Why Don't More People Collect 20th Century U.S. Gold Coins by Date?

Why don't more people collect 20th century gold coins by date? The four major designs (Indian Head quarter eagles, half eagles and eagles and St. Gaudens double eagles) are clearly among the most beautiful United States issues ever released. They are relatively short-lived and none of them are impossible to complete due to fabulously expensive or incredibly rare individual dates. So why, then, do these series lag such non-gold 20th century designs as the Lincoln Cent, Buffalo Nickel, Mercury Dime and Walking Liberty Half Dollar when it comes to numbers of active set collectors? I can think of a number of reasons. Some are pretty obvious while some are pretty far-fetched and I'm throwing them out there only to encourage debate. Here are some of the reasons I came up with:

1. 20th century U.S. gold is typically marketed as type coins and not by date. Traditionally, people have viewed coins like Indian Head half eagles as something you just need one of, not dozens. Simultaneously, higher grade 20th century gold coins are frequently sold more as "investments" than collectible coins. Over the last two decades, I have seen many collectors burst on the scene in a specific 20th century series only to flame out and sell their coins back a year or two later. The Steve Duckors and Austin Fursts of the 20th century gold world are alot rarer than their quick-in quick-out counterparts.

2. "They all look the same." A new collector once told me this when he decided not to continue with the Indian Head eagle set that I was helping him build. Now, I don't agree with this. If you become a student of, say, the Indian Head half eagle series it becomes clear that a 1911-D looks a lot different than a 1916-S. Its struck differently, has a different texture and has different coloration as well. But these subtleties are often lost on novice collectors.

3. There's too much difference in value for barely distinguishable quality. For many key date 20th century U.S. gold coins, the difference in price between an MS64 and an MS65 can be huge. As an example, an MS64 1913 Saint Gaudens double eagle is worth $7,500 or so while a no-question asked MS65 is worth over $50,000. It takes a real leap of faith for a new collector to pay a 7x premium for a difference in quality that he not only doesn't see but probably doesn't understand. The creation of CAC has made it a little less scary for a new collector to pay huge premiums for MS65's but from personal experience I know that the value for Gem coins just isn't always there.

4. There is no up-to-date reference work. David Akers wrote a terrific book on 20th century United States gold but it was published in 1988 and the information is out-of-date (not to mention that the book is out-of-print and fairly scarce). If Akers or a new expert were to take this book and update it with information that was relevant to the current coin market, this would be a huge shot in the arm for 20th century gold.

5. There is no sense of nostalgia inherent with these coins. People buy coins like 1909-S VDB Cents or 1916-D Dimes because they couldn't afford one when they were ten years old and filling holes in their blue Whitman folders. No one is haunted by the 1927-D Saint that they couldn't save enough money from their paper route to afford when they were a kid.

6. High grade 20th century gold coins are very expensive. It is a pretty serious financial commitment to collect Saints in Gem or Indian half eagles in MS64 and up. This obviously limits the number of people who can collect these coins.

7. Affordable grade 20th century gold is ugly. OK, maybe not "ugly." But you'll have a hard time convincing me that an Indian Head gold coin in EF and AU grades is remotely attractive. This is not the case with Liberty Head gold coins which is really attractive with limited wear.

8. Pricing information for many 20th century gold coins is hard to come by. Yes, its easy to figure out what a common date Saint is worth in a PCGS MS64 holder. But its not so easy to determine what a 1913 is worth in an NGC MS65 holder versus a PCGS MS65 holder versus a PCGS MS65 holder with CAC approval. If someone published accurate pricing information on the 20th century series, I believe it would jump-start collector interest.

9. There are few "go to" retail dealers for better date 20th century gold. If you collect 19th century Liberty Head gold, there are some obvious candidates who to buy from (and I'd like to think that DWN is one of them). The person who, in my opinion, is the sharpest dealer for rare date 20th century gold is Kevin Lipton and Kevin is a wholesale dealer who probably is going to be hard for many collectors to deal with as he has no website.

As I mentioned in the beginning of this blog, 20th century gold coins deserve to have more date collectors than they currently do. These are attractive, interesting coins. They are within reasonably short-lived series and unless you attempt a Gem set, they are within the price range of many collectors. I'd be curious to know what your take is on why they are not as popular as Lincoln Cents or Mercury Dimes and invite you to send me an email at dwn@ont.com with your input.

