When the Saints Go Marching Into Record Territory
BY PAUL GREEN
In the final months of 2005, the Saint-Gaudens double eagle grabbed the numismatic spotlight as the coin of the year when the 1907 Ultra High Relief, the 1921 and the 1927-D coins realized stunning auction prices of over $1 million!
The big story was not so much that their prices were helped by rising gold prices, or that they broke the $1 million mark, but more specifically the fact that they quite literally shattered previous record prices. This points to the possibility of exciting things to come in terms of future pricing for Saint-Gaudens double eagles.
In the case of the 1907 Ultra High Relief, it was the only one of the three that had previously topped the $1 million mark at auction. In 2003 an example had realized $1,150,000. But the Ultra High Relief is really a special case, as only between 18 and 22 were produced in 1907 before the die broke and production was stopped the relief was simply too high. The Ultra High Relief is seen as the coin President Theodore Roosevelt and Augustus Saint-Gaudens wanted to make, and has become a special coin in U.S. history one desired at almost any price by specialists. The fact that the coin sold in 2003 was graded Proof-69 certainly helped the price, but still the recent winning bid of $2,990,000 was a surprise to virtually everyone.
It could be said that the Ultra High Relief (with most of the examples known) has the potential to produce high prices, as they are usually offered in a high grade, but a price of nearly $3 million qualifies as a record and a surprise. The unexpected price possibly reflects that the coin recently offered may be the best of the small number known. It also points out how much people are willing to spend to have this famous Saint-Gaudens double eagle in their collection.
The $1,092,500 price of the MS-66 1921 Saint-Gaudens double eagle was certainly lower, but the level of surprise by those in the hobby was probably even greater! The 1921 is a coin that was apparently melted in large numbers as a result of the Gold Recall Order of 1933. It’s a tough date, with most known examples being circulated. However, the 1921 is known in Mint State, and while there had been only one example graded MS-66 by PCGS, the previous record price was a 1997 sale for $123,500. This recent example was nicer, but with virtually no price guide suggesting a price of over $500,000 for a 1921, the $1 million price was sort of a shocker. It was an astonishing occurrence, as realistically, few had mentioned the 1921 no matter what its grade as a potential $1 million coin.
Certainly not every 1921 can be expected to reach $1 million, but it is likely that many are now looking at the 1921 Saint-Gaudens double eagle very differently from the way they did prior to its $1 million price.
The final of the three $1 million Saint-Gaudens double eagles was the 1927-D, which realized a price of $1,897,500. Most expected a 1927-D to reach $1 million only if an MS-65 or better example were offered. There are perhaps only a dozen known, as its nearly entire 180,000 mintage was destroyed as a result of the Gold Recall Order of 1933. For decades, the 1927-D had been relatively overlooked, and it was rarely mentioned as one of the top Saint-Gaudens double eagles. Recently, however, the 1927-D was called the “darling” of the Saint-Gaudens double eagles by Q. David Bowers, and his observation was supported by the fact that the combined total at two major grading services was just 8 coins. In fairness, the 8 coins graded showed fully 50% in MS-65 or better, so the 1927-D is usually nice. The coin offered was an MS-67, which ranks as the finest known. This means a $1 million price was likely, but the eventual price was almost double that level, and more than three times higher than the previous record price of $577,500.
Clearly these are three great coins and their impact on an average Saint-Gaudens double eagle can be seen as minimal, but the fact remains that most U.S. coins of any type tend to follow the key dates of a set in terms of price. If the key dates are doing well, the other dates usually follow. So it can easily be said that the key Saint-Gaudens double eagle dates are doing better than well they are posting simply spectacular prices. Plus, when you add in strong gold prices, it has to be seen as a great combination of factors that’s likely to keep Saint-Gaudens double eagles active and moving to higher ground in 2006.
The added benefit is that the record prices mean greater publicity for the Saint-Gaudens double eagle, and publicity helps to generate interest. Certainly, with one of the great designs in American numismatic history, the Saint-Gaudens double eagle may not need a lot of publicity to create collector interest, and to have three different dates top $1 million cannot hurt. When you add in the famous 1933, which realized $7.59 million back in 2002, the Saint-Gaudens double eagles (by virtue of 4 different dates topping $1 million) become potentially the most expensive set of United States coins.
While few can hope to come close to completing a set, a single Saint-Gaudens double eagle becomes a coin with a little extra attraction. Fortunately, with many available in circulated and low Mint State grades, a large number of Saint-Gaudens double eagles are available for very reasonable prices. That makes a limited collection, such as an example with and without the motto IN GOD WE TRUST, possible for most collectors and a lot of fun to show to friends and family. After these surprising auction prices, any Saint-Gaudens double eagle looks a little bit better today and if the trend continues, they may look even better tomorrow.