By Doug Winter – RareGoldCoins.com ……
CoinWeek Content Partner
If you’ve got a large budget for United States gold coins, then the chances are good that at one time in your collecting life, you’ll buy a 1907 High Relief $20 gold Saint-Gaudens double eagle.
I think we can agree on the fact that this coin represents one of the more attractive regular-issue designs on a U.S. gold issue. I view the High Relief (HR) as one of the ultimate trophy coins, and the market clearly agrees given this coin’s high price relative to its availability.
Using the Douglas Winter Numismatics (DWN) system for determining the quality of a coin, let’s look at a High Relief like I do when I’m contemplating the purchase of an example.
STRIKE: All High Relief double eagles are well-struck due to the fact that they were struck with multiple blows from the dies on a medal press. I regard strike as the least important factor in assessing U.S. gold and it is basically meaningless when it comes to this issue.
SURFACES: If your budget is such that you are focusing on a circulated or lower-end Uncirculated example, you are going to have to deal with abrasions. It is not common for High Reliefs to be heavily abraded–as seen on a Liberty Head double eagle–as they were not shipped overseas like many pieces of the earlier design. However, it is not uncommon for AU55 to MS61 coins to show rim nicks or even dents that can be difficult to see in older NGC holders. A good number of the High Reliefs graded AU58 and lower have been cleaned or lightly polished at one time; most of these are still straight-graded by PCGS and NGC. Virtually all lower grade HRs show pronounced rub on the breast and left knee of Liberty.
In the MS63 to MS65 range, High Reliefs are likely to show some light scuffs – but none that are especially severe. The areas in which these marks are most likely to impact the grade are the upper left obverse field directly above the rays and towards the torch and on the reverse rays, as well as on the sun. There is likely a slight flattening of Liberty’s breast and left knee but no actual wear. Many in this range have been dipped or lightened.
Coins graded MS66 and finer should have very few marks, although one should not expect perfection or near-perfection from a U.S. gold coin graded MS66 or even MS67. The surfaces on a Superb Gem will be natural,with no blatant signs of modification.
LUSTER: There are essentially two types of luster seen on this issue. The more desirable of the two has a rich, frosty texture while the other is grainier with mint-made die polish evident. I personally prefer the former, but I would never reject a nice High Relief due to its having this activity visible in the fields.
A lower-grade High Relief is going to show impaired luster, but a nice AU58, for example, may be a coin with the appearance of a MS62 or even an MS63 but with enough frost breaks to remove it from consideration at a higher level.
The luster on a coin in the MS63 to MS65 range should be excellent. Here’s a trick I use to determine if the luster is original or not: look at the inner border on the reverse, which is very open but is hard for a coin doctor to reach. If the texture in this region matches the texture on the rest of the reverse, then the chances are strong that the coin in question has not been tampered with.
High Reliefs that grade MS66 and finer should have blazing luster.
COLORATION: A fairly broad spectrum of natural hues are seen on High Reliefs. The two most commonly seen colors are rich yellow-gold and medium green-gold. Other possible hues include orange-gold, rose-gold, and rich reddish-gold.
On a lower-grade High Relief, color isn’t going to be as significant a factor in determining its desirability as on a higher grade coin. My feeling is that if you can find an AU58 or an MS61 with nice, seemingly natural color, then you should buy it. Such coins are not plentiful.
On an MS63 to MS65, color is more significant especially given the large number of coins that exist in this range. If you don’t like the color on an MS64 that you’re looking at, don’t fret; the right coin is likely just around the corner.
On a Superb Gem High Relief, color is extremely important. I suggest that you run through past auction sales of high-grade pieces and use the images to help determine which colors speak to you and which don’t. I’m not telling you that if you saw an MS66 HR that had rich rose-gold color that appealed to you that you should buy only those with similar hues. If you do this, you’ll likely pass on a coin that is just right for you.
EYE APPEAL: The overall eye appeal on a High Relief is the single most critical factor in deciding which coin you’ll buy.
If you have a budget of $10,000, then you won’t be able to be picky and you’ll likely buy the first piece you see at this price point.
If you have a budget of $30,000-$40,000+, then you’ll be able to be very choosy. I would personally select an example graded by PCGS and approved by CAC.
If you have six figures budgeted for a High Relief, you should expect an exceedingly nice coin. Don’t consider one without CAC approval and if possible, wait for a coin with a provenance from a well-known gold coin generalist or, better yet, from a specialized collector of Saint-Gaudens double eagles. It may take six months to a year to locate the right coin, but with CAC having approved 40 coins in MS66 as of December 2022, you’ll have a few to choose from.
A Few Final Thoughts on the 1907 High Relief
NGC designates certain High Reliefs as “Proofs”. It is my opinion that these are not Proofs but are merely early strikes that show a significant number of die polish swirls, particularly beneath the olive branch on the obverse. While undeniably interesting, these should command no premium.
Varieties of High Relief double eagles exist with a flat edge and a wire edge. The Flat Edge variety is scarcer in all grades through MS65. It typically commands a small premium and, in my opinion, it is worth paying an extra 5%-10% for one in MS63 through MS65 but not in grades above or below this range.
As I’ve stated numerous times in this blog, a High Relief is readily available in virtually any grade desired. I would personally select AU58 and MS64+ as the two best-value grades for this issue. MS66 and MS67 High Reliefs are lovely to look at but unless you are doing an upper-end Registry Set of Saints, these grades seem like an overbuy to me.
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About Doug Winter
Doug has spent much of his life in the field of numismatics; beginning collecting coins at the age of seven, and by the time he was 10 years old, buying and selling coins at conventions in the New York City area.
In 1989, he founded Douglas Winter Numismatics, and his firm specializes in buying and selling choice and rare US Gold coins, especially US gold coins and all branch mint material.
Recognized as one of the leading specialized numismatic firms, Doug is an award-winning author of over a dozen numismatic books and a recognized expert on US Gold. His knowledge and an exceptional eye for properly graded and original coins have made him one of the most respected figures in the numismatic community and a sought-after dealer by collectors and investors looking for professional personalized service, a select inventory of impeccable quality, and fair and honest pricing. Doug is also a major buyer of all US coins and is always looking to purchase collections both large and small. He can be reached at (214) 675-9897.
Doug has been a contributor to the Guidebook of United States Coins (also known as the “Red Book”) since 1983, Walter Breen’s Encyclopedia of United States and Colonial Coins, Q. David Bowers’ Encyclopedia of United States Silver Dollars and Andrew Pollock’s United States Pattern and Related Issues.
In addition, he has authored 13 books on US Gold coins including:
- Gold Coins of the New Orleans Mint: 1839-1909
- Gold Coins of the Carson City Mint: 1870 – 1893
- Gold Coins of the Charlotte Mint: 1838-1861
- Gold Coins of the Dahlonega Mint 1838-1861
- The United States $3 Gold Pieces 1854-1889
- Carson City Gold Coinage 1870-1893: A Rarity and Condition Census Update
- An Insider’s Guide to Collecting Type One Double Eagles
- The Connoisseur’s Guide to United States Gold Coins
- A Collector’s Guide To Indian Head Quarter Eagles
- The Acadiana Collection of New Orleans Coinage
- Type Three Double Eagles, 1877-1907: A Numismatic History and Analysis
- Gold Coins of the Dahlonega Mint, 1838-1861: A Numismatic History and Analysis
- Type Two Double Eagles, 1866-1876: A Numismatic History and Analysis
Finally, Doug is a member of virtually every major numismatic organization, professional trade group and major coin association in the US.