Pre-FUN Observations

I think this year's FUN show will reveal alot about the direction of the market for the year. On Wall Street, it's a known fact that if January is strong, the rest of the year is as well. I can't state this with total certainty as far as coins go but my experience is that a strong FUN generally means the rest of the year will be good as well. Early reports from the pre-FUN show (which I am not attending) are interersting. Some dealers clearly "get" the fact that the market isn't as strong as it was and that their coins need to be repriced to sell. Others appear to be in strong denial mode. If you notice minimal changes in your favorite dealer's inventory after this show, you'll quickly figure out if he or she "gets" it or not.

For me, a problem at past FUN shows has been a lack of material. I'm not sure this will be the case this year. I've already bought some pretty outstanding new coins and I have the feeling that buying this year will not be as hard as in the past. Plus there is always the looming specter of $100 milion+ in coins at the auctions.

Someone asked me the other day what the keys will be to a dealer's success (or lack of it) in 2009. I think it boils down to three simple things: ample capitalization, having good clients and having established programs to sell into. Any dealer who is weak in at least two of these three areas is in for a long year.

I'm not totally certain that the rare date gold market is going to be as easy to analyze post-FUN as is, say, the type coin or widget markets. None of the major auctions are especially strong in any of the important areas of dated gold. Early indications appear that nice pre-1834 gold seems to be doing fine, particularly if the coins have been approved by CAC. The Heritage sale contains an important collection of Indian Head eagles so we will, no doubt, get a feel for what gem examples of the rarities in this aerea are worth. But I'm afraid that areas like C+D gold, TYpe One and Two double eagles and Carson City issues won't be as easy to gauge; at least not for the next month or two.

12 Great Values in the Rare Date Gold Market Priced Below $5,000 Part Two: Eagles and Double Eagles

In the first part of this article, I discussed gold dollars, quarter eagles, three dollar gold pieces and half eagles priced below $5,000 that I felt were good values. In the second part, I am going to continue the same format but focus on eagles and double eagles. Given the popularity and high bullion value of these two denominations, you’d think that eagles and double eagles didn’t offer collectors in the $5,000 and under range many good values. This is far from the case. The eagle denomination contains so many exceptional values that I easily could have chosen over a dozen from the Liberty Head type alone. And there are a number of double eagles that are great values as well.

1. 1838 Eagle in VF and EF Grades

If you have a $5,000 and under budget, you won’t have a lot of opportunities to purchase an 1838 eagle. But if you can stretch your budget a bit and you have a chance to acquire a decent-looking example in a third-party holder, I would strongly encourage you to go for it. I absolutely love this issue. It is the first Liberty Head eagle and it has a low mintage figure of just 7,200. I’ve mentioned before that Trends values for this issue are absurdly low. As an example, the current values for an EF40 and EF45 1838 eagle are $2,900 and $4,025, respectively. This date is worth at least double in these grades but I still think it is a good value, given its historic significance and strong collector demand.

2. 1844 Eagle in EF

Since Philadelphia eagles from this era are not avidly collected by date, the 1844 is an issue that does not get a lot of respect. It is actually among the scarcest No Motto eagles. As of December 2008, PCGS had only recorded twenty-seven examples in all grades (including fifteen in EF) while NGC had recorded thirty-eight in all grades (including fourteen in EF). Allowing for resubmissions, I would estimate that there are around a dozen distinct third-party graded EF examples of the 1844 eagle. Heritage shows just three EF’s in their archives sold since 2000 and I have only handled two EF examples in this last decade. This date is still within reach of most collectors, despite its unquestionable rarity. Trends for an EF40 is $3,000 while an EF45 has a suggested value of $4,000. Were this a more popular series, I could easily see an EF 1844 eagle being worth $6,000-8,000.

