GreatCollections by CoinWeek ….
On Sunday, June 28, GreatCollections is offering this 1903 Liberty Head $20 gold double eagle, graded Proof-64 by PCGS. It is one of the highlights of the Catskill Collection of US coins, a collection of 240 pieces certified by both NGC and PCGS and valued at over $6 million USD. Other great rarities represented in the collection include a 1792 half dime, a 1794 silver dollar, a $4 gold Stella, and one of the best 1907 High Relief Saint-Gaudens ever graded.
PCGS reports 10 coins graded PR-64, with only two pieces graded higher at PR-65. But understanding that this could represent perhaps a quarter of all surviving examples magnifies the condition rarity of the coin GreatCollections is offering. The United States Mint struck 158 Proof double eagles dated 1903, which happens to be the highest mintage of any Proof in the series. But over time, the majority of 1903 Proofs have been lost – some, no doubt, to President Roosevelt’s gold recall in 1933.
Looking at auction results for PCGS-graded Proof 1903 double eagles, we have to go back seven years for the most recent record when a specimen sold for $61,688 USD in July 2013. According to PCGS, this is the record price paid for a Proof 1903. In August 2011, an example sold for $40,250, and in March of that year, a piece went for $39,100. The previous year saw slightly higher prices, with a specimen selling for $43,125 in July and another 1903 Proof double eagle selling for $37,375 in May.
As for the issue’s performance on GreatCollections.com, be sure to check out their Auction Archives of over 600,000 certified coins sold in the past seven years.
At the time of writing, the highest bid on this Proof 1903 Liberty Head double eagle is $23,503.56 USD after 32 bids.
History and Context of the 1903 Liberty Head Double Eagle
This last variation of the Liberty Head $20 double eagle gold coin, often called Type 3, was produced in large quantities, particularly during the last decade of the 19th century and in the years leading to the end of the series in 1907.
In most years, production from the San Francisco Mint was greater than from any of the other mints, including Philadelphia. The designer of the Liberty Head double eagle, James B. Longacre, had died in 1869. His successor William Barber, and Barber’s son Charles, made modest changes to the designs such as changing the denomination on the reverse from TWENTY D. to TWENTY DOLLARS (which defines the type) and a stronger angle of the neck truncation on Liberty (which provided more space for the date).
Circulation strikes were minted at Philadelphia (all years except 1883, 1884, and 1887), Carson City (1877-1879, 1882-1885, 1889-1893), New Orleans (1879), San Francisco (all years except 1886), and Denver (1906-1907); the CC, O, S, and D mintmarks are located in the narrow space below the eagle, above TWENTY DOLLARS, on the reverse. Proofs were minted every year at Philadelphia, and prooflike pieces from the Denver Mint in 1906 and 1907 are known.
Type 3 of the double eagle coincided with turbulent political and economic times in the United States. In 1878, gold coins for the first time circulated at the same value as comparable paper money issues, where before they had traded at a premium (that is, it took more than a dollar’s worth of paper to buy a dollar’s worth of gold, based on face value). Even so, other than in the central western states, gold coins did not widely circulate. People had adapted to using currency for transactions and continued to do so even when silver and gold coins were available.
Declining world-wide demand for silver was contrasted by the U.S. government’s politically constrained purchase of vast amounts of silver for coinage into silver dollars, per the 1878 Bland-Allison Act. This caused an outflow of gold coins to countries where silver was no longer wanted as payment for obligations. The double eagle was the coin of choice for these transactions, and the export of gold coins became so severe that the Treasury almost ran out of gold (the backing for certain currency) in January 1895. National bankruptcy was averted by the behind-the-scenes actions of such wealthy private citizens as J. Pierpont Morgan, who transferred private gold holdings to the Sub-Treasury in New York. The infusion was sufficient to avert the crisis, and gold stocks were slowly replenished in the following months.
Longacre’s classical left-facing Liberty on the obverse is said to be modeled after a Hellenistic sculpture type, the Crouching Venus. A beaded-edged coronet with the word LIBERTY is placed on her head, and curled locks both drape down the back of the neck and sweep from the front to form rolled curls at the back of her head. Thirteen six-pointed stars encircle inside a dentilled rim, and the date is centered at the bottom. The designer’s initials “JBL” appear at the bottom edge of the neck truncation as on both previous types.
The reverse displays UNITED STATES OF AMERICA around the top two-thirds inside a dentilled rim, and the denomination TWENTY DOLLARS is centered at the bottom. An eagle with outstretched wings is in the center, clutching three arrows in the left claw and a small olive branch in the right, with a shield placed across its breast. Its head turned to its right, the eagle holds in its beak one of two top extensions of an elaborately curled and parted double scroll or ribbon, which some suggest represents the double eagle denomination. E PLURIBUS is in the center of the ribbon to the left, and UNUM in a similar location on the ribbon to the right. Above the eagle’s head and below STATES OF, 13 small six-pointed stars form a slightly flattened oval. Six of the stars are on the blank field and seven overlap the edge of sunburst-like rays that form an arc between the eagle’s wings. Within the oval is the motto IN GOD WE TRUST.
The edge of the 1903 Liberty Head double eagle is reeded.