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Coin Rarities & Related Topics: The Saint Gaudens $20 gold coins (Double Eagles) of Dr. Steven Duckor

News and Analysis on scarce coins, markets, and the collecting community #86

A Weekly CoinWeek Column by Greg Reynolds….
Last week, I wrote about the forty year collecting journey of Dr. Steven Duckor. The focus here is on his set of business strike Saint Gaudens Double Eagles (U.S. $20 gold coins). This set will be auctioned by Heritage on Thursday, Jan. 5, 2012, during the FUN Convention, at the convention center in Orlando. The first session of the second FUN Platinum Night, along with a separate catalogue, is devoted Dr. Duckor’s set of Saints, which is certainly among the half dozen finest such sets ever formed. If it contained a 1927-D, would it be the best business strike Saint set of all time? It is hard to say.

“Steve Duckor’s coins look the way the Saints are supposed to look,” David Hall declares. Hall is the primary founder of the PCGS and an expert in 20th century gold coins. “The thing that is unusual is how totally and completely original the coins are,” David emphasizes. “Steve’s Saints are going to go for premiums, and the premium is going to be for originality,” Hall adds.

In general, many Saints have been dipped, puttied or artificially toned. Dr. Duckor sought coins that have never been modified. I have yet to see the entire set. John Albanese “very much likes” most of these Saints and he, too, is overwhelmed by “the originality” of Dr. Duckor’s coins.

Kris Oyster “was really surprised and pleased” when he viewed Dr. Duckor’s Saints. “It is unusual to see coins that are that original in this day and time, especially better date Saints. Most look like they have never been cleaned, doctored, or even dipped,” Kris remarks. Oyster, a managing director at DGSE, has been actively trading in Saints “for more than thirty years.”

For a discussion of Dr. Duckor’s collecting experiences and accomplishments, please read last Wednesday’s piece. (As usual, clickable links are in blue.) Currently, the upcoming offering of his set of Saints is the lead story in the coin collecting community. Even collectors who cannot afford to buy them enjoy reading about and viewing Saints.

I. What are Saints?

Saint Gaudens Double Eagles are often thought of as the most beautiful coins of all. Saints were minted from 1907 to 1933. These are U.S. $20 gold coins that were designed, or at least based upon designs, by Augustus Saint Gaudens, who is the most famous sculptor in the history of the United States.

President Theodore Roosevelt commissioned Saint Gaudens to redesign the nation’s coinage. Unfortunately, Saint Gaudens died in 1907, before any of his coinage designs could be fully actualized. ‘High Relief’ Saints of 1907 and the ‘Wire Edge’ Eagles ($10 pieces) also of 1907 tend to be close, in terms of aesthetics and physical characteristics, to his visions. His plans for coins of other denominations never even came close to being fulfilled.

Saints dated 1933 are the subject of an ongoing legal debate, which I analyzed during the summer. Practically, a ‘complete set’ of business strikes consists of all those dating from 1907 to 1932, including coins minted at Philadelphia, Denver and San Francisco. Before 1942, U.S. coins minted in Philadelphia never had mintmarks and most did not until the 1980s, when the use of a ‘P’ mintmark became common. An ‘S’ mintmark indicates that a coin was struck in San Francisco, and ‘D’ is for Denver.

A set of business strikes is very different from a set of Proofs. Like most collectors of Saints, Dr. Duckor collected business strikes. There are not many Proofs in this series and these are hard to explain. Proofs were specially made and have unusual finishes. Business strikes were produced by ordinary methods and high quality business strikes tend to exhibit mint luster.

Each Saint Gaudens $20 gold coin (Double Eagle) is approximately 90% gold, 10% copper, and contains almost one troy ounce of gold. The copper content contributes to some Saints toning a variety of colors.

According to the PCGS Set Registry, a “Basic Set” consists of fifty-one coins. If two varieties of relatively ‘High Relief’ Saints of 1907, and a 1909/08 overdate, are included, a set of Saints contains fifty three business strikes.

II. Set Ranking

Dr. Duckor collected gem quality Saints, those that grade ‘Mint State’-65 or higher (on a scale of 01 to 70). His focus was on condition rarities. The concept of ‘condition rarity’ refers to coins that are extremely rare at and above a certain grade level, usually ‘MS-65,’ and are much less rare or even very common in lower grades. The most common Saints, the Philadelphia Mint issues of 1924 and 1928, are condition rarities in MS-67 and higher grades.