3. Common Date No Motto Eagles in AU58

Properly graded, cosmetically appealing common date No Motto eagles from the 1840’s and 1850’s are far less available than one might assume, given current population figures. Let’s look at a random date—the 1851—as an example. As of December 2008, PCGS had graded a whopping two (!) in AU58 while NGC had graded forty-nine (including fifteen from the S.S. Republic). Now let’s assume that the thirty-four non-shipwreck AU58’s from NGC include a number of resubmissions as well as some coins that are not nice for the grade. This may leave us with as few as ten or so properly graded AU58’s. Trends for an 1851 eagle in this grade is just $2,500. So, I would contend that an 1851 eagle in nice AU58 at anywhere close to $2,500 is a fantastic bargain. The same holds true with other supposedly common dates like the 1847, 1848, 1850 Large Date, 1854, 1855, 1859 and 1860.

4. 1852-O Eagle in EF

If you have a budget of $5,000 and less per coin, you can get a lot of bang for your buck(s) in the area of New Orleans eagles. Many of the scarcer dates from the 1840’s and 1850’s are pricey in About Uncirculated but are very affordable in Extremely Fine. One of my favorite issues is the 1852-O. I rank this as the fifth rarest No Motto eagle from this mint (it is tied with the 1855-O and 1856-O) and there are probably fewer than 100 known from the original mintage of 18,000. The current Trends values for the 1852-O in EF40 and EF45 are $1,100 and $2,500. I’m guessing that you’ll have to pay more than this for nice, properly graded pieces but the fact that you can buy a very presentable example of this legitimately rare date for less $2,000 makes it an exceptional value, in my opinion.

5. 1855-O Eagle in EF

Another No Motto New Orleans eagle that I think offers the collector a lot of value is the 1855-O. This date is similar in overall rarity to the 1852-O. In fact, the mintage is identical with just 18,000 produced. What I like about the 1855-O is that while it is genuinely scarce in EF grades, it is not impossible to find. Looking through my records over the last five years, I have bought and sold six of them in EF (two in EF40 and four in EF45) and I have never sold an EF for more than $3,250. If this is a coin that interests you, I’d suggest that you look for a piece that has nice original color and surfaces. Strike is not an important factor on this date but eye appeal is and I would always pay a premium for a good looking example.

As an FYI, I would add the 1846-O, 1848-O, 1850-O, 1856-O and 1857-O as other No Motto New Orleans eagles in EF that are affordable but quite scarce.

6. Low Grade 1863 or 1864-S Eagles

These are two of the absolutely rarest dates in the entire Liberty Head eagle series. The 1863 has an original mintage of just 1,248 business strikes while the 1864-S has a mintage of 2,500. The 1863 has a Trends value of just $4,500 in VF while the 1864-S has a Trends value of $5,500 in VF. That’s the good news. The bad news is that you are going to have a pretty tough time finding an affordable example of either date. PCGS has graded just five 1863 eagles in VF and lower grades and just six of the 1864-S in this range. But if you are patient and keep the funds available, these coins do exist and they, in theory, should be available. I generally do not like gold coins in grades below EF but I would make an exception for either of these. In fact, I’d even buy an 1863 or an 1864-S that had been lightly cleaned.

7. 1872 Eagle

Here’s another really rare coin that won’t appeal to everyone who reads this article. Some collectors prefer higher grade coins and they are going to spend their $5,000 budget on a coin (or coins) that are Mint State or thereabouts. Others appreciate true rarity and will like coins like the 1872 eagle. This issue has a mintage of just 1,620 business strikes and a surviving population of three dozen or so. Unlike some of the other dates from this era, the 1872 is sometimes seen in higher grades and I know of two or three Uncirculated examples including a PCGS MS64. So what does five grand buy you in regards to this date? Heritage 6/08: 2150, a nice PCGS VF25 in an old green label holder, brought $4,313. If you are patient you should be able to buy a very presentable VF for around the same price.

8. 1915-S Eagle, MS62

A few years ago, there was a large spread in values between many of the rare date Indian Head eagles in MS62 and MS63. The reason for this was simple: there was a significant difference in visual quality between an MS62 and an MS63. Today, this is not really the case and many collectors have a hard time telling the difference between an MS62 and MS63. Because of this fact, the value spread between these two grades has shrunk. On a percentage basis, the greatest difference between these two grades is seen on the 1915-S. In MS62, a nice example is worth $7,000 or so. In MS63, the price jumps to $15,000+. In my opinion, a nice MS62 is a good value, especially if the coin has a CAC sticker.

