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HomeUS Coins1921 Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle : A Collector's Guide

1921 Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle : A Collector’s Guide

1921 Saint-Gaudens double eagle. Image: Stack's Bowers / CoinWeek.
1921 Saint-Gaudens double eagle. Image: Stack’s Bowers / CoinWeek.

By Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker for CoinWeek Notes …..
 

The Saint-Gaudens $20 gold double eagle is one of the most famous American coin types, acclaimed as one of the most beautiful and artistic numismatic designs ever realized in the United States. Its existence came only at the insistence of President Theodore Roosevelt, who sought for years to beautify America’s humdrum coin designs.

Saint-Gaudens’ involvement in the process was meant to be more far-reaching than it turned out to be. The artist set out to redesign every denomination of America’s circulating coinage but fell seriously ill before this plan could come to fruition. In fact, what we have in the form of the Saint Gaudens-designed $10 and $20 gold coins was made possible only due to the work of Saint Gaudens’ assistant Henry Hering.

The United States Mint’s first strikes of this $20 design came in the form of two dozen Proofs struck in March of 1907, each coin requiring nine impressions to realize the full detail of Saint-Gaudens’ high-relief design.

The Mint’s engraving department, led by Chief Engraver Charles Barber, was adamant that the high-relief models were impractical for striking circulating coins. Barber is often slandered in numismatic circles as entitled, hard to deal with, and unprofessional to his U.S. Mint engraving department peers and outside artists—but this could not be farther from the truth.

And in the case of the double eagle design, he was, unfortunately, correct!

After a few versions of the double eagle proved too difficult to strike, Barber modified Saint-Gaudens’s design, lowering the relief so the coin could be struck with only one blow.

When the coins were finally released in 1907, they proved controversial as they lacked the national motto “In God We Trust, “which President Roosevelt objected to on religious grounds. Even though the Coinage Act of 1890 did not include that motto among the mandatory legends and inscriptions to be placed on U.S. coins (perhaps an unintended omission), Congress and the public nevertheless wanted it there. The motto was restored in 1908 by Congressional action, which brought the double eagle again into compliance with the Act of March 3, 1865, the original mandate for the text.

Before President Franklin Delano Roosevelt ended circulating gold coinage in 1933, the double eagle underwent one more significant modification. In 1912, the number of stars encircling Liberty on the obverse was increased from 46 to 48, marking the addition of New Mexico and Arizona to the Union.

How Much Is the 1921 Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle Worth?

The 1921 Saint-Gaudens $20 double eagle had a mintage of 528,500. Although this total is far from one of the lowest mintages of the series, specialist collectors know late-date double eagle scarcity is more closely tied to the coin’s survival rate. This is why the often overhyped 1923 Saint, with a mintage of 566,000, is considered a type coin or “generic,” while the 1921 is considered a significant rarity.

The main reason for the 1921 Double Eagle’s elusiveness can be traced to the Treasury Department’s decision to store a significant portion of the issue in its vaults instead of releasing it into circulation. Numismatic researcher Roger Burdette believes that the Treasury did this to hold the coins as a reserve fund. When gold was recalled from circulation, the stock of 1921 double eagles was fed into the crucible and melted into dirty gold ingots, which are now held at Fort Knox.

The auction prices for 1921 Saint-Gaudens $20 double eagles are driven by condition. Even though the coin contains almost one troy ounce of gold, it has fewer than 150 survivors; therefore, the prevailing price of gold bullion has a negligible impact on its value.

While affluent collectors prefer Mint State examples in Choice or better, the most known examples grade between AU58 and MS62. As AU slider coins and counterfeits can be deceptive, no 1921 Saint-Gaudens double eagle purchase should be made without authentication and grading by either CAC, NGC, or PCGS.

The 1921 Saint-Gaudens double eagle sells between $50,000 and $70,000 in AU grades. This is moderately higher than coins in MS60 to MS62 but significantly lower than recent values for coins in MS63. The 10-year performance measurement in AU grades has been disappointing. After surging from the early 2000s to 2010, prices since have flatlined. Legend Rare Coin Auctions sold a PCGS AU55 example for $52,875 in February 2021. Stack’s Bowers sold an NGC AU58 example in August 2021 for $60,000. Both prices are lower than Heritage Auctions sold, for example, in the same grade, an example from the Douglas Martin Collection in January 2014 for $64,625.

