20th century Coins
Chronology : 1920 1927 1933
1907 Ultra High Relief for the Double Eagles
2012 SOLD 2.76 M$ including premium
A wonderful piece of gold may sustain the claim of being the finest coin of the 20th century, sharing this achievement with another specimen from the same variant and condition.
This Ultra High Relief $ 20 coin was sold for $ 2.76M including premium by Stack's Bowers on June 29, 2012. It comes back for sale by the same auctioneer on May 20 at Sotheby's New York. It is now estimated $ 2.75M, lot 93.
Please find below my discussion of 2012 along with the video which had been shared by Stack's Bowers before that sale.
President Theodore Roosevelt never did anything like everyone else. For his second inauguration in 1905, he required Augustus Saint-Gaudens to design a medal in parallel of the version traditionally handled by the official mint departments.
The result pleased that rebellious President. The following year, he asked Saint-Gaudens to redesign the whole American coinage.
Already hit by his terminal cancer, Saint-Gaudens stubbornly began this task, starting with the top gold coins : the eagle ($ 10) and the double eagle ($ 20).
Saint-Gaudens was primarily a sculptor. He imagined for the double eagle a motif in very high relief, which was tested in February and March 1907. Two dozen of proof coins were produced.
The result was superb but disappointing. It had taken nine strikes of a high pressure medal hydraulic press, normally used for very small quantities. It was impossible to consider such a technique for producing the big quantities needed for currency. The design of Saint Gaudens will however be later used, but with a flattened motif.
The two best preserved specimens of these rare Ultra High Relief Double Eagles are both graded PR69 by the PCGS. They may be considered as the finest pieces of American coinage.
One of them was sold for $ 3M including premium by Heritage in November 2005. The other is for sale by Stack's Bowers.
1907 $ 10 Satin
2011 SOLD for $ 2.2M including premium by Heritage
Video shared by the auction house :
1907 The ASG Specimen of Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle
2015 SOLD for $ 2.1M including premium
Shrinking to the size of a coin was the first difficult step. The development of the manufacturing process was a technical feat. The double eagle in Ultra High Relief required seven strikings in the hydraulic press. Between two strikings, the piece was annealed and then washed in nitric acid to maintain the highest possible purity of the gold surface. The result was superb from the viewpoint of the color and brilliance of gold.
In the first trial in February 1907, one of the dies broke during the manufacture of the fourth unit, providing the argument to demonstrate that mass production was impossible.
The story did not stop there, simply because it was so tempting to repeat the feat. Twelve or thirteen additional coins were minted between March and July 1907, and three more on 31 December 1907 just before the yearly destruction of the outdated tools.
Augustus Saint-Gaudens had died on August 3, 1907. The informal promise to provide a sample to the Saint-Gaudens estate had not been met. When the widow claimed, the Mint chose to part with one of the pieces kept in its cabinet rather than recreating the tools.
The widow had marked the ASG initials on the edge of her coin before presenting it in long-term loan to the American Numismatic Society. Withdrawn many years later from ANS by the Saint-Gaudens estate, it is now resurfacing. In an almost perfect condition like many other units from this pattern model, it is graded PR68 by NGC and PCGS.
It will be sold with no reserve by Heritage in Orlando on January 7, lot 4412. Two weeks before the sale, the bidding is at $ 1.3 million before fees. The only specimen graded PR69 (by PCGS) was sold for $ 2,76M including premium by Stack's Bowers on June 29, 2012.
1907 The First Group of Saint-Gaudens Double Eagles
2012 SOLD for 1.06 M$ including premium
One of the most interesting US coins from the 20th century was sold for $ 1.06M including premium by Heritage on August 3, 2012. It is now for sale by Bonhams in New York on December 16, lot 1508 estimated $ 1.25M.
Here is its story as I told it in 2012 :
President Roosevelt used to shake up preconceptions, often with common sense. In December 1904 he wrote to the Secretary of the Treasury that the U.S. coinage is an "atrocious hideousness"
and suggested to entrust Augustus Saint-Gaudens to redesign the gold coins.