9. 1854-S Double Eagle in EF

Unless you are a Type One double eagle specialist, you probably are not aware of the fact that the 1854-S is a scarce and much undervalued issue in all grades. What is confusing about this date is its relative availability in the lower Uncirculated grades as a result of a few small groups found in shipwrecks a few years ago. In circulated grades, however, the 1854-S is a really scarce issue, especially with original surfaces. Another important factor about this date is its strong historic significance. It is, of course, the very first double eagle produced at the San Francisco mint and it has strong Gold Rush association as a result. Trends for an EF40 is just $2,800 while an EF45 is $4,000. I believe that an attractive EF example at anything close to these levels is a great value.

10. 1855, 1856, 1857 and 1858 Double Eagles in AU

I have been a big fan of these four dates for many years. They are probably the most common coins that I have discussed so far in this article but “rarity” is a relative term and they are part of the very popular Type One double eagle series. If you look at a coin like an 1855 in AU58 and compare it to an 1851-O or an 1852-O in a similar grade, you’ll be impressed. As of December 2008, PCGS had graded twenty-one in AU58 as well as another fourteen higher. The figures for the 1852-O are thirty in AU58 with a dozen better. According to these numbers, the 1855 is certainly in the same league as the 1852-O. But look at the Trends values: the 1855 is $5,500 in AU58 while the 1852-O is $20,000. Now granted that the 1852-O is more popular and it is a branch mint coin. Is it worth nearly four times more, though? If I were a collector of double eagles, I’d want to put together a nice little date run of these four Philadelphia issues in AU58 while they were still affordable.

11. 1868 Double Eagle in AU

I first learned about the 1868 double eagle back in the 1980’s when you could buy a really nice example for less than $1,000. This is obviously not the case today but the 1868 remains the best value in the entire Type Two double eagle series. This date is reasonably available in EF grades but it becomes scarce in the medium AU range and it is quite rare in Uncirculated. Today, a nice AU55 can be bought for around $5,000. Given the fact that the Type Two double eagle series is currently out of favor, I think the opportunity factor for this date hasn’t been this good in a few years. When Type Two double eagles become popular again (and I can pretty much guarantee you they will...) I can see the price of the 1868 rising appreciably.

12. CAC Approved Slightly Better Date Double Eagles in MS64

The market for slightly better dates Saints is pretty interesting right now. Due to a number of factors, dates that formerly had a Market Premium Factor of 10-20% can be purchased for little or no premium over a common date. When the market for these coins becomes less out of whack, I would expect them to regain much of their old pricing premium. The key to buying these dates is holding out for solid coins for the grade and this is why I think paying a premium for CAC examples makes sense. The dates that I like most in MS64 are the 1907 No Motto, 1908-D, 1909-S, 1910, 1910-D, 1911-S, 1913-D, 1914-D and 1922. Not all of these can be bought for common date levels (and you are going to have to pay a premium for a nice CAC coin) but if you do some basic research you will note that a number of these can be bought at nice discounts relative to their highs in 2007/2008.

This was a hard article to write as I could have easily mentioned another dozen issues that I thought were good value at the sub-$5,000 level. Something that many new collectors do not realize is that interesting gold coins do not necessarily have to be “expensive” and that you do not have to be a rich person to put together a fine collection of U.S. gold.

The Single Greatest Indian Head Eagle in Existence

There has never been an Indian Head eagle which has shattered the $1 million dollar mark. This is soon going to change, though, when Heritage sells Dr. Steven Duckor’s incredible 1920-S eagle in their March 2007 National Money Show auction in Charlotte, North Carolina. I fully expect this coin to break all previous price records for an example of this design type. If you were to ask five experts in 20th century US gold coinage the question “what is the single greatest Indian Head eagle in existence,” I’m reasonably certain that the answer would be unanimous: The Duckor 1920-S eagle which has been graded MS67 by PCGS.

This coin is very important for at least two significant reasons: it is very possibly the finest known Indian Head eagle of any date (it was graded MS67 by PCGS many years ago and by today’s standards I would think it had a pretty decent shot to upgrade to MS68) AND it just so happens to be the rarest date in the series in Gem Uncirculated. I can not think of many other situations in which a finest known single coin also happens to be a rarity as well.

In 2005 I first had the pleasure of viewing this coin in person. I was doing some other business with Steve Duckor and he asked me if I’d like to view his coin collection. There were a lot of memorable coins in his sets but I think the one that stuck with me most was the 1920-S Eagle. And I could tell that this coin held a special place in Steve’s heart as well.