In Mint State, in grades MS63 and above, the 1921 is extraordinarily rare. While significantly more expensive than examples in lower grades, the market for Choice or better 1921 double eagles has softened considerably. At least two examples in MS65 and MS66 both sold for over $1 million in the mid-2000s, and then examples in the same grade (the MS65 being the same coin) sold for significantly less when brought back to the market in 2012.

To what is this decline owed? Certainly not a dramatic increase in available supply. Instead, these sub-million-dollar results are due to a similarly-timed exit from the market of multiple competing buyers.

It is important to remember, the coin market is driven by supply and demand. When major competitors drop out of the market, prices invariably fall. However, the takeaway is that only a few competitors building high-end collections for MS65 and MS66 coins could elevate the finest 1921 Saint-Gaudens double eagles to seven-figure prices at auction. Such competition could manifest at any time, and with no vector for additional supply, prices would once again rise.

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Market Data and Noteworthy Specimens

Collector Stephen Morse owned not one, but three condition census 1921 Saint-Gaudens double eagles.

Top PopulationPCGS MS66 (2, 4/2024). NGC MS64 (716, 4/2024), and CAC MS65 (2:0 stickered:graded, 4/2024).

Stack's lot listing of the 1921 Saint-Gaudens double eagle from Auction '82.
Stack’s lot listing of the 1921 Saint-Gaudens double eagle from Auction ’82.
  • PCGS MS66 #16342338: Possibly “Dr. Thomas Louis Comparatte; George Godard;  Senator Hall; Stack’s, March 82, Lot 447 – $32,000; Superior, January 1984, Lot 1875 – $57,500. As PCGS MS66 #16342338. Heritage Auctions, January 5, 2012, Lot 4630 – $747,500.
  • PCGS MS66 #5651168: Stack’s, March 1982, Lot 1471 – $41,000; The Crawford Collection. As PCGS MS66 #5651168. “The Philip H. Morse Collection of Saint-Gaudens Coinage,” Heritage Auctions, November 3, 2005, Lot 6644 – $1,092,500. Crawford on insert. Pedigree research by Heritage Auctions.
  • PCGS MS65 CAC #05875327: “The Belden Roach Collection,” B. Max Mehl, Feburary 1944, Lot 179; possibly “World’s Greatest Collection,” Numismatic Gallery, January 1946; Lot 923; possibly “The Dr. Charles W. Green Collection,” B. Max Mehl, April 1949, Lot 791; possibly “The Jerome Kern Collection, B. Max Mehl, May 1950, Lot 639; Heritage Auctions, October 1994, Lot 7207; “the Dr. Hesselgesser Collection,” Goldbergs, September 2007, Lot 3524 – $1,012,000; Goldberg’s, January 2010; Heritage Auctions, August 3, 2012, Lot 5453 – $587,500. Pedigree research by Heritage Auctions.
  • PCGS MS65: Dr. Thomas Louis Comparette; George Goddard; Senator Hall; Louis E. Eliasberg, Sr.; “The Louis E. Eliasberg, Sr. Collection,” Bowers and Ruddy, October 1982, Lot 1052; Dr. Stephen Duckor; Jay Parrino (1990); “The Philip H. Morse Collection of Saint-Gaudens Coinage,” Heritage Auctions, November 3, 2005, Lot 6645 – $805,000.
  • PCGS MS64 #30433194: As PCGS MS64 #08648060. “The Ralph P. Muller Collection,” Heritage Auctions, January 7, 2010, Lot 2315 – $322,000. As PCGS MS64 #30433194. “A & A Saints Collection, the number 2 All-Time PCGS Saint-Gaudens $20 Gold Date Sate, Circulation Strikes (1907-1932),” Heritage Auctions, January 9, 2020, Lot 4565 – $210,000.
  • PCGS MS64 CAC #6548836: “The Philip H. Morse Collection of Saint-Gaudens Coinage,” Heritage Auctions, November 3, 2005, Lot 6646 – $402,500; Heritage Auctions, January 4, 2007, Lot 3288 – $373,750; Heritage Auctions, June 1, 2007, Lot 2772 – $402,500; “The Stephen Stokely Collection, Part Five,” Heritage Auctions, July 31, 2008, Lot 2106 – $474,375.
  • PCGS MS63+ #37543091: As PCGS MS63 #21895703. Goldbergs, February 2007, Lot 2728 – $218,500; Stack’s Bowers, August 2017, Lot 13276 – Passed. As PCGS MS63+ #37543091. “The Rollo Fox Collection,” Heritage Auctions, January 2020, Lot 4031 – $174,000. “The Noel Thomas Patton Collection,” Heritage Auctions, May 3, 2023, Lot 3339 – $288,000. Fox on insert.
  • PCGS MS63 #09917330: Heritage Auctions, October 2016, Lot 3590 – $218,500; “The Warren Collection,” Heritage Auctions, May 5, 2022, Lot 4087 – $312,000.
  • PCGS MS63 #5406222: “The Dr. James A. Ferrendelli Collection,” Stack’s Bowers, August 6, 2020, Lot 1304 – $192,000. Hit to the immediate left of Liberty’s hair. Mark just to the left of the olive branch. On the reverse, hits in the rays above O and D of GOD.
  • PCGS MS63 #25097229: Heritage Auctions, January 10, 2013, Lot 5965 – $158,625; “The Conch Collection,” Heritage Auctions, August 10, 2016, Lot 4389 – $199,750.
  • PCGS MS63 #07918112: Heritage Auctions, April 19, 2012, Lot 5379 – $178,250; Heritage Auctions, January 9, 2014, Lot 5591 – $164,500.
  • PCGS MS63 #09261717: “The Norweb Collection,” Bowers and Merena, November 1988, Lot 4113; “The El Dorado Collection,” Stack’s, November 7, 2006, Lot 1466 – $166,750; Heritage Auctions, April 29, 2010, Lot 2353 – $218,500. Cluster of hits above rays 6-8. Mark from torch to Liberty’s head. Small gouge above the eagle’s beak. Deep hit on the sun below T and through T.