Several dates in the Saint Gaudens Double Eagle series are condition rarities in MS-65 and higher grades, the gem quality range, and Dr. Duckor has many coins that are among the finest, or even the finest, known of their respective dates. A ‘date,’ in my view, refers to a design type, a year and the location of the Mint that manufactured the respective coin. The use of the term ‘date’ in the PCGS Set Registry, to refer to only a year, is not consistent with the way the term has been used among collectors for decades.

A ‘better date’ refers to a relatively scarce date, as a 1924-D is scarce while a 1924 is common. In another words, a 1924-D is a better-date while a 1924 is not a better date. Hundreds of thousands of 1924 Saints exist, while probably less than one thousand 1924-D Saints exist. Only three 1924-D Saints have been PCGS graded “MS-66” and Dr. Duckor owns one of the three. Also, the NGC has graded one 1924-D as “MS-66.” Neither the PCGS nor the NGC has graded a 1924-D Saint above “MS-66.”

In regard to currently held sets of business strike Saints, it is debatable as to whether Dr. Duckor’s set is superior to that of the collector known as ‘Simpson.’ While Dr. Duckor does not now own a 1927-D, Simpson does and Simpson’s 1927-D pushes his set above that of Dr. Duckor in the PCGS Set Registry. Duckor’s set, however, has a higher grade point average, 66.14 versus 65.90 for Simpson’s set, according to the rules of the PCGS Set Registry.

For the PCGS Registry Set category of Saints “with major varieties,” Dr. Duckor’s previous set from the 1990s, which includes many of the same coins as his current set, is second on the all-time list. The ‘Lord Baltimore’-Park Avenue set is third and Dr. Duckor’s current set, which is the topic here, is fourth. Also, there is an incredible, complete set owned by an anonymous collector that is not registered. It may be the all time best.

In March 1990 and, again, in March 1991, Stack’s auctioned excellent collections of Saints, the second of which contained a superb 1927-D, the Charlotte-Parrino coin, which was later in the Morse Collection. In Nov. 2005, Heritage auctioned the Morse Collection. The Duckor set and the ‘cream’ of the Morse set are in the same league. Except for the absence of a 1927-D, Duckor’s set is probably a little better than that of the ‘cream of Morse.’ I refer to the ‘cream of Morse’ because Morse had many duplicates or even triplicates of the same dates.

Dr. Duckor’s set is clearly of higher quality than the Dr. Thaine Price set of Saints, which the firm of David Akers auctioned on May 19, 1998. Furthermore, in my view, Dr. Duckor’s set is superior to the set of ‘Lord Baltimore,’ which was assembled by a client of Bob Green in the early 2000s and sold to Park Avenue Numismatics in 2005. The ‘Lord Baltimore’ set, however, did contain a 1927-D and was thus more complete than Dr. Duckor’s current set. I saw the entire ‘Lord Baltimore’ set in 2005. Also, Dr. Duckor owned a 1927-D Saint from July 1984 to May 1998, as was explained in last Wednesday’s column.

Even if two or three sets that include, or included, a 1927-D are considered superior than Dr. Duckor’s current set, it may be true that Dr. Duckor’s set is the most awestriking. I wish that I had seen the whole set. David Hall has seen it. For decades, David Hall has been familiar with Dr. Duckor’s collecting quests.

David Hall and Gordon Wrubel were invited by Dr. Duckor to view his coins “in the early 1980s,” Hall reveals. Dr. Duckor had been collecting Saints since 1977. “We went into the vault at his bank. Even before third party grading, Steve Duckor had beautiful gem quality coins. We saw his five Indians, his tens and his Saints,” Hall remembers.

“Steve Duckor’s coins speak for themselves,” David Hall notes. “He bought a lot of his coins before there was [sophisticated] third party grading. The quality of his coins is amazing. Dr. Duckor put together, without a doubt, the greatest set of Barber Halves ever. His sets of five Indians and ten Indians were fabulous,” Hall exclaims.

III. The Most Valuable

There are many tremendous gems in Dr. Duckor’s set of Saints. It is not practical to discuss many of them here.

The most expensive Saints in Dr. Duckor’s set, with PCGS grades in parentheses, may be the 1921 (MS-66), the 1920-S (66), the 1926-D (66+), the 1930-S (66), the 1927-S (67), the 1924-S (65), the 1931-D (66+), and the 1924-D (66). Among Saints, mintmarked coins from the 1920s tend to be condition rarities. The 1920-S, however, is rare in all grades.

The Duckor 1920-S Saint is PCGS graded MS-66 and has a CAC sticker. The Eliasberg-Morse 1920-S is the only other 1920-S that is certified as grading MS-66.