The original of the typed letter, signed by the President, recently discovered, was sold by Heritage for $ 94K including premium in the same sale as the double eagle discussed here.
Inspired by ancient coins, Saint-Gaudens suggests a ultra high relief and begins working on the double eagle ($ 20). Three groups of tests are carried out in 1907. As a whole, no more than twenty coins are minted. Afterwards, the relief will be leveled to facilitate mass production.
One of them, which I described as the most beautiful coin of the United States, in an amazing condition (graded PR69 by PCGS), has been sold for $ 2.76M including premium by Stack's Bowers on June 29, 2012 .
The coin of the next sale has a slight evidence of having been carried in an unidentified pocket and is only graded PR58, but it is exceptional for another reason: it is a coin of the first group, which was extremely limited.
Indeed, only three specimens are identified as originating from this experimental session, from 7 to 14 February 1907. One of them, plain-edged, had one of its dies broken during the minting.
The coin for sale is one of the other two, recognizable by a sans serif typography (something like Helvetica) of the letters on the edge, from a design used at this location on the previous year which will be soon abandoned.
1910 Yunnan Spring Dollar
2010 SOLD for US $ 1.06M including premium by Champion Hong Kong
narrated in 2020 before the sale of another specimen by Heritage (see below)
The region is bordering Tonkin. The railway line connecting Haiphong to Kunming is an entirely French project with the authorization of the Chinese government. The rail reaches Kunming on April 1, 1910 after seven years of work in extremely severe conditions.
A 1 dollar silver coin surfaced in 1920. Its characteristics are unusual. An inscription in four Chinese characters on the reverse indicates that it was made in the spring of a year corresponding to 1910, defined in the calendar cycle of 60 years and not by the year of the reign. This is the only known example of a Chinese coinage naming a season. An English inscription on the side of the dragon recalls the Chinese value of 7 mace and 2 candareens and the production in the province of Yun-Nan.
This piece was considered unique after three runs of fakes had been identified. Graded AU55 by NGC, it was sold for US $ 1.06M including premium by Champion Hong Kong on August 22, 2010, lot 12 here linked on LiveAuctioneers bidding platform.
A few months later, another coin was authenticated. NGC and Champion testified that it was struck with the same dies as the discovery coin. Graded AU58 by NGC, it was sold twice by Heritage : for $ 550K including premium on September 8, 2011 and for $ 660K including premium on July 12, 2020, lot 30141.
The two surviving pieces referred above are certified AU (Almost Uncirculated) by NGC. This variety has thus the characteristics of a pattern coin which has not been followed by production. Champion supports the very plausible hypothesis of the project of a presentation coin to celebrate the completion of the rail line.
The 2020 Heritage catalog announces a total population of three units certified by NGC and confirms that the coin for sale is the finest.
1913 The Eliasberg Nickel
2018 SOLD for $ 4.6M including premium
This variant, not documented by the plant, is the consequence of the introduction for 1913 of the Buffalo Head figure replacing the Liberty Head for the 5-cent coin. It appears that when this decision was made in February 1913, a 1913 Liberty Head die was already available for the production line.
The population of the 1913 Liberty nickel is limited to a single group of five pieces exhibited together in 1920 by a former factory employee who had known about it and managed to get it in his hands. The five pieces had been struck with new tools, perhaps simply for a first test that would become obsolete with the change of design.
Eliasberg considered this group to be the total population. Indeed no other example has ever surfaced. His copy is the best, graded PR66 by PCGS, and the only one from these five with a glittering mirror surface.
When Eliasberg died in 1976, his collection was shared between his two children. It was then the subject of several auctions. The 1913 Eliasberg Liberty nickel becomes the first coin to cross the million-dollar threshold at auction, on May 21, 1996 by Bowers and Merena. Q. David Bowers' hammer falls at $ 1.35M, $ 1.485M including premium.