This coin was first sold by dealer Jerry Cohen to another dealer, Dennis Forgue, in 1968 for $3,500. It was placed in the collection of Dr. William Blackwell until the Stack’s June 1979 auction where Dr. Steven Duckor purchased it for $85,000; an enormous amount of money at the time for an Indian Head eagle. After remaining in Dr. Duckor’s collection for over a quarter of a century, it will be sold on March 16, 2007 as Lot 2134 in the Heritage auction.

I can personally think of at least three or four serious collectors who are going to really want to add the Duckor 1920-S eagle to their collection. This should create a level of competitive bidding that leads to a world-record price for the date and for the entire denomination.

Given the fact that the outstanding MS66 1920-S eagle in the Kutasi collection was recently sold by Heritage for a record price of $402,500, I think it’s pretty safe to say that the Duckor coin is going to bring considerable more; maybe even three times as much.

I’m personally very excited to witness the sale of this coin in Charlotte on the night of March 16th. Its going to be a great piece of Numismatic Drama and yet another feather in the cap of Dr. Steve Duckor; a personal friend and one of the greatest collectors I have ever known.

Four 20th Century Gold Rarities and the Stories Behind Them

All four of the 20th century American gold types that were produced contain key issues that are very popular with collectors. This article takes a look at four of these: the 1911-D quarter eagle, the 1909-O half eagle, the 1920-S eagle and the 1921 double eagle. What do these four coins have in common? More than you would think. With the exception of the 1921 double eagle, each has a comparatively low mintage figure and is recognized as a key issue within its respective series. Each is very popular with collectors. And all four are relative “late discoveries” among collectors that have only recently been recognized as rarities within their series and have shown price appreciation befitting this status.

I. 1911-D Quarter Eagle

The Indian Head quarter eagle has proven to be one of the more popular of the four 20th century United States gold types. It is a short-lived set with just fifteen coins. Unlike its three counterparts, this series does not contain any impossible rarities and it can be completed in nice Uncirculated grades by a collector of reasonably average means. Because of this series brief duration and its relative ease of completion, it was a natural to be promoted on a large scale. And, unlike with other 20th century coinage, Indian Head quarter eagles have always been available in large enough quantities to make promotion readily feasible.

As soon as the first coin dealer realized that Indian Head quarter eagles were a great set to promote, the status of the 1911-D rose dramatically. Here was a coin that was an obvious candidate to be the superstar of the set. It had the lowest mintage figure by a huge margin and it was a legitimately scarce coin. As the Indian Head quarter eagle series became more and more popular, price levels for the 1911-D ran amuck. Today, many observers (including myself) feel that this is now among the more overvalued United States gold coins.

It is interesting to look at the numbers of 1911-D quarter eagles graded by PCGS and price levels. As an example, PCGS and NGC have graded over 1,200 1911-D quarter eagles in MS63 and MS64. Even assuming that a number of these are resubmissions, that is still somewhere in the area of 600-800 coins. According to the most recent Coin Dealer Newsletter, dealer bids for this date are $20,500 and $29,000, respectively, in MS63 and MS64. By the most optimistic standards, let’s say that there are currently 200 or so collectors and investors assembling high grade sets of Indian Head quarter eagles. That still means that the supply of these coins is generally more than enough to meet the demand. The bottom line is that while I think this coin has a great story behind it, it is wildly overvalued in the middle Uncirculated grades. (In MS65, the 1911-D is a truly rare coin and I think its current value of $80,000++ is legitimate). When and if the firms that are actively promoting Indian Head quarter eagles wind-down their marketing efforts, I can see MS63 and MS64 examples of this date losing a significant amount of their value.

II. 1909-O Half Eagle

The 1909-O has long been recognized as a key issue in the Indian Head half eagle series but its true scarcity in Uncirculated grades was not always recognized. This is true, of course, with most dates in this series. Before grading became as specialized as it is today, collectors who focused on Indian Head half eagles were unlikely to know—or care—if a coin was an MS63 or an MS64 or an MS65. The rarity of these coins in Gem really only became apparent once modern grading standards were applied to United States gold issues in the late 1970’s - early 1980’s.