Kris Oyster is very enthusiastic about the Duckor 1920-S. It is one of his favorites in Duckor’s set. “Beautiful, beautiful coin,” Oyster exclaims. “A little copper spot in rays above the date was not a detraction; it only attested to the originality,” Kris continues. “The coppery look to the coin that was just fantastic.” It has “super luster” and is “an incredible, frosty coin, the best 1920-S Saint I have ever seen,” Oyster declares.

The 1921 is even rarer than the 1920-S. Although it is often estimated that 125 to 150 1921 Saints survive, I doubt that there are as many as 125, probably not even 115. I believe that a very large proportion of the 1921 Saints listed as having been graded by the PCGS or the NGC are re-submissions of some of the same coins. A dealer has much to gain if a 1921 Saint in his inventory that was previously graded “AU-58” is upgraded to “MS-62,” for example.

The PCGS has only graded four 1921 Saints as MS-65 or higher. A 1921 that the Goldbergs offered in 2007 is PCGS graded “MS-65.” The Eliasberg-Simpson 1921, which Dr. Duckor previous owned, is graded “MS-65+.” Dr. Duckor and the anonymous collector, to whom I vaguely referred already, each own PCGS graded “MS-66” Saints that have been traced to George Godard and surfaced in 1982. In the early 1920s, Godard was in charge of the magnificent coin collection of the Connecticut State Library, which he diligently updated with high quality representatives of coins that were then ‘new issues.’

The PCGS price guide values PCGS graded “MS-66” 1921 Saints at “$1,400,000” each. I am more curious as to how the Duckor 1926-D will fare at auction. The PCGS price guide values it at “$425,000,” which I take to be an unprecedented value for a 1926-D Saint. It is not nearly as rare as a 1921.

The PCGS CoinFacts site estimates that there “487” 1926-D Saints are known. I find this estimate to be much too high. I hypothesize that there could not possibly be even 300, maybe not even 250. There may be a little more than twice as many 1926-D Saints as 1921 Saints.

The Duckor 1926-D was formerly in the Morse Collection. In Nov. 2005, it sold for $345,000, before ‘plus’ grades were introduced in March 2010. It is now PCGS graded “MS-66+” and it has a sticker of approval from the CAC. John Albanese declares that it is an “off the charts – gem, by far the nicest one I have seen. I can’t picture there ever being a better 1926-D Saint.”

This Duckor-Morse 1926-D and another that is PCGS graded “MS-66” are the only two 1926-D Saints that the PCGS has graded MS-66 or higher. The NGC does not list any 1926-D Saints as grading MS-66 or higher.

The Duckor 1927-S is also traceable to George Godard, like his 1921, and, like his 1926-D, it realized $345,000 when it was auctioned as part of the Morse Collection in 2005. It is the only 1927-S that is PCGS graded “MS-67” and it has a sticker of approval from the CAC. Albanese states that it has “great luster and great color. I really loved the coin.”

John is also fond of the Duckor 1924-S Saint, which he says has “beautiful color, a real gem.” Like the 1926-D and the 1927-S, the Duckor 1924-S was part of the Morse Collection. It sold for $97,750 in 2005. It is one of two that the PCGS has graded “MS-65” and the PCGS has assigned a higher grade to only one 1924-S, the Thaine Price 1924-S, which I have written about in the past. The Price 1924-S joined the Simpson Collection in May 2010. Though the Duckor, Simpson, and Morse sets are better, the Kutasi set of Saints was excellent and should not be forgotten.

I attended the Heritage auction of the John Kutasi collection during one of two Jan. 2007 FUN Platinum Night events in Orlando. Kutasi had a wonderful collection, including a very impressive set of Saints. At that sale, through representatives with Heritage, Dr. Duckor purchased four Saints that are now in the set that will be auctioned on Jan. 5, 2012, almost precisely five years later. The four Duckor-Kutasi Saints are dated 1909-D, 1910, 1920, and 1925, respectively.

IV. Duckor-Kutasi 1909-D

The Duckor-Kutasi 1909 Denver Mint Saint is more than very attractive. Then and now, it is PCGS graded MS-66, though, as are all of Dr. Duckor’s Saints, it is now in a PCGS Secure holder. In 2010, Dr. Duckor re-submitted all of his Saints to the PCGS under the new PCGS SecurePlus program.

This 1909-D is very appealing. In 2007, I found its grade to be in the middle to high end of the 66 range. I am thus unsurprised that it received a CAC sticker in 2011.

The 1909-D is the only issue for which Dr. Duckor replaced a sold representative of a date with a coin that has a lower PCGS grade. He did own the Eliasberg 1909-D, which is PCGS graded “MS-67.” In 2000, he sold it to Jay Parrino.