Its price has considerably risen in the next decade. It was sold for $ 1.84M including premium by Superior Galleries in March 2001. Two private transactions were revealed, at $ 4.15M in May 2005 and $ 5M in April 2007. It also passed at auction at Stack's in January 2007 .
The Eliasberg specimen of the 1913 Liberty Head nickel will be sold by Stack's Bowers in Philadelphia on August 15, lot 1096. The image shared by Wikimedia had been prepared for the 2001 auction.
1913 The Latest Liberty Nickels
2010 SOLD 3.7 M$ including premium
2014 SOLD 3.3 M$ including premium
A star of coin auctions is listed again: the Olsen specimen, which had been sold for $ 3.7 million including premium by Heritage on 7 January 2010. I paste below my text of that time, modified to include the information of the next sale:
In 1920, five coins are displayed by a man named Samuel Brown at the annual meeting of the American Numismatic Association. Marked 1913, they are not very old at that time. The surprising fact is that no similar sample has appeared afterwards. Thus began the mystery of the 1913 Liberty Head nickel.
At the end of 1912, officials of the US Mint had decided to abandon the Liberty design for the 5 cents coin, and to replace it with another one which is now known as Buffalo nickel. The five Brown copies are the only 1913 5 cents specimens on the Liberty model.
Nobody knows why these coins were manufactured or how Brown acquired them. There are two undisputed facts: In 1913, Brown was employed at the Philadelphia Mint. The five samples are from a new die, so that an expert was able to define in what order of precedence they were struck.
The 1913 Liberty Nickel, of which three units are still in private hands, is now considered as one of the rarest US coins. The Olsen specimen, so designated from one of its former owners, has even been featured in a television series in 1973, in which thieves were trying to appropriate it. To avoid damaging the precious object, it was replaced by a model in the turbulent scenes of the film, same as a featured character being doubled by a stuntman.
The Olsen specimen, which has always been handled with great care, is ranked second in the order of perfection of the five coins. It is for sale by Heritage in Orlando on January 9. In recent years, all commercial transactions concerning 1913 Liberty nickels were in the millions of dollars.
POST SALE COMMENT
The new price obtained by the Olsen specimen is $ 3.3 million including premium, a decrease compared to 2010. The balance is restored with respect to the Walton specimen, sold for $ 3.2 million including premium by Heritage in April 2013.
Its picture is shared by Heritage on Wikimedia : By Photo taken by Heritage Auctions (Provided by Heritage Auctions with permission) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
1913 The Walton Specimen
2013 SOLD 3.2 M$ including premium
However, in 1920, five 5 cents 1913 Liberty Head nickels are presented during a numismatic congress by a former employee of the Philadelphia mint. They are in wonderful condition, having been struck with a brand new tooling and having benefited from the special polishing of proof coins.
These coins were never recorded in official documents. No other example of this variant will appear. They were nicknamed the Kings of twentieth century US coins.
The set was broken in 1936. Two of the five units are currently kept in public collections. One of them is less good because one of its owners loved holding it in his pocket for showing it to his friends.
The best of the five is the Eliasberg specimen, graded PR66 by PCGS. Graded PR64 by NGC, the Olsen specimen, which had also belonged to King Farouk, was sold for $ 3.7 million including premium by Heritage on 7 January 2010.
The Walton specimen had a turbulent history. It was in the car of its owner at the time of his fatal crash in 1962. It was then out of view during 40 years, simply because the auctioneer responsible for the estate sale did not believe in its authenticity. Waiting for better days, the family had kept it.
Graded PR63 by PCGS, the Walton specimen is the star lot of the sale to be held by Heritage in Chicago from April 24 to 28. Here is the link to the catalog.
POST SALE COMMENT
The result, $ 3.2 million including premium, is in line with the expectation and remains consistently below the Olsen specimen.