The 1909-O has the lowest mintage figure of any Indian Head half eagle. In fact, it is one of just three issues in the series with an original mintage of less than 100,000 coins. There were 34,200 struck and this issue was clearly used in commerce as most of the survivors are in the EF40 to AU55 grade range. What is very surprising about this issue is that almost no examples were saved as souvenirs by local collectors or wealthy New Orleans residents who clearly must have found the 1909-O half eagle to be an interesting coin; after all, it was the first example of this denomination to be struck at New Orleans since 1894 and it was the first with the novel new incuse Indian Head design.

By the 1960’s, it was clear that this date was very rare in Choice to Gem Uncirculated and looking at auctions from this era, one sees some comparatively high prices realized for examples of the 1909-O half eagle that were described as Choice. But prices for this date really came into their own in the mid to late 1970’s when high grade rarities reached price levels that went unequalled for many years.

Today, specialists know that the 1909-O is rare in properly graded MS62, very rare in MS63 and extremely rare in MS64. The population figures for this issue appear to be very inflated as witnessed by the current PCGS population of 21 coins in MS64 (in my opinion, it is unlikely that there are more than four or five accurately graded MS64 examples known). There are two or three Gems known including the Eliasberg coin which is now in a PCGS MS66 holder and which is, without a doubt, the single most valuable business strike Indian Head half eagle in existence.

Is the 1909-O half eagle overvalued? I think the current prices that this issue fetches in AU55 to MS61 seem too strong, given the relative availability of such coins and the fact that most are dramatically overgraded. In MS62 and higher I don’t think this coin is overvalued. My reasoning behind this is the fact that the 1909-O is the only Indian Head half eagle that has multiple levels of demand. It is considered desirable by New Orleans gold collectors, one-year type coin specialists and Indian Head half eagle aficionados. These multiple levels of demand ensure that the 1909-O is likely to continue to be one of the key 20th century American gold coins.

III. 1920-S Eagle

Between 1916 and 1929, only one eagle was produced at the San Francisco mint: the 1920-S. This is a coin which is far rarer than its original mintage figure of 126,500 would suggest. It appears that virtually all of these coins were melted and that almost none of the 1920-S eagles that were struck were released into circulation. I can’t recall having seen more than three or four that showed signs of actual circulation (and these were, in all probability, pocket pieces that had been carried as souvenirs).

There are a number of features that are unusual about the 1920-S, besides the fact that it is the only San Francisco eagle of this design struck in over a decade. Most Indian Head eagles are exceptionally well struck and show very strong fine detail at the centers. The 1920-S is the most poorly produced Indian Head eagle of any date. It is the only issue that typically shows pronounced weakness of strike. Many examples are weak on the hair below the word LIBERTY and on the corresponding portion of the reverse. In addition to this, the luster is often inferior and the overall level of eye appeal is inferior to that seen on other San Francisco eagles of this type. I presume that the reason for this is the fact that the people making these coins at the San Francisco mint hadn’t had much practice on any eagles, given the fact that none had been struck since 1916.

The price history of the 1920-S is interesting as well. This was a relatively expensive coin in the 1940’s and 1950’s but its price flattened in the 1960’s and early 1970’s. It became popular again the 1970’s and early 1980’s but when the Indian Head eagle series dropped in popularity in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, the 1920-S flattened. In fact, prices for this date in almost all grades were remarkably stagnant throughout the 1990’s. It has only been during the past few years that prices have risen, especially in higher grades. As an example, in Heritage’s July 2006 auction, a high end PCGS MS64 example sold for a remarkable $172,500. As a mater of comparison, the last two PCGS MS64 1920-S eagles offered by Heritage brought $41,400 and $55,200, respectively, when sold at auction in 2002 and 1999.

Today, the 1920-S is recognized as the third rarest issue in the series, trailing only the 1907 Rolled Edge and the 1933. Interestingly, the 1920-S has proven to be a far scarcer coin than the 1930-S; a date with which it was historically paired. But third-party grading has shown that the 1920-S is actually not the rarest San Francisco eagle in Gem Uncirculated. This honor belongs to the 1913-S. And another date in the series, the 1911-D, is comparable in rarity to the 1920-S in Gem, if not even a bit rarer.

