Jim Bisognani: Saints Alive! A 1933 Double Eagle Soars to a Record $18.9 Million!

Posted on 6/10/2021

With the recent record-breaking sales, experts weigh in on what it means for the numismatic hobby.

On the morning of June 8, a small gathering of would-be buyers and serious onlookers assembled in Sotheby’s New York gallery to witness history. The draw in the Big Apple was the sale of the “Three Treasures” collected by fashion designer Stuart Weitzman.

Dominating the sale and worldwide media was the fabled and iconic 1933 Saint-Gaudens $20 Double Eagle. There were three active bidders for the 1933 Saint in the gallery and a fourth on the phone. Ultimately, the party on the phone was the successful and historic winner of the most coveted of $20 Saints, powering to an amazing $18,872,250!

Per a Sotheby’s representative, after lot 1 was announced, it took only three and half minutes for this numismatic history to be made. For data mavens, this equates to just shy of $90,000 per second. With only three items up for bid, the “Three Treasures” sale concluded swiftly. The total proceeds topped over $32 million, with the 1918 Inverted Jenny Airmail panel and the 1856 British Guiana Magenta One-Cent stamp rounding out the epic offerings.

The “Three Treasures” in the sale (Images: Sotheby's)

Wow, it is monumental! What does this mean for us on the front lines of the hobby? I mean, is this a shot in the arm for an already-robust and fiercely competitive arena? Will this sale of the $20 Saint be the impetus for a swarm of new collectors entering the numismatic marketplace? Will it shun some would-be players as the prices seem, as one collector advised me, “out of control”?

I was compelled to reach out to my learned colleagues for their take on this major record-breaking event and posed the following question:

What does the $18.9 million realized for the 1933 $20 Double Eagle mean for the hobby and your business?

John Brush, President of David Lawrence Galleries

“For the hobby, it’s incredibly exciting to see this coin rightfully earn the term as the most valuable US coin. It also is exciting for the coin industry in general as it establishes that a rising market is indeed occurring and that coin collectibles can certainly be viewed as an asset class. I think that it encourages collectors and new investors, as they can see that there truly is excitement on the higher-end portion of the coin market, and hopefully the media surrounding the coin will continue to spread the word about collecting in general. It’s truly exciting to see something as momentous as the sale in the national news when we hear so much of the other bad stuff that’s going on outside of the realm of our hobby or business.”

Ian Russell, President of Great Collections

“This is an extremely healthy result and another example of the overall strength of the numismatic market. While obviously, we read about trophy coin results in the mainstream press, in reality, even $500 and $1,500 coins are trading at higher numbers than a year ago, with many new collectors coming into the market. Demand is far stronger than the supply in the market, and when this happens, values have no option but to increase.”

Michael Contursi, President of Rare Coin Wholesalers

“The fact that the 1933 Double Eagle shattered the previous world record is a major achievement, showing the continued strength and evolution of our market. With our family personally investing in this market for decades, along with those private investors we work with, this sale gives all of us tremendous confidence, especially as new technologies enter the market in the future. At this rate, we might even see a $100 million coin in our lifetime!”

Jeff Garrett, President of Mid-American Rare Coin Galleries, Inc.

“The sale of the 1933 Double Eagle for nearly $19 million elevates numismatics to another level of acceptance in the world of hard assets. The 1933 Double Eagle now resides alongside great art and other elite collectibles, which have sold for staggering sums in the past. Great coins usually have great stories attached and the 1933 Double Eagle story is one of the best. I believe the sale of the 1933 Double Eagle for nearly $19 million confirms that the rare coin market has entered an exciting new bull market.”

Bob Green, President of Park Avenue Numismatics

“Having worked with all the notable $20 Saint-Gaudens collectors over the past 35 years as well as owning one of the finest complete sets sans the 1933 (PCGS 2005 Award), I can say that I do not think the APR was high. The fact is that there are a few very well capitalized collectors who can easily stroke that check and, as we always say in the coin business, ‘there was an underbidder!’ The current owner has pride of ownership and certainly bragging rights for the highest price ever paid for a single US coin. I’m optimistic and hopeful that this breathes more life into the Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle market. There are a lot of very undervalued dates in the series to explore. The challenge of completing a set from 1907 to 1932 is rewarding and those embarking on that journey should take their time and seek out the right certified coins.”

Ira Goldberg, Co-Owner of Ira & Larry Goldberg Auctioneers

“Absolutely fantastic! I just heard about it, and it is great for the coin business. Would like to know more details — for example, how many bidders were bidding. It furthermore shows the strength in the market for the trophy coins and that is all good!”

Brian Hodge, Partner of Minshull Trading

“$18.9 million is a phenomenal number — but it’s truly just the beginning. Major rarities are entirely irreplaceable. The history of global commerce is accentuated with the acquisition of rare coins, and the 1933 Saint encapsulates that. In truth, what does it now make the 1849 worth if it was ever deaccessioned by the Smithsonian? $40 million? Maybe more? We’re in a world where paintings become worth $450 million and Digital NFTs are worth $60 million-plus. The validity of the rare coin market is stronger than it has EVER been.”

Kevin Lipton, Owner of Kevin Lipton Rare Coins

“What does the sale of the 1933 $20 mean to our hobby or business? In one word, AMAZING! A transcendent sale for a numismatic masterpiece! A new bar has been set in numismatics.”

Mark Feld, Senior Numismatist at Heritage Auctions

“This is my personal view and that of Heritage’s owners certainly might differ. That said, the price realized for the 1933 Saint was yet another example of a very special coin bringing an exceptionally strong price. This one just happened to have a unique story, and it shattered the previous record for the highest price ever paid for a coin. I don’t feel that it will necessarily lead to higher prices for other coins, other than perhaps for a handful of ultra-rarities. But it does reflect the overall strength in the rare coin market.”

James Sibley, Collector

“While I don't know if the buyer is a very deep-pocketed numismatist or an investor (e.g., the individual who purchased the two Brasher Doubloons several months ago), my thoughts are probably the same regarding this extraordinary sale. In my opinion, it is clearly a rush to hard assets in anticipation of hyper-inflation. As such, I think folks will interpret the sale as a one-off event with minimal impact on drawing new faces into the hobby of kings. Long-term, I'm still a bear on prices. Demographics simply don't support the heavy selling pressure, which awaits the numismatic market as baby boomers dispose of their collections.”

1787 ‘EB’ on Wing Brasher Doubloon graded NGC MS 65★ and 1786 Lima-Style Brasher Doubloon graded NGC MS 61 both pedigreed to the Partrick Collection.
Realized: $9.36 million and $2.1 million, respectively.
Click images to enlarge

Thanks to all of those who participated and supplied their thoughts on this historic event. As I mentioned in a previous report, I shall always remember the date that history was made, as June 8 marks Beth and my anniversary, too!

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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