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SBG to Auction Important Condition Rarity: The Eliasberg, Probable Finest Known 1906-S Double Eagle ($20 gold coin)

Coin Rarities & Related Topics: News and Analysis regarding scarce coins, coin markets, and the coin collecting community #227

A Weekly CoinWeek Column by Greg Reynolds….

A gem quality, 1906 San Francisco Mint Double Eagle ($20 gold coin) is ‘in the news’!

On Friday, June 27, at the Baltimore Convention Center, Stack’s-Bowers will auction a rare gold coin, the sole PCGS graded “MS-66” 1906-S Double Eagle, as part of the official auction of the summer Whitman Coin & Collectible Expo. This 1906-S is the highest certified example of this date and it has a green sticker of approval from CAC. Moreover, this same coin was previously in the greatest coin collection of all time, that of Louis Eliasberg, Sr. Although not a rare coin overall, the 1906-S is an extreme condition rarity in grades above 64.

eliasbergms661906sIn the same auction, there is a second 1906-S Double Eagle, which is PCGS graded MS-64 and is CAC approved. As PCGS has graded more than two hundred 1906-S Double Eagles as “MS-64,” and this coin was not previously in a famous collection (as far as I know), it is not nearly as newsworthy as the Eliasberg 1906-S.
There are thousands of collectors who are particularly interested in a certified MS-66 grade 1906-S Double Eagle. Indeed, a MS-66 grade Liberty Head Double Eagle of any date is an important type coin and many collectors seek to assemble type sets that include gem quality coins.

Starting around 2000, there has been growing or at least sustained interest in collecting Liberty Head Double Eagles ‘by date’ (and U.S. Mint location). The excavations of the shipwrecks of the S. S. Central America and of the S. S. Republic have contributed to this phenomenon, as thousands more Double Eagles from the 1850s and 1860s became available to collectors. Generally, over the last fifteen years, Liberty Head Double Eagles have been far more popular than they ever were before.

I. Types of Liberty Double Eagles

There are three design types of Liberty Head Double Eagles ($20 gold coins). The design of those of the first type does not include the motto, “In God We Trust.” So, there are often termed ‘No Motto’ Double Eagles, which mere minted from 1850 to 1866.

doubleeagletypesThis motto was added in 1866 to the reverse (tail) designs of Double Eagles, Eagles ($10 gold coins), Half Eagles ($5 coins), silver dollars, half dollars and quarters. Type Two Liberty Double Eagles were minted from 1866 to 1876.

Starting in 1877, the denomination, “TWENTY DOLLARS,” was spelled out on the reverse design. From 1850 to 1876, an abbreviation, “D.”, had been used for dollars. Type Three Double Eagles incorporate other modifications of the design, though these are slight. Type Three Liberty Double Eagles date from 1877 to 1907.

Although many issues of Type Three Double Eagles are common, all Type Three Double Eagles are important condition rarities in MS-66 grade and incredibly rare in MS-67 grade. For all dates of Type Three Liberty Double Eagles, there are probably fewer than sixty coins in total that truly merit a 66 grade, in my view. Indeed, for this entire design type, the CAC has approved 517 as grading MS-65, thirty-seven as MS-66, and one as MS-67. The president and founder of the CAC, John Albanese, is widely recognized as the sharpest grader of U.S. gold coins.

Many of the PCGS or NGC certified Type Three Double Eagles in MS-65 and higher grades have been doctored or are overgraded in terms of the standards that prevailed in the 1990s. Coins of kinds that are frequently promoted by telemarketers are favorite targets of coin doctors, as the consumers often know little about coins and/or do not carefully inspect their respective purchases. Gem or supposedly gem quality Double Eagles and Eagles ($10 coins) are often marketed to non-collectors.

1906s20Most of the surviving, gem quality, Type Three Double Eagles are 1904 Philadelphia Mint issues. Ten 1898-S coins are CAC approved as grading MS-65, as are five 1899 Double Eagles. An 1892 is CAC approved at the MS-66 level. Another 1892 is the sole Type Three Double Eagle that has been CAC approved as grading MS-67.

A 1900, a 1901, and a 1906 have been CAC approved as grading MS-66, as have three 1907-D Liberty Double Eagles. The presently discussed 1906-S is the only 1906-S that has been graded MS-66 by the PCGS, the NGC or the CAC. John Albanese remarks that this specific 1906-S is “nice and frosty,” although it does not have the “semi-prooflike dazzling look of [several] S-Mint Eliasberg twenties of the 1890s.”

Zero 1906-S Double Eagles have received grades greater than 66. Also, the CAC has also approved just one 1906-S Double Eagle as grading MS-65, of the eight that have been graded as “MS-65” by the PCGS or the NGC.