I invite you to play the video shared on YouTube by CoinWeek :
1920 The Sovereigns of the British Empire
2012 SOLD 780 K£ including premium
The British Empire extended over all regions of the world. It was logical that Australia, a major producer of gold, minted also these coins as soon as security enabled it. Coins made in Sydney, identified by the letter S, were issued from 1855 to 1926, for a total of 115 variants when separating the years.
For many decades, American collectors have built complete thematic series of their currencies composed of the best possible specimens. In other countries, this approach is still unfrequent. The sale by Baldwin's in three parts of the Bentley collection of British sovereigns shall be used as a reference.
The first sale, on 8 May 2012, included all variants made in London, with the exception of the 1819 sovereign which will be the top lot of the third sale in May 2013.
The second sale, on September 27 in London, is devoted to colonial issues.
The 1920-S sovereign is an exceptional piece. The extreme rarity of this variant is not correlated with the statistics of the plant, but it is likely that almost all coins minted in Sydney in 1920 remained mintmarked from the previous year.
This coin was purchased for Aus $ 580K including premium by its current owner in 2006 in an auction organized by KJC Coins. It is now estimated £ 300K. Both sides are shown on the article shared by Blouin Artinfo.
POST SALE COMMENT
The result is both excellent and very satisfying, because usually the high end of the modern coin market is dominated by U.S. dollars. The Australian sovereign was sold £ 780K, according to a tweet of the auction house.
The £ 780K figure includes the fees.
It has been found in 2014 that the few 1920-S sovereigns struck in 1920 were made on a special order for an NSW politician celebrating his gold wedding anniversary. The sovereign was expensive at that time in terms of gold content and no 1920 sovereign had been required by the officials to the Sydney mint. A 1920-S sovereign novodel made in 1926 after cleaning the reverse die is also known. This story is narrated by Sterling & Currency.
1927 Gold Storage in Denver
2020 SOLD for $ 2.16M including premium
Now graded MS65+ by PCGS, it is back in the same auction venue on January 9, 2020, lot 4046. It is the only surviving 1927-D double eagle certified with a + which recognizes its magnificent strike and color.
I narrated it as follows before the 2014 sale :
Since 1906 the Denver Mint was producing silver and gold coins, including the $ 20 double eagle gold coin. These variants are struck with a D above the year mark to distinguish them from the productions of San Francisco (S) and Philadelphia (blank).
During the 1920s, the US government met increasing difficulties to maintain the fixed exchange rate between dollar and gold. Americans lost confidence in paper money and filled the vaults of their banks with gold for hoarding, making a huge financial mass unavailable for economic activities.
The government had no incentive to increase the circulation of gold, for the above reason and also because the USA, being a leading gold producing country, managed at that time a policy of export supply.
The Denver plant continued to produce double eagles but stopped to release them after 1923. The 180,000 pieces with the 1927 year mark remained in stock. A small quantity was sold at face value to collectors. A similar policy was applied in San Francisco, leaving Philadelphia as the only center of double eagles for immediate circulation.
In 1933 President Roosevelt banned the ownership of gold. In 1934 the Gold Reserve Act overvalued gold by 40% for increasing the earnings at export. Federal coin stocks were melted.
With only eleven units recently located, 1927-D is the rarest double eagle regular variety. All of them are uncirculated. The top graded example, certified MS67 by PCGS, was sold for $ 1.9M including premium by Heritage on November 3, 2005.
The coin that comes for sale did not get a better grade because of slight bagmarks, but the perfection of its strike, its lustrous surface and its superb orange gold color were reported as 'truly magnificent' by one of the most demanding experts.