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Design

Obverse:

The obverse features a full-length image of Liberty, facing forward with an olive branch in her extended left hand and a raised torch in her extended right. Draped in a long, flowing classical gown (a chiton), her hair is swept to the left. Some describe her as striding forward, but she appears instead to be in a pose, the foot of her left leg resting on a large rock (in front of which are oak leaves). To Liberty’s right, at the bottom of the coin, the sun is visible behind a depiction of the U.S. Capitol building. Rays from the sun extend upward from behind the Capitol and Liberty to about the level of Liberty’s waist. At the top of the coin is the word LIBERTY, the torch separating I and B. Forty-eight tiny six-pointed stars are arrayed just inside the flat rim, forming a circle broken only at the bottom.

The date in Arabic numerals is near the bottom on the right; below it, a monogram of the designer’s initials, ASG, is engraved.

Reverse:

The crest of the sun appears again on the reverse, at the bottom, with rays extending upward nearly to the top of the coin behind a majestic left-facing eagle, wings uplifted in flight. In an arc above the sun is IN GOD WE TRUST, the words separated by centered triangular dots. At the top is UNITED STATES OF AMERICA in a concentric arc next to the flat rim, with TWENTY DOLLARS just below in another arc. Centered triangular dots separate the words of both phrases, and the text is also in front of the sun’s rays.

Edge:

The motto E PLURIBUS UNUM, in raised letters that alternate with 13 raised stars, is on the edge of the coin.

Designer

Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848-1907) was a European-educated American sculptor, notable for numerous public monuments and other works in the Beaux Arts style. Working with President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt, he is responsible for some of the most beautiful numismatic designs in American history, such as the gold $10 eagle and the gold $20 double eagle.

Coin Specifications

Country: United States of America
Year Of Issue: 1921
Denomination: 20 Dollars (USD)
Mint Mark: None (Philadelphia)
Mintage: 528,000
Alloy: .900 Gold
Weight: 33.44 g
Diameter: 34.00 mm
Edge: Lettered: E * PLURIBUS * UNUM * * * * * * * * * * *
OBV Designer: Augustus Saint-Gaudens
REV Designer: Augustus Saint-Gaudens
Quality: Business Strike

 

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CoinWeek Notes
CoinWeek Notes
CoinWeek Notes presents expert analysis and insights from Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker, the award-winning editors of CoinWeek.com.

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2 COMMENTS

    • The 1973 Hobby Protection Act requires the word COPY to appear prominently on any reproduction of a genuine coin.

      The likelihood anyone would damage the surface of a genuine rarity is vanishingly small because its value would be _significantly_ reduced.

      Even if someone were that foolish, an expert evaluation should be able to validate (or invalidate) the coin’s authenticity.

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