United States 1921 Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle $20 Gold Coin

The Saint-Gaudens $20 gold double eagle is one of the most famous of all 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 beautiful 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 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 U.S. Mint engraving department and to outside artists – but 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 1921 Saint-Gaudens $20 Double Eagle in Today’s Market

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 with a 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 rare.

The market values for 1921 Saint-Gaudens $20 double eagles are driven by condition. For a popularly collected coin with fewer than 150 or so survivors, the gold bullion only negligibly figures into an example’s worth.

Mint State examples are preferred, but most known examples grade between AU58 and MS62. As AU slider coins and counterfeits can be deceptive, no purchase of a 1921 Saint-Gaudens double eagle should be made without authentication and grading by either NGC or PCGS.

In AU grades, the 1921 Saint-Gaudens double eagle trades at a range between $50,000 and $70,000 USD. 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 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 of these totals are lower than the price that an example in the same grade from the Douglas Martin Collection was sold by Heritage Auctions 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 have softened considerably, with at least two examples in MS65 and MS66 both selling for over $1 million in the mid-2000s, and then examples in the same grade (the MS65 being the same coin) selling for significantly less when brought back to 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 two competing buyers. Remember, the coin market is driven by supply and demand. When two major competitors drop out of the market, prices invariably fall. But the takeaway is that it took only two competitors building high-end collections for MS65 and MS66 coins to reach seven figures at auction. Such competition could manifest at any time, and with no vector for additional supply, prices would once again rise.

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, 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; 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 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 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:  USA
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
OBV Designer  Augustus Saint-Gaudens
REV Designer  Augustus Saint-Gaudens
Quality:  Business Strike

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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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