A majority of the CAC approved MS-66 Type Three Liberty Double Eagles are 1904 Philadelphia Mint coins, twenty-nine in total, which might not all be different coins. It is not unusual for a wholesaler to ‘crack out’ a certified MS-66 grade coin and re-submit it to the PCGS or the NGC, in hopes that the coin will be awarded a MS-66+ or MS-67 grade.

In many cases, a CAC approved MS-66 grade coin will be ‘cracked out’ and will fail to receive an upgrade from the PCGS or the NGC. The owner of the coin, or a subsequent owner, may send it back to the CAC, after it is once again PCGS or NGC certified as grading MS-66 with a different serial number. The immediate point is that the twenty-nine 1904 Double Eagles that are CAC approved as grading MS-66 probably amount to fewer than twenty-nine different coins. Moreover, there are probably just two or three 1904s that truly merit MS-67 grades. In total, though, hundreds of thousands of 1904 Double Eagles exist and just a miniscule percentage of these merit grades higher than MS-65.

II. How many 1906-S Double Eagles Survive?

The PCGS CoinFacts site estimates that “23,250” 1906-S Double Eagles exist. I doubt that there are that many. The PCGS has graded 4318 and the NGC has graded 4402, some of which are re-submissions of the same coins. The PCGS and the NGC have maybe graded 5500 different 1906-S Double Eagles. There are, though, some heavily bagmarked coins that grade MS-60 or so and have never been submitted to the PCGS or the NGC.

Jeff Garrett reports that, curiously, the Smithsonian Institution has thirteen 1906-S Double Eagles, an unusually large number for any one date. Jeff states that the 1906-S of the highest quality, of these thirteen, grades “MS-62.” Some (or all?) of the others grade MS-60 or MS-61.

Additionally, there are thousands of circulated pieces that have never been submitted to the PCGS or the NGC. Indeed, in the early 20th century, Double Eagles did circulate to a substantial extent on the West Coast. Further, hundreds of non-gradable 1906-S Double Eagles, and coins of other dates, have been polished or tooled for decorative purposes. Perhaps 12,500 to 14,000 1906-S Double Eagles exist, in all states of preservation.

III. Market Values and Condition Rarities

According to numismedia.com, in VF-20 to AU-55 grades, all Liberty Double Eagles of the same respective grade, dating from 1894 to 1907, are worth about the same, regardless of date or mintmark, except for the 1902 and the 1905 in grades above AU-50. In MS-64 and higher grades, however, market levels for Liberty Double Eagles, dating from 1894 to 1907, vary wildly.

The focus here is on Liberty Double Eagles dating from 1894 to 1907 as these are particularly relevant to 1906-S Double Eagles. Almost all 1894 to 1907 Liberty Double Eagles are not rare in grades below 64. Earlier Type Three Double Eagles are a different topic, as some of those are ‘better dates’ overall and require additional explanations.

The current PCGS price guide levels for some MS-64 certified Liberty Double Eagles dating from 1894 to 1907 are as follows, in ascending order by value estimate: 1904 $2205, 1901 $2405, 1904-S $3000, 1897-S $3750, 1894-S $5250, 1906-S $5350, 1902-S $11,500, 1902 $24,500, and 1905 $35,000. There are thus condition rarities that are more highly prized than a 1906-S.

The PCGS price guide values are $22,000 for a “MS-65” grade 1906-S, $40,000 for this sole MS-66 grade piece and “$175,000” for a PCGS graded “MS-67“ coin, even though the PCGS has never graded a 1906-S as “MS-67.” The NGC has graded five 1906-S Double Eagles as “MS-65” and zero at higher grade levels.

David Hall has revealed that he and Gordon Wrubel, who are both founders and current employees of CU-PCGS, jointly purchased this 1906-S Double Eagle when Eliasberg’s U.S. gold coins were auctioned in Oct. 1982. “We graded the coin MS68!,” Hall exclaims on the PCGS CoinFacts website.

In Oct. 1982, the firm of Bowers & Ruddy auctioned Louis Eliasberg’s U.S. gold coins in New York. I wish I had been there. Many of the coin enthusiasts who participated remain active in the present. Brent Pogue attended with his dad.

In Feb. 2008, Stack’s auctioned a PCGS graded MS-65 1906-S for $21,850. This is the current auction record for the date, which will certainly be surpassed if this coin sells on June 27. On the CoinPlex trading system, a current sight unseen bid for a PCGS graded MS-65 1906-S is $20,000.

In June 2013, Heritage auctioned a PCGS graded “MS-64+” 1906-S for $7050. It has a sticker of approval from the CAC, though such approval does not necessarily mean that experts at the CAC agree with the plus aspect of that coin’s certified grade. When evaluating coins, experts at the CAC ignore the plus aspects of grades assigned by the PCGS or the NGC.

