1921 SAINT-GAUDENS DOUBLE EAGLE ONE OF ONLY TWO EXAMPLES KNOWN
By David Stone
Mint records indicate no Saint-Gaudens double eagles were ever struck in proof format after 1915. Therefore, it came as a distinct shock to the numismatic community when a slightly impaired 1921-dated example, with an unmistakable Satin proof finish, surfaced in a Sotheby’s auction in June 2000.
That piece (now graded SP58 by PCGS) had an unbroken pedigree back to U.S. Mint Director Raymond T. Baker, who had the coin specially struck as a birthday gift for his nephew, Joseph. Despite the lack of official documentation, the coin was universally acknowledged as a proof, due to its distinctive Satin finish and its unbroken chain of custody in the Mint director’s family. That coin was purchased by a prominent East Coast collector and has been off the market ever since, but its surprising discovery alerted numismatists to the possibility that 1921 proof double eagles might exist.
That knowledge became crucial six years later, when a mysterious specimen appeared in the 2006 Denver ANA Convention Auction by Bowers and Merena. That coin was mistakenly graded MS63 by PCGS, but two prominent dealers recognized the piece for what it was, a second Satin proof example of the rare 1921 double eagle. Of course, the 1921 Saint-Gaudens double eagle is a rare issue, even in business-strike format, so the lot received a good deal of attention, even from collectors who didn’t recognize its special finish. At the sale, the two knowledgeable dealers quickly outdistanced the pack, and the lot finally realized a record price of $1.495 million. Although the coin was obviously a notable specimen, spectators were astonished at the price this supposedly business-strike example brought.
That coin has not been publicly offered again, until now. Heritage Auctions is offering the specimen, now certified PR64+ by NGC and approved by CAC, in the Platinum Night segment of its August 2021 ANA Signature® Auction.
The history of the second coin is not documented before its 2006 appearance. Although the Mint discontinued commercial proof offerings of most denominations after 1915, and all denominations after 1916, some special strikings are known for dollar coins in 1921. A small number of Matte and Satin finish proofs of the new Peace dollar design were struck on the medal press in the last week of December. It is possible that Chief Engraver George Morgan struck the second 1921 Satin finish proof in conjunction with these special coins, for experimental purposes, or as a presentation piece for some influential numismatist or official. Whoever owned the coin preserved it carefully over the years and it grades a full six points higher than the Baker specimen. The design elements of this Plus-graded Choice example exhibit razor-sharp definition throughout, with fine detail on the Capitol and lower stars. The bright, satiny surfaces are remarkably free of post-strike distractions and overall eye appeal is terrific.
“These two double eagles,” proof gold specialist John Dannreuther notes, “undoubtedly are the last specially struck regular issue gold coins, as no others have been reported before American gold coinage ended in 1933.”
Proof gold coinage is incredibly popular with collectors, as it represents the apex of quality and beauty achieved by the U.S. Mint. Be sure to watch as numismatic history is made when this magnificent proof rarity crosses the auction block this summer.
DAVID STONE is a numismatic cataloger at Heritage Auctions who has written for The Numismatist and Coin World.
This article appears in the June 2021 edition of The Intelligent Collector magazine.