IV. 1921 Double Eagle

The fourth and final coin in our discussion of 20th century gold issues is the rarest, although it is not necessarily the best known. Although some experts might disagree, I would rank the 1921 as the rarest Philadelphia double eagle of this design. Unlike its closest competitor the 1932, the 1921 is most often seen in the AU55 to MS61 range and it is extremely rare in MS64 and above.

The true rarity of this date was not known to the early generation of St. Gaudens double eagle collectors. Back in the day, the issues that were most actively sought were the mintmarked coins from the mid-1920’s. But hundreds of these were eventually located in Europe and in all grades below MS64; most of these coins are now only moderately scarce. Unlike dates such as the 1924-D, 1925-S and 1926-S, the 1921 was not exported to Europe. The “story behind the story” of the 1921 is very interesting and the true rarity of this date can be better understood when this is discussed.

Two things conspired to make the 1921 double eagle a rare coin. The first was that most of the mint’s production capacity and efforts in 1921 went towards silver dollars. Millions of Morgan Dollars were produced after a near-two decade hiatus and these were followed by the new Peace Dollar which was a complex, hard to produce High Relief design. Secondly, the United States economy in 1921 was going through a post-World War One slump which would continue until the middle part of the decade. Few gold coins were circulating in the early 1920’s and there was not a great deal of demand for double eagles in 1921. As a result, many of the 528,500 1921 double eagles that were struck were melted.

In addition to being rare because of mass meltings, this issue is rare because of the way it was produced. The 1921 is among the worst struck St. Gaudens double eagles and it is generally seen with poor luster. This shoddy level of workmanship meant that most examples were of inferior quality before they were produced. Coupled with the fact that the survivors tend to show heavy marks from rough handling and copious hairlines from numismatic abuse, the 1921 is among the rarest dates of this type in the higher Uncirculated grades.

It is likely that somewhere in the area of 60-80 examples are known. The PCGS and NGC population figures are both inflated with the AU58 and MS62 numbers showing the greatest number of resubmissions due to attempts to garner upgrades. The 1921 becomes an extremely rare coin in MS63 and above. There are probably no more than four to six known that grade MS63 or higher.

In 2005, I had the honor of handling the finest known 1921 double eagle. At Heritage’s Morse sale, my ex-partner and I purchased a PCGS MS66 example for $1,092,500. At the same sale, an MS65 example sold for $805,000 while and MS64 realized $402,500. Today, all three of these coins have been placed in prominent collections where they will, no doubt, remain for many years.

If any other high grade 1921 double eagles become available for sale, I would expect to see them sell for record prices. This is one 20th century issue whose rarity can not be disputed and it seems highly unlikely that any hoard or accumulations of this date are going to appear at any time in the future.

St. Gaudens 100th Anniversary

Next year marks the 100th anniversary of the introduction of Augustus St. Gaudens incomparable Indian Head eagle and double eagle designs. Assuming that this is an anniversary that will be met with much fanfare (and accompanying numismatic promotion) how can the savvy collector or investor take advantage of this? In my opinion, it would seem that the most obvious target for a promotion would be the High Relief double eagle. The reasons are obvious: its the first year of issue for the largest gold denomination, it’s a gorgeous design and a popular low mintage coin that, while scarce, can be accumulated in a large enough quantity to promote. This is a great theory except for one flaw: High Reliefs have been actively promoted for the last two or three years and are at historic all-time price highs.

But does this mean that High Reliefs are not a good investment at this point in time? If I were buying a High Relief strictly as an investment, I think I’d look at it as a very short term hold—like maybe a year or so. One of the nice things about these coins is that they tend to have very tight buy/sell spreads and even if your coin does not appreciate much in value, you’ll probably have minimal downside. From a long term standpoint, I’d probably pass on a High Relief and wait until prices come down.

How about the “regular relief” 1907 Saint—do these have a good future from an investment standpoint? I would say that yes, they do. But I wouldn’t mess with them in grades lower than MS65 due to the fact that they are very common. In MS66 I think this variety is a good value and an MS67 is a great addition to your collection if you can find one.

The Indian Head eagles are a very intriguing group of coins. There are three varieties known: the Rolled Edge, The Wire Edge and the No Motto.

The Rolled Edge is, in theory, a regular issue even though only 48 are believed to have been struck. This is one of the most attractive United States gold issues and it is going to cost you over $200,000 for an MS64 example.