It is important to keep in mind that a certified MS-65 coin may be worth dramatically more than a certified “MS-64+” representative of the same type, date and mint location. By tradition, coins that grade 65 or higher are held to be of gem quality.

As certified grades for individual coins may change over time during re-submissions, and grading opinions vary, the Eliasberg pedigree has meaning that transcends currently prevailing grading criteria. Many of the U.S. gold coins that were in the Eliasberg Collection have been PCGS or NGC graded from 66 to 69, especially those that earlier were in the Clapp Collection. A large portion of Clapp-Eliasberg coins are known for superb quality and originality.

IV. Eliasberg Gold Coins

Although the legend of Eliasberg has become a core part of the culture of coin collecting in the U.S., the Eliasberg Collection will be discussed more so than usual over the next two years due to the recent announcement that the Pogue Collection will be auctioned by Stack’s-Bowers. The Pogue Collection contains many coins that were previously in the Eliasberg Collection and, in regards to pre-1840 U.S. coins, the Pogue Collection is superior to that of Eliasberg, though I do not know if all of the Pogue family coins will be offered in the upcoming sales.

Elias1982coverIn 1982, the presently discussed Eliasberg 1906-S Double Eagle sold for $16,500. In the same auction, the Eliasberg 1927-D Saint Gaudens Double Eagle sold for $176,000. The Duckor-Martin 1927-D Saint, which is inferior to the Eliasberg 1927-D, was auctioned by Heritage in Jan. 2014 for nearly $2 million.

The Eliasberg 1900-S Liberty Double Eagle was auctioned by Heritage for $34,500 in Feb. 2006, at which time it was NGC graded MS-66. In 1982, this same 1900-S sold for $5500.

The Eliasberg 1908-D ‘With Motto’ Saint Gaudens Double Eagle was auctioned by Stack’s-Bowers in Jan. 2013 for $108,687.50. In Jan. 2006, Heritage auctioned this same coin for $74,750, and did so in July 2008, for $92,000. It was PCGS graded MS-67 before 2006 and CAC approved by July 2008. In 1982, this same Eliasberg 1908-D sold for $10,450.

The “Eliasberg” 1909-S Double Eagle was auctioned by ANR in March 2006 for $9200. At the time, it was PCGS graded MS-65. In 1982, it brought $5225. If this really was the Eliasberg piece, and the illustrations seem to probably match, $9200 in 2006 would be a surprisingly low amount for an Eliasberg Collection gold coin that brought $5225 in 1982. There could be a sensible or interesting explanation for the relative lack of price appreciation, of which I am not aware.

It is curious that Heritage auctioned an 1880-S Eagle ($10 gold coin) in April 2006 that was said by the cataloguer to be the Eliasberg 1880-S, although the 1880-S Eagle is not pictured in the B&R catalogue for the Oct. 1982 auction. If so, the same coin sold for $3250 in 1982 and $10,350 in 2006, less than four times as much.

The value of the Eliasberg 1920-S Double Eagle increased dramatically from Oct. 1982, when it brought $30,800, to Nov. 2005, when it went for $517,500. The Eliasberg 1920-S was then in the Morse Collection, which was the all-time greatest collection of Saint Gaudens Double Eagles.

The Eliasberg 1920 Philadelphia Mint Double Eagle is not as valuable as the Eliasberg 1920-S. Its price history, however, is more interesting. In 2005, as part of the Morse Collection, it sold for $63,350. In Jan. 2007, as part of the Kutasi Collection, it sold for $109,250. In Jan. 2012, as part of the Duckor Collection of Saints, it went for $86,250. The auction result that is relevant to the present discussion is the price realized of just $2090 in 1982.

Eliasberg’s 1931 Philadelphia Mint Saint is now PCGS graded MS-66. In 1982, David Akers bought it for $17,600. On Jan. 5, 2012, as part of the Duckor Collection, it sold for $126,500.
So, Double Eagles that were in the Eliasberg Collection are currently worth multiples of prices realized for the respective coins in 1982. Yet, the ratios of later prices realized to respective prices realized in 1982 vary tremendously, from less than 2:1 to more than 50:1.

The Eliasberg 1899-S Eagle ($10 coin) was probably a pleasing purchase in 1982, for $13,200. Experts have been raving about this coin for decades. It is PCGS graded MS-68 and was formerly NGC graded MS-69. In Jan. 2010, Heritage auctioned it for $195,500.

Will this 1906-S Double Eagle also sell for a high multiple of the $16,500 price it brought in 1982? Although it is not famous like the just mentioned 1899-S Eagle or several of the Eliasberg Collection Saints, demand could be intense for this coin.

©2014 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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