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HomeUS Coins1923 Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle : A Collector's Guide

1923 Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle : A Collector’s Guide

1923 Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle. Image: Heritage Auctions / CoinWeek.
1923 Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle. Image: Heritage Auctions / CoinWeek.

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

The 1923 Saint-Gaudens $20 gold double eagle features one of the most famous of all American coin designs, arguably the most beautiful and artistic ever realized in the United States. Its existence came only at the insistence of President Theodore Roosevelt (in office 1909-09), who sought for years to beautify America’s humdrum coin designs.

American sculptor Augustus 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 were made possible only due to the work of Saint-Gaudens’ assistant Henry Hering.

The United States Mint’s first strikings 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 completely impractical for use in striking circulating coins. Barber is often slandered in numismatic circles as being entitled, hard to deal with, and unprofessional to his peers in the engraving department and to outside artists.

This could not be farther from the truth. And in the case of the double eagle design, he was absolutely 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), both Congress and the public nevertheless wanted it there. The motto was restored (it was on the previous Liberty Head type) later in 1908 by Congressional action, which brought the double eagle into compliance with the Act of March 3, 1865, the original mandate for the text.

There was one more significant modification of the double eagle before President Franklin Delano Roosevelt ended circulating gold coinage in 1933. 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.

The 1923 Saint-Gaudens $20 Double Eagle in Today’s Market

The 1923 Saint-Gaudens $20 double eagle had a mintage of 566,000 pieces. In a series where so many key issues have been lost to government seizure and the melting pot, mintage totals are inefficient predictors of overall rarity. As it stands, the 1923 sits amongst a run of Philadelphia Mint issues starting in 1920 and continuing through 1928 that comprises the core of the generic Saint-Gaudens market.

The term “generic” may be off-putting to some, but in the rare coin industry, it describes a coin that has only a basic value over the coin’s intrinsic worth. In the raw, an About Uncirculated or Brilliant Uncirculated example would routinely trade at the prevailing spot price. In certified grades of MS63 and MS64, these generic Saint-Gaudens issues carry a premium of approximately 15% over spot price.

The market values for 1923 Saint-Gaudens $20 double eagles radically depart from this percentage at the grade MS65 and above. In MS65, the 1923 Saint sells for around $5,000. A strong premium is offered for CAC-approved examples at MS65. In lower grades, this is not necessarily the case.

The top certified grade for the 1923 is MS66 and as of the date of publication of this article, PCGS reports 10 pieces with three discrete examples illustrated on Coinfacts and NGC reports two specimens at this grade. These totals are slightly up from the last time we surveyed this issue in 2022. The record price paid for one at this level is $72,000 USD at a May 2022 Heritage sale.

The better of the two Dr. Steven Duckor specimens (which we used to illustrate this article) was a previous record holder, having sold for $48,875 in November 2005. At the time of that sale, the Duckor piece was one of only two graded at MS66. The Duckor example has since sold two more times: for $36,800 in February 2008 and for $40,250 in January 2012. A different MS66 specimen brought $33,600 in a June 2019 Heritage auction.

One major factor driving up the cost of the 1923 Saint-Gaudens double eagle in MS66 is not necessarily its rarity but the comparative ease of acquisition for the most affluent registry set participants. Whereas each grading point helps these collectors acquire positions in the set leaderboards, generic issues tend to provide a more affordable and more frequent opportunity to better the set. Contrast the ease of acquisition of the finest 1923 to any Mint State example of the 1927-D and you will see this factor at play.

Doubling back to an earlier part of this analysis where we mentioned the term “generic”. It’s true that no two coins are alike and that coins with exceptional eye appeal excite collectors regardless of rarity. The 1923 is a good example of a coin that is traded in a variety of ways and is to be considered differently depending on a number of factors that may seem obtuse to beginner collectors. It is a common date for telemarketers and late-night coin shows, but at the highest levels of the grading spectrum, where examples are few, it is also an issue that draws significant interest in national auctions.

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Market Data and Noteworthy Specimens

Top PopulationPCGS MS66 (10, 4/2024). NGC MS66 (2, 4/2024), and CAC MS65 (7:0 stickered:graded, 4/2024).

  • PCGS MS66 #45420968: As MS65+. Auction ’84, Paramount, Lot 994; David W. Akers; Dr. Steven L. Duckor; As PCGS MS66 #4987563. “The Philip H. Morse Collection of Saint-Gaudens Coinage,” Heritage Auctions, November 3, 2005, Lot 6653 – $48,875. Duckor on insert; Dr. Steven L. Duckor, 2007. As PCGS MS66 #16342395. “The Dr. and Mrs Steven L. Duckor Collection,” Heritage Auctions, Janaury 5, 2012, Lot 4633 – $40,250. As PCGS MS66 #45420968. “The Bob R. Simpson Collection, Part IX,” Heritage Auctions, August 22, 2022, Lot 3412 – $66,000. Duckor-Simpson on Simpson novelty insert. Large diagonal toning streak across the obverse from center down. Diagonal scratches on left arm and below left arm elbow (to the left of the branch).
  • PCGS MS66 #10156894: Dr. Steven L. Duckor; Heritage Auctions, June 2007, Lot 2781 – $34,500; Bowers and Merena, February 2008, Lot 2895; “The Oliver Collection,” Heritage Auctions, August 2011, Lot 7703 – $29,900; “The Warren Collection,”  Heritage Auctions, May 5, 2022, Lot 4090 – $72,000. Duckor on insert. Diagonal streak only above date to knee. Planchet void at 9 o’clock rim on the reverse.
  • PCGS MS66 #37059653: Heritage Auctions, June 6, 2019, Lot 3296 – $33,600. Thin horizontal scratch on left arm. Copper spot above left bicep. Copper spot to the left of eagle’s beak.
  • PCGS MS66 #21929544: “The Kutasi Collection,” Heritage Auctions, January 4, 2007, Lot 3291 – $37,375; “The Stephen Stokely Collection, Part Five,” Heritage Auctions, July 31, 2008, Lot 2109 – $34,500. Tiny diagonal marks running up from the left on the obverse. 
  • PCGS MS65+ #35823911: Stack’s Bowers, November 14, 2023, Lot 3265 – $9,000.
  • PCGS MS65+ CAC #36354277: Heritage Auctions, August 20, 2021, Lot 4342 – $24,000.
  • PCGS MS65+ CAC #37543095: “The Rollo Fox Collection of $20 Saint-Gaudens Gold,” Heritage Auctions, January 9, 2020, Lot 4034 – $26,400. Fox on insert.
  • PCGS MS65+ #81890448: Stack’s Bowers, March 31, 2017, Lot 4580 – $7,637.50.

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1923 Saint-Gaudens $20 Double Eagle 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). Henrietta “Hettie” Anderson served as Saint-Gauden’s primary model. 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; a monogram of the designer’s initials ASG is below the date.

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. The words of both phrases are separated by centered triangular dots, and the text is also in front of the sun’s rays.

Edge:

The motto E PLURIBUS UNUM in raised letters and 13 raised stars are on the edge of the 1923 Saint-Gaudens $20 double eagle gold 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: 1923
Denomination: 20 Dollars (USD)
Mint Mark: None (Philadelphia)
Mintage: 566,000
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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3 COMMENTS

  1. I am happy to see an article that highlights the rarity of a 1923 Saint in MS65. Good work. With a CAC sticker the coin is worth substantially (close to 3x) more than a non CAC MS65 as there are only seven CAC approved and none finer.

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