Fast fact: On this date in 1906, the Denver Mint struck its first coins. Did you know a 1927-D Double Eagle, graded NGC MS 66, sold at an @HeritageAuction sale for $1.99 million in 2014? Explorer the Double Eagles at https://t.co/elSMH797GV. #coin #coins #coincollecting #denver pic.twitter.com/teQTbJT42E— NGC (@NGCcoin) February 1, 2018
1927 It was Crisis !
2010 SOLD 1.5 M$ including premium
Since 1907, this model used the Saint-Gaudens design, with a standing Liberty holding the torch as the front side, and on the reverse side an eagle flying across the sun. This expensive coin did not much circulate. The productions of previous years were sufficient, and the 180 000 coins of 1927 remained in storage.
In 1933, President Roosevelt took strong monetary measures to tackle the crisis. It was now illegal for individuals to own gold and the government melted the reserves. This decision makes today the happiness of US numismatists, as we shall see below.
Production of Denver in 1927, or 1927-D, has almost completely disappeared. It would be only 13 remaining copies of this type. The circulation had not occurred but it was not banned, allowing Americans to consider this issue as the King of regular coins. An almost perfect copy was sold $ 1.9 million including premium by Heritage in Dallas in November 2005.
The 1927-D copy which is coming on January 7 at Heritage in Orlando is the second in condition ranking. It is offered with a $ 1.1 million starting bid.
The 1933 double eagle is not a regular issue, because it did not have the permission to circulate. One copy was legalized by the U.S. government, during a sale at Sotheby's on June 30, 2002. The hammer fell at $ 6.6 million ($ 7.6 million including premium).
POST SALE COMMENT
$ 1.5 million including premium for this double eagle 1927-D, in accordance with the price guide published before the sale for its condition (grade 66).
1933 Double Eagle
2002 SOLD 7.6 M$ including premium by Sotheby's and Stack's
narrated in 2020
The crisis had lasted since 1924 and the production of eagles and double eagles was considerably slowed down. The production of the 312,500 eagles of 1933 was finished before April 5 and this denomination was legal at that time. The production of the double eagles, which was in progress, was not interrupted.
On September 13, 1934, all gold coins in federal stocks were declared obsolete (uncurrent). In the following month two 1933 double eagles were sent to the Smithsonian for the National Collection as non-monetized samples. 445,469 pieces were in the vaults. This stock was melted in 1937.
Ten pieces escaped that melting, certainly stolen by the cashier of the Mint who was jailed in 1940 for another scam. All of them were recovered and destroyed by the government except one that King Farouk had managed to acquire in 1944. The King had obtained for this piece an export license issued by the Secretary of the Treasury, either simply by mistake or to please the King. This license being federal, the Farouk specimen became the only 1933 double eagle with some legal US status.
Removed at the request of the US government from the auction of the Farouk collections in 1954, the double eagle resurfaced in 1996, brought to New York by an English dealer. He was caught in the act by the FBI during his negotiations with his American customer.
The coin of the English dealer was the specimen which had been legally exported for Farouk. A judicial compromise was found in 2001. The double eagle was listed for auction on July 20, 2002 by Sotheby's and Stack's. In order to declare for the first time the official release of this specific coin, the buyer was required to pay to the federal government its face value of $ 20 in addition to the auction. It was sold for $ 7,590,020 including premium. Here is the link to the catalog in the website of Stack's Bowers, successor to Stack's.
1933 The Mass Destruction of the Gold Eagles
2015 SOLD for $ 820K including premium
Some variants that awaited their release in the stock thus became extremely rare. A 1927-D double eagle graded MS66 by NGC was sold for $ 2 million including premium by Heritage on 9 January 2014. The single copy that could be subsequently approved by the government of the 1933 double eagle was sold for $ 7.6M including premium by Sotheby's and Stack's on July 30, 2002.
The $ 10 gold eagle from its last year is less rare than the 1927-D $ 20. From the 312,500 units which had already been produced, all of them by the Philadelphia mint, about 30 survive. None of the known coins had had time to circulate.
The best of these 1933 $ 10, sold for $ 720K including premium by Stack's in October 2004, was later graded MS66 by NGC. Another one, graded MS65 by PCGS, will be sold by Heritage on April 23 in Schaumburg IL, lot 5419.