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Rare Double Eagles Highlight Long Beach Offerings

An outstanding selection of rare twenty dollar gold coins highlights Heritage’s upcoming US Coins Signature Auction, to take place May 30-June 3 at the Long Beach Coin and Collectibles Expo.

The most prominent among the double eagle offerings in this auction is probably the Eliasberg/Duckor 1931 coin.

1931 $20 MS66 PCGS Secure. Ex: Duckor/EliasbergEx.  The five late-date Saint-Gaudens twenties are among the rarest and most celebrated of all 20th century coins. The 1931 is generally regarded as second rarest, only trailing the 1930-S.

In 1982 David Akers’ survey of auction appearances of double eagles covered the major auctions from 1944 through 1981, with scattered coverage in the earlier years.

Heritage cataloger David Stone has extended this survey back another 10 years, and he has examined 152 auction catalogs by 14 firms between 1935 and 1944. The 1931 twenty was offered 12 times in those catalogs. What is remarkable is out of those 12 offerings, the 1931 and 1932 double eagles were offered 11 times in the same auctions. This common pairing of the 1931 and 1932 suggests a common source, and in fact recent findings support such a claim.

In David Tripp’s 2004 reference on the 1933 twenties, Illegal Tender, he explores Special Agent Lipson’s inquiries of Brooklyn coin dealer Joseph Barnet and his near involvement with the sale of a 1933 double eagle to collector Charles Williams:

“Staring through his thick lenses, Barnet added that he had almost sold one [1933 twenty]. Charles M. Williams of Cincinnati had called him and, as Barnet regularly advertised to sell 1931 and 1932 double eagles, asked if he might have a ’33. Old Joe got in touch with [James] Macallister, who offered him one at $800. Barnet, however, advised Williams not to buy it as he suspected ‘that more of these coins would appear on the market’ and drive the price down. In the middle of 1936, for example, 1931 and 1932 double eagles, once exceptionally rare, had started showing up in quantity (also from Israel Switt), and had become increasingly less expensive. Barnet had first advertised them in 1938 for $150 and $175 respectively, but within four years they had become a drug on the market, and Barnet was having a hard time moving them, even as he dropped the price. By 1942 they were being offered for as little as $80 and $85 each, with few takers.”

The low point in price for the 1931 and 1932 was in Morgenthau’s May 1939 auction of the New York Collection, Part II. The 1931 brought $61, and the 1932 realized only $76. Switt’s coins were slowly absorbed into the market, and by 1944 the price of a 1931 double eagle jumped to $220 in the J.F. Bell auction and $300 for the 1932.

No hoards were ever found in Europe, and the price of the 1931 has climbed steadily since the late 1930s. Louis Eliasberg had acquired both his 1931 and 1932 twenties by the time he purchased the Clapp Collection in 1942. After he bought the Clapp holdings, he used Charles E. Green’s Mint Record and Type Table, United States to formulate a want list of the coins he still needed to acquire in order to achieve a complete set of U.S. coins (the only such set ever assembled).

The 1931 twenty was not on Eliasberg’s want list. Dr. Charles W. Green, an avid collector and student of the series, but not the same gentleman who compiled the aforementioned Mint Record, wrote Louis Eliasberg of his findings about the release of various Philadelphia and San Francisco double eagle issues. He stated that only 45 examples of the 1931 twenty were officially “put out.” His figure understates the availability of the 1931 a bit, as probably 20-40 additional coins were available through East Coast dealers who managed to purchase the coins from the Mint, or from other entrepreneurs like “Izzy” Switt, and resell them to collectors.

David Akers estimates the surviving population of Mint State 1931s at 100 to 125 pieces, and the issue is almost always found in Mint State. The 1931 follows the usual bell curve of availability with one AU58 coin, one MS61, six pieces in MS62, and 15 in MS63. This narrow end of the curve is followed by the largest number of coins in the MS64-65 grades with 42 coins certified by both services in MS64 and 33 pieces in MS65. The trailing end of the bell curve is composed of a mere 14 coins in MS66 with the finest being the Morse MS67 (4/12).

In recent decades the 1931 has always been treated as a featured attraction in its infrequent auction appearances, and record prices often attend those offerings. This is the Eliasberg specimen. The remarkably high grade of this piece is attested to not only by its overall high state of preservation as seen by the vivid mint luster, but it is also evident in the uncommonly strong strike details.

When encountered, the 1931 is often seen with weak stars below the Capitol building. This piece is sharply defined in that area, and the Capitol also exhibits complete detailing on the columns. The figure of Liberty has an overlay of light lilac patina with the remainder of that side showing bright reddish-gold. The eagle also shows intermittent streaks of the same lilac with the same bright reddish patina elsewhere. Neither side has any of the often-seen alloy stains. The surfaces are remarkably free from abrasions with only the tiniest marks on the lower reverse and on the rim.

This magnificent 1931 is one of the finest examples known. The fact that it was in Louis Eliasberg’s complete collection of U.S. coins and is also the piece Dr. Duckor selected for his set speaks volumes about the state of preservation, originality, and eye appeal of this exceptional coin.

Ex: Louis E. Eliasberg, Sr.; Eliasberg Estate; The United States Gold Coin Collection (Bowers and Ruddy, 10/1982), lot 1072, purchased by David Akers for $17,600; Dr. and Mrs. Steven L. Duckor Number One PCGS Registry Set.(Registry values: N10218) (#9192)

Of course, this auction is by no means limited to large gold coins; other rare gold coins and early silver coinage are well-represented as well. A Proof-64 example of the always-popular Flowing Hair Stella, a pattern commonly collected alongside regularly issued US coinage for its unusual four denomination, is certain to be among the most popular coins among bidders.

Other highlights include:

1797 50C NGC Details. VF. O-102, Low R.6
1814 50C MS68 NGC. O-103, R.1
1867 $1 MS65 NGC
1806/5 $2 1/2 7×6 Stars AU58 NGC. BD-2, High R.5
1805 $5 MS64 NGC. BD-1, High R.3
1808/7 $5 Close Date MS64 PCGS. BD-2, High R.4
1796 $10 AU58 NGC. BD-1, R.4
1797 $10 Large Eagle MS61 NGC. BD-3, R.5
1879 $10 PR65 Cameo NGC

This auction is open for bidding now at HA.com/Coins.

Heritage Auctions
Heritage Auctionshttps://www.ha.com/
Heritage Auction Galleries is one of the world's largest collectibles auctioneers. Besides offering rare and valuable U.S. and world coins and currency, Heritage offers ancient coins, exonumia, antiques, comic books, sports memorabilia, and many other collectibles. The firm is based in Dallas, Texas.

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