US Coins

Collector recounts double eagles in his life

The Joys of Collecting column from the Oct. 19, 2015, issue of Coin World:

When I discovered numismatics in 1952 at the age of 13, I bought a copy of A Guide Book of United States Coins as the first step in trying to learn more. 

At the time I had two Whitman folders for Lincoln cents, the gift of a friend, and some scattered cents I had picked out of circulation.

Whether it is a blessing or a curse I am not sure, but I have always had good memory for trivia. 

Today, I could recite most of the story lines in the 56 Sherlock Holmes short stories or in the Hardy Boys and Tom Swift novels I read in the fourth and fifth grades. 

The Guide Book was right up my alley. I read every word cover to cover and memorized (without trying) the narratives concerning history and each denomination.

The most impressive series was that of gold $20 double eagles. I had never seen one and could only imagine how wonderful, how romantic it would be to actually own an example! That came true when for about $38 I bought an 1855-S Coronet double eagle in what today would be called Very Fine 30 or so grade. How nice it was to hold it and feel its “heft” and also wonder what it could tell me of its travels if it could talk.

As my business grew I handled many scarce and rare coins, among them countless double eagles. In 1955 I published my first catalog.

Now and again double eagles were listed, but probably 95 percent of my sales were by private letters to a growing number of clients. A 1956 catalog offered a beautiful Uncirculated 1907 Saint-Gaudens, Roman Numerals double eagle for $145 retail. Today it would sell for over $20,000!

Since then, I or the companies with which I have been associated have bought and sold all varieties from 1850 to 1933, and I have held in my hand the unique 1849 example in the National Numismatic Collection in the Smithsonian Institution. 

I have a huge research file on the 1933 double eagle and wonderful memories of helping to distribute the over 5,000 Mint State 1857-S coins from the SS Central America. I recollect the slight controversy about the Norweb Collection’s gem 1861 Paquet Reverse coin, and recall how nice it was to catalog in 1982 the complete run of double eagles in the Eliasberg Collection, this being a short list.

The above comments begin a little series on double eagles and aspects of collecting and enjoying them. See you next week!

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