The 1909-D is certainly a condition rarity. The PCGS has only certified sixteen as MS-65, three as MS-66, one as “MS-66+” and two as “MS-67.” In contrast, more than four hundred 1909-D Saints have been PCGS certified as grading in the MS-61 to MS-64 range. I imagine that more than eight hundred 1909-D Saints exist, in all grades. I expect fervent bidding for this 1909-D.

V. Duckor-Kutasi 1910

Yes, I know that a 1910 Saint is not a rare coin. There exist thousands, maybe even ten thousand, in all grades. I particularly like the Duckor-Kutasi 1910, which is PCGS graded MS-66 and is CAC approved. It is very attractive and has an especially small number of contact marks. Dr. Duckor fairly refers to it as “clean and beautiful.” It realized $37,375 in the Kutasi sale.

Of the more than 150 1910 Saints that the PCGS reports as having been PCGS graded “MS-65,” maybe eighty of these are different coins. It is common for some dealers to repeatedly resubmit the same coins to the PCGS in hopes of receiving a higher grade. There is much to gain, potentially, by upgrading a “MS-65” 1910 to “MS-66.” Consider that the Numismedia.com retail value for a “MS-65” 1910 is $8130 and is $43,550 for a “MS-66” 1910. The PCGS has graded just three as “MS-66” and one as “MS-66+.” Zero 1910 Saints have been PCGS or NGC graded as MS-67.

VI. Eliasberg-Duckor-Kutasi 1920

Dr. Duckor’s 1920 Saint is the only 1920 Saint that is PCGS graded “MS-65.” Neither the PCGS nor the NGC have assigned a higher grade to a 1920 Saint. The NGC reports grading seven as “MS-65.” My guess, though, is that the total of seven probably refers to only four or five different coins. Dr. Duckor has “viewed three or four of them. They would never cross into PCGS holders,” Duckor predicts. “They are not 65s,” in Dr. Duckor’s opinion.

David Hall refers to the Eliasberg-Duckor-Kutasi 1920 as “the ultimate 20th century gold condition rarity. It is no problem to find a 62 or 63” grade 1920. There are more than nine thousand 1920 Saints in existence.

The more than seven hundred that the PCGS has graded “MS-64” probably amount to four hundred different coins. I have wondered whether one of those will ever upgrade to “MS-65.” I asked David Hall. “In my opinion, any 1920 P that exists in a 64 holder has already been resubmitted to PCGS. There is probably no 20 P in a 64 holder we have only seen once,” Hall boldly states.

Importantly, Hall doubts that any “gem 1920 Saints will show up in Europe. A quantity of 1920 or 1921 Saints was never sent to Europe,” Hall declares. Moreover, “there is a chance greater than zero that one will show up during this century. It is more likely that one will not and this will remain the only PCGS MS-65 1920,” David concludes.

Although it has a few abrasions, I really like the Eliasberg-Duckor-Kutasi 1920 Saint. Its terrific eye appeal more causes the viewer to pay minimal attention to its imperfections. It has great natural color and is more than very attractive. I do not have a recollection of another 1920 Saint that comes close in quality to this one.

VII. Extra Thoughts

For collectors who cannot afford gem representatives of better dates or super condition rarities, there are superb type coins in the Duckor set. Jay Brahin raves about the 1927 and the 1928. Jay used to own the 1928, and he misses it.

Even collectors who are not planning to build, or are not even dreaming about, a set of gem Saints may wish to consider adding a Duckor Saint to their respective collections. Collectors of choice ‘mint state’ Saints should consider adding a few gems to their sets. Furthermore, some collectors enhance their type sets by including better dates. Other collectors enjoy condition rarities, especially beautiful ones, even when such rarities are not intended to be parts of logical sets. People will bid on Dr. Duckor’s Saints for several reasons, though I hope that collectors building sets of Saints are the main players in this auction event, as these coins seem best suited to be members of epic sets.

©2011 Greg Reynolds

Greg Reynolds
Greg Reynolds
Greg Reynolds has carefully examined a majority of the greatest U.S. coins and most of the finest classic U.S. type coins. He personally attended sales of the Eliasberg, Pittman, Newman, and Gardner Collections, among other landmark events. Greg has also covered major auctions of world coins, including the sale of the Millennia Collection. In addition to more than four hundred analytical columns for CoinWeek and at least 50 articles for CoinLink, Reynolds has contributed hundreds of articles to Numismatic News newspaper and related publications. Greg is also a multi-year winner of the ‘Best All-Around Portfolio’ award from the NLG, as well as awards for individual articles, a series of articles on the Eric Newman Collection, and for best column published on a web site.

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