A coin that is also attractive but a little less rare is the Wire Edge 1907 eagle. It has an original mintage of just 500. Curiously, this rare coin hasn’t seen much in the way of promotion in the past few years and, unlike its counterpart the 1907 High Relief double eagle, it has remained pretty flat (pun intended…) from a price standpoint. I am a big fan of the Wire Edge $10 in grades from MS63 to MS66 and I think this issue will see a big price increase in the next few years.

What about the more plebian 1907 No Motto eagle—will this issue be promoted and will it see price increases? I would say yes on both accounts. I’m sure you’ll see lower end Uncirculated coins peddled on a mass-market scale. I would stick to examples that grade MS64 and above. I really like this coin in MS66 and MS67 as it is a short-lived two year type and it is an extremely attractive coin in higher grades.

So, getting back to our original question, how can the investor best capitalize on what may be a 100th anniversary craze for the 1907 St. Gaudens eagles and double eagles? The way I see it, there are four ways of reacting:

    Go a bit crazy and buy a nice High Relief and a Wire Edge. Even if they don’t show strong short-term appreciation, you’ll still own two very liquid blue chip coins that will be cornerstones of your collection.

    React with moderation and buy nice MS64 to MS66 examples of the 1907 “regular issue” eagles and double eagles. Again, you’ll own two neat coins which you’ll enjoy.

    Do nothing and grumble about yet another pesky coin promotion.

    Decide to beat the crowd to the next promotion: the 100th anniversary of the Bela Lyon Pratt design Indian Head quarter eagle and half eagle. A nice matched set of MS64 or MS65 coins might make a great way to welcome in 2008.

Characteristics of An Ideal Coin Collector

After attending the recent Heritage sale of Dr. Steve Duckor’s Indian Head eagles, I was invited to have dinner with Steve and a group of elite-level collectors. The sale was a smashing success with the final prices realized at least thirty to forty percent higher than I imagined they would be. As we sat at dinner and celebrated Dr. Duckor’s success, one of the individuals at the table made a great comment: “Steve Duckor is the poster child for coin collectors.” I thought long and hard about this comment and suddenly realized that it was, in fact, completely true. Steve Duckor, in addition to being a great guy, is a great collector. There are, in my opinion, five factors that make him a truly special numismatist.

    He specializes in one or two areas and doesn’t wander outside his comfort zone. Steve Duckor specializes in Barber coinage (dimes and halves) and 20th century gold (Indian Head eagles and Saints). By keeping his focus on these areas, he has been able to build great sets and become far more knowledgeable than most dealers. Collectors with a clearly defined focus are unquestionably more successful (and probably happier) than those with a scattered approach.

    He found a “look” and built his collection(s) around it. I had the chance to view Steve’s collections last year and was stunned at how standardized the appearance of many of his coins was. As an example, many of his Barber coins had dazzling peripheral coloration framing frosty centers. His Saint Gaudens double eagle set contains many of the most attractively toned gold coins I have ever seen. When these sets hit the market they will bring record prices because the coins have fantastic overall eye appeal that improves as you see all the coins together.

    He established a strong relationship with a great dealer. Steve was lucky to find David Akers early in his career and this enabled him to not only have access to some great coins but to have access to a great mind. Dave Akers loves Barber halves, Indian Head eagles and St. Gaudens double eagles and his enthusiasm for these series rubbed off on Steve Duckor.

    He was patient and held his coins for the long-term. Many of today’s collectors sell their collections literally as soon as they are finished. This mindset has been fueled by two forces: a strong market (which allows many collectors to realize big profits in a short period) and aggressive marketing by auction firms (which pushes many collectors to sell even if they aren’t necessarily ready to do so). Steve Duckor owned many of his Indian Head eagles for two decades and he realized enormous profits on many of these long-term purchases.

    He is a nice guy and he slowly built a cult following among other collectors and dealers. Steve Duckor is not only one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met, he’s one of the canniest. His coins have a mystique surrounding them not only because they are superb but because they are owned by Steve Duckor. This is a case where a pedigree adds a considerable amount of value.

Will you be the next Steve Duckor? Perhaps not, but I would suggest that by following these five rules (and buying great coins) you have a chance to be.