US Coins

1907 double eagles of two designs offer June auction intrigue

Two gold $20 double eagles representing the last year of the Coronet type and the first year of Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ design, both with special striking characteristics, will highlight Heritage’s June auctions originally scheduled for the Long Beach Expo in California but now to be held online after that show was canceled.

A 1907-D Coronet double eagle graded Specimen 65 by Numismatic Guaranty Corp. is a bit of a numismatic mystery, as no contemporary documentation of any Proof or Specimen strikes from the Denver Mint in 1907 has surfaced. However, at least three special strikings are known — one graded Branch Mint Proof 62 by Professional Coin Grading Service that was part of the collections of Egypt’s King Farouk offered by Sotheby’s in 1954, and two certified by NGC: the subject coin and another now graded Proof 62 that was last offered in Heritage’s 2016 American Numismatic Association World’s Fair of Money auction, then graded Specimen 62 by NGC, where it realized $176,250.

John Dannreuther’s recent reference on Proof gold coins identified the PCGS Proof example as struck from the die pair he designated JD-1, and Heritage has confirmed that both NGC examples were struck from these same dies. The cataloger explains, “The pattern of die polish in the lower part of the clear spaces in the shield also matches that on the proof example,” concluding, “We can find no diagnostic differences between the two formats.”

The offered Specimen striking was recently certified by NGC and is the finest certified of the three confirmed examples. Dealer Jeff Garrett shared with Coin World that it surfaced in the Atlanta area several years ago, when an individual sought Garrett’s help in getting the coin certified. Garrett explained, “I had written an article about Branch Mint Proof coinage for NGC and the person found me through a Google search. When I saw the coin uncertified, I knew it was special, but I was not exactly sure how the grading companies would designate the coin.”

Garrett explained, “It is not deeply mirrored like the Philadelphia Mint proofs of the era, but it has satiny, prooflike surfaces not seen on circulation strike examples. The coin is also nearly mark free, and obviously saved at the time of issue. It can be assumed that these special coins were made to commemorate the end of Liberty Double Eagle production at the Denver Mint.”

NGC added to the provenance, noting that it sold at a June 1989 Bowers and Merena auction for $25,300, where it was accompanied by a certificate from Walter Breen who wrote, “I unhesitatingly declare it a 1907 D Proof double eagle,” continuing, “This coin reportedly came from a Denver Mint official’s estate; however, absent actual documentation, its status must depend on its physical properties.” It was graded by the auctioneer as Proof 64, Branch Mint Proof.

Heritage explains, “The design elements are sharply detailed throughout, with intricate detail on Liberty’s hair and the eagle’s feathers,” adding, “Like most proofs of this era, the devices are not heavily frosted and display minimal contrast with the deeply reflective fields.”

Proof 1907 High Reliefs

1907 saw James B. Longacre’s Coronet double eagle design transition to the Saint-Gaudens double eagle.

The first regular examples of this new design were struck in impressive High Relief (Ultra High Relief patterns were struck before these). A 1907 Saint-Gaudens, High Relief double eagle graded Proof 67+ by NGC showcases the characteristics that NGC uses when categorizing certain 1907 High Reliefs as Proof strikes.

While no documentation exists noting that the Philadelphia Mint produced special Proof High Relief double eagles, recent research by Roger Burdette indicates that 42 High Reliefs were distributed directly to collectors and 752 were presented to government officials.

NGC’s Scott Schechter shared that numismatists had long recognized that some examples were distinct, with satin surfaces, numerous die lines and sharp detail, but only in the mid-1980s were specific diagnostics identified. “The collar identified for striking proofs was used only with this one die pair and was never used again with other dies to make High Relief double eagles. As a result, the collar is now referred to as the proof collar.”

The unique collar is characterized by a series of die lines that move diagonally upward from the left side of the collar segment between the S of PLURIBUS and the star, a recut B in PLURIBUS showing initial impression partially impressed to the north, and a notched upper serif of U in PLURIBUS.

This collar was used to strike the Proof Ultra High Relief coins and the Proof 1907 High Relief double eagles certified by NGC — PCGS does not recognize these as a distinct Proof issue. Both the High Relief and Ultra High Relief also share the following three attributes: two faint die lines that emerge from the base of the branch, a die line that runs through the base of the Capitol dome, and die lines that are visible within the raised portion of the sun’s rays on the reverse.

NGC has explained that Saint-Gaudens’ design does not allow for the traditional Proof attributes of deeply mirrored fields and frosty devices. “The deep recesses of the High Relief dies didn’t allow for polishing seen on brilliant proof coins of previous coin types, nor was that mirror-like sheen sought by the designers of this coin,” NGC notes. “Coins called proof and those called mint state were similar in appearance, thus leading to confusion. Coins with very crisp strikes, heavy swirling die polish lines and other special attributes were called proofs.”

In a 2015 article, NGC cited statistics showing the connection between the surviving population and Burdette’s research, writing, “Proof coins account for 6.2% of the total number of 1907 High Relief Double Eagles certified by NGC [254 out of exactly 4,000 examples certified (03/15)]. Coincidentally, and this is nothing more than an interesting coincidence, that is the exact same percentage of coins distributed to collectors and government officials by the Mint [794 out of 12,787 examples coined].”

Heritage praises the “innumerable swirls of die polish in the fields on each side,” observing, “as expected, each side displays a pronounced satin-like texture and the strike is full. The bright yellow-gold surfaces show a slight tinge of reddish patina.”

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