US Coins

FUN auctions feature rarities; set tone for 2012 market

A highlight of the FUN auctions that might reach $1 million is a Mint State 66 1921 double eagle. The other known Mint State 66 example sold at the 2005 Heritage auction of the Philip H. Morse Collection for $1,092,500.

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The auctions associated with the Florida United Numismatists convention, set for Orlando Jan. 5 to 8, are major market events that help set the tone for the coin market. The 2011 FUN auctions realized $46 million while the 2010 sales saw $37 million.

The 2012 Heritage auction is anchored by several significant consignments including Dr. and Mrs. Steven L. Duckor’s collection of exceptional Saint-Gaudens gold $20 double eagles. A collection like this provides a solid introduction to the nuances of the Saint-Gaudens series that make it so popular with novice and advanced collectors alike. Reading the lot descriptions can help contextualize the prices realized.

Regarding a 1913 Saint-Gaudens $20 double eagle graded Mint State 65 — a rare exception in this generally poorly produced issue — the cataloger wrote, “If a grading service could travel back in time to 1913 and set up a grading room in the Mint, there would likely still be only a small number of MS65 or finer coins certified.” The comment reveals a truism: that all coins are not created equal, and each issue in the Saint-Gaudens series has a story.

Some issues were well-produced at the time of issue, such as the 1908 Saint-Gaudens, No Motto double eagle. More than 19,000 examples were discovered in the 1990s with the Wells Fargo Hoard, which transformed the population of this issue with nearly 1,000 coins graded MS-67, 101 graded MS-68 and 10 graded MS-69. Clearly, this was an issue that was well-produced.

Hoards have transformed today’s concepts of rarity within the series. Yet, some issues in the series have been rarely encountered in hoards, such as the 1920-S double eagle, so while they were not considered especially rare in the 1940s and 1950s, today they are relatively rarer as other examples have become more common. In contrast, the 1924-S double eagle was once considered the key to the series — even rarer than the 1927-D coin — until the 1950s when hundreds of examples emerged from European bank vaults. Today, while still extremely rare in high grades, the 1924-S double eagle is no longer a legendary rarity.

Then there are issues with