The 1907 Indian Head gold $20 double eagle is arguably one of the greatest U.S. patterns ever struck. The coin bears a variation of Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ Liberty portrait eventually adopted for the 1907 Indian Head gold eagle married with a version of the artist’s Flying Eagle design used on the adopted reverse of the 1907 double eagle. The date appears in Roman Numerals at the bottom of the reverse (not the obverse), and LIBERTY is the sole inscription on the obverse, boldly positioned below the portrait. The pattern is unique, entered the marketplace from the estate of Charles Barber (chief engraver of the U.S. Mint when the pattern was struck), and today is in a private anonymous collection. It last sold at auction in 1984 for $467,500.
So is this 1907 pattern permitted to be in a private collection? After all, the sole 1974-D aluminum cent was just returned to the U.S. Mint by a coin dealer and a second man whose father was given the cent as he retired from a long-held position at the Denver Mint; even the son agreed the Mint made a compelling case. Similarities between the two pieces are striking. Both are unique, both were struck during a period of experimentation at the Mint, and both surfaced in the marketplace from the estates of U.S. Mint employees.
To many outside the collector community and even for some within it, Barber’s keeping of a historic pattern would not pass the smell test. A current Mint employee would be prosecuted for keeping a modern pattern, justifiably so. Remember, also, that just a few years after the 1907 pattern was struck, the Mint fought hard and successfully to force a private collector to return two unique 1877 gold $50 half union patterns (today, they’re national treasures).
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