor memories of saving up for the day I could buy my Saint. I had observed several possible coins for my collection at a local show earlier that year, each trading in the $75 to $80 range, but I didn’t have the money to make the move. It was my goal to trade some coins and work odd jobs to amass the necessary funds for this enterprise, which ended up taking several months during my summer of 1972. Prices were far less volatile back then, and a few weeks or a month or two wasn’t going to change the status quo. Usually, any changes in coin values were modest and would only come after the new installment of the Red Book was released.

Once I had the required cash, I asked my dad, as I so often did, to take me to a coin show. This venue, I explained, was a bit larger, and I was sure I would find a $20 Saint there. From my dad’s perspective, getting this “Saint” was all I had been talking about since school let out in June, so he capitulated (I am sure, in part, to shut me up) and took me to yet another Saturday show, this one in Manchester, New Hampshire.

When I entered the convention hall, the floor was much more active, and there was much more buzz, than at the local shows that I had previously attended. There must have been nearly 100 tables or so. What atmosphere! My heart was beating quite rapidly as I scanned the floor and took things in.

I soon became more acclimated to my surroundings and, perhaps, I should have taken more time, but as I was strolling the floor, it was at the third table in the second row that I spotted the coin. It was a $20 Saint housed in a black plastic Capital holder. I saw it gleaming at me and beckoning me to the dealer’s showcase. I asked to take a closer look, and the dealer obliged.

It was the inaugural 1907 issue. I pulled out my magnifier, but I didn’t actually examine the coin really closely, as I was so excited that the Double Eagle was in my hand. I asked the price, and the dealer quoted me $77. He probably thought that this kid was just curious. But, almost in unison with the price escaping from his lips, I pulled out my wad of four $20 bills and gave the dealer the cash. He was a bit surprised, but said, “Thanks, son,” and gave me my $3 change.

The coin — yes, I still have it — amazingly is the only US $20 gold coin in my personal collection. Over the nearly 48 years that I have owned this coin, she has acquired an even more lustrous and lovely yellow, honey-gold coloring. I have had a few others in my lifetime, but they have been either sold or traded away, but not this one:

Click images to enlarge.

Hey, the 1907, it is a great starting point, being the first year of issue as well as the “No Motto” variety. Although my coin is still raw, a comparable MS 63 coin should command upwards of $2,350 in today’s market, and that equates to a powerful 2,950% increase over my 1972 summer savings.

The “golden” rule

Certainly, the demand for any gold today is enormous, as various bars and coins are flying from dealers’ inventories. For those about to take the plunge into gold, the US Gold Eagle is the darling at the moment. Given the high price of gold, the 1/10, 1/4, 1/2 and 1 ounce US Gold Eagle options will make the purchase easier for those on a budget. The buyer should expect to pay from 15% over spot on the 1/10 ounce (or $5) Gold Eagle sliding down to around 5% over spot on the 1 ounce (or $50) Gold Eagle.   

So, as gold makes moves toward the stratosphere, we old coindexters can remember when, and some of us have the tangible proof. My word of advice today is to be careful and, as for gold, I still heartily recommend $20 Saints graded NGC MS 63 to MS 64, as the price over spot is around 15% to 18% at the moment. You will have a true numismatic coin, and I believe the demand will be enormous for dated Saints in this market!

Until next time, be safe and happy collecting!

Jim Bisognani is an NGC Price Guide Analyst. He has written extensively on US coin market trends and values.

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