20th century Coins
Chronology : 1907 1933
1907 Saint-Gaudens versus Barber
2021 SOLD for $ 3.6M including premium
Experienced in the design of medals, Saint-Gaudens knows nothing about industrial production. The conduct of the project will be marked by his bad relationship with Chief Engraver Charles Barber.
The double eagle in Ultra High Relief prepared by Saint-Gaudens is featuring on the obverse a standing figure inspired by the Victory of Samothrace and on the reverse the Gobrecht flying eagle.
The first trial, in February 1907, fails : one of the dies breaks, preventing the fourth and last unit from being completed, its edge being left plain. After repair of the tooling plus some minor modifications, a second campaign is carried out in the spring, in two variants : several parts have an inverted position of the edge inscription.
Saint-Gaudens dies in August 1907. Barber knew from the start that this Ultra High Relief which Roosevelt liked so much was impossible to industrialize. 361,667 double eagles are finally minted in December, reusing the Saint-Gaudens design with a flattened relief.
On December 31, an additional production of three UHR pieces is carried out at the request of the Mint Director, bringing the quantity struck after the modification to a total of about 16 pieces. The four examples below belong to this undifferentiated population.
The highest ranked is a PR69 by PCGS. It was sold for $ 3M including premium by Heritage in November 2005 and for $ 2.76M including premium by Stack's Bowers on June 29, 2012.
Several pieces were graded PR68. A coin graded by PCGS was sold for $ 1.84M including premium by Heritage in January 2007. A coin stamped with the initials ASG of Saint-Gaudens, graded by PCGS, was sold for $ 2.1M including premium by Heritage on January 7, 2015.
A coin graded PR68 by NGC has been sold twice by Goldberg, for $ 1.2M in May 1999 and for $ 1.15M in February 2003. It will be sold by Heritage in Dallas on February 24, lot 3802.
On the heels of the successful FUN auctions, Heritage Auctions is proud to present a diversified selection of more than 24 American gold and silver coins, all from The Paramount Collection.https://t.co/4dnHSsego6#USCoins #CoinCollectors #Numismatics pic.twitter.com/1ogUX1JSMk— Heritage Auctions (@HeritageAuction) February 9, 2021
This 1907 Ultra High Relief $20 gold piece is a numismatic rarity of the highest order. This seven-figure piece designed by famed sculptor Augustus St. Gaudenshttps://t.co/5TRUm7Zw9C— Heritage Auctions - Coins (@heritagecoins) February 1, 2021
Lot No. 3802 I February 18 - 21 US Coins Signature Sale No. 1327#USCoins #CoinCollectors pic.twitter.com/XIvTqYytzk
1907 Ultra High Relief for the Double Eagles
2005 SOLD for $ 3M including premium by Heritage
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 graded PR69 by PCGS was sold for $ 3M including premium by Heritage in November 2005, lot 6522 and for $ 2.76M including premium by Stack's Bowers on June 29, 2012. It comes back for sale by Stack's Bowers 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.
1907 $ 10 Satin Finish Coin
2011 SOLD for $ 2.2M including premium by Heritage
narrated in 2020 before the auction of another proof coin by Heritage (see below)
This initiative generated some development difficulties. The first prototypes of the double eagle, designated as Ultra High Relief, were conceived like medals and could not be used for mass production.
After this spectacular error, the relief is flattened but not enough to use the traditional finishing techniques. Many tests are carried out in Philadelphia. Pattern coins that did not precede a production release have generally been melted. A 1907 satin finish eagle graded PR67 by NGC, which had belonged to the Mint director, was sold for $ 2.2M including premium by Heritage in January 2011, lot 5238.
Collectors expect a brilliant surface in their proof coins. The Mint takes the opposite option of sandblasting the pieces to obtain a matte surface. After the decline in sales of the 1908 proof coins, the factory returned in 1909 and 1910 to a satin finish which aroused in its turn the disapproval of the very influential collector William Woodin.
Tests continue, often without being documented, to try to reconcile technical constraints and customer satisfaction. A 1910 double eagle of a previously unknown finish passed at Heritage on August 4, 2020. This experiment was not followed. After a debate at the 1910 ANA Convention, the proof coins were sandblasted again in 1911.
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 :
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
1928 The Grand Marshal
2021 SOLD for $ 2.3M by Stack's Bowers
The new leader of the Kuomintang (Guomindang), Chiang Kai Shek (Jiang Jieshi), set out to reunify China. Chang Tso-lin lost Beijing on June 3, 1928. The next day, he died in the explosion of his private train, perpetrated by a rival faction. His son Chang Hsueh-liang (Zhang Xueliang), nicknamed the Young Marshal, succeeds him.
Currency is essential to ensure the loyalty of soldiers, especially in a civil war. Since 1912, the official currency of the Republic of China has been the dollar.
A silver dollar was prepared with the effigy of Chang Tso-lin in civilian dress on the year of Republic 17, 1928 CE. Its text announces it as memorial, which suggests that it is posthumous. Its terminus ante quem is December 29, 1928, when the Young Marshal rallies to the government of the Kuomintang. Having become politically incorrect, this coin will not be issued.
A specimen graded SP-64 by PCGS of Chang Tso-lin's dollar will be sold on April 6 in Hong Kong by Stack's Bowers, lot 50016.
1933 Double Eagle
2021 SOLD for $ 19M by Sotheby's
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 : this batch was the last US gold coin struck for circulation.
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 will be 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 that powerful sovereign. This license being federal, the Farouk specimen became the only 1933 double eagle with some legal US status. Any other example is illegal to own.
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 with no doubt the ex Farouk specimen. 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 final price : it was sold for $ 7,590,020. Here is the link to the catalog in the website of Stack's Bowers, successor to Stack's.
This coin was sold for $ 19M from a lower estimate of $ 10M by Sotheby's on June 8, 2021, lot 1. Its highly essential 2002 Certificate of Monetization is joined to the lot. It had been re-inspected in March 2021 by PCGS and graded Gem brilliant uncirculated MS 65.
Take a closer look at three pocket sized treasures from the collection of famed shoe designer & fashion entrepreneur Stuart Weitzman. On offer in a live sale on 8 June, the historic auction features the world's most rare & valuable coin & stamp specimens. https://t.co/M9FTbFdy2X pic.twitter.com/3kMSIUUYdE— Sotheby's (@Sothebys) May 27, 2021
1936 The Transient Perfection of Edward VIII
2021 SOLD for $ 2.3M including premium
A few proof sets of £ 5, £ 2 and £ 1 gold coins which had been prepared for the ceremony are not destroyed. Their quantity is estimated at 6. Most have been separated. There are two complete sets left, one in the Royal Mint and one in private hands in the Tyrant collection.
The quintuple sovereign of Edward VIII is thus the most desirable coin in British numismatics. On March 26 in Dallas, Heritage sells the finest, lot 30339 estimated $ 1M.
This coin is close to perfection. It is graded PR 67 Ultra Cameo by NGC. It has never been taken in hand, leaving its surface absolutely intact. The videos shared by Heritage are a superb demonstration of the night and day effect on both sides. No other Edward VIII quintuple has been certified by NGC or PCGS.
The highest auction price for an Edward VIII gold coin was for a Proof Cameo sovereign, sold for £ 520K including premium by Baldwin's on May 8, 2014. It was then sold in a private transaction for £ 1M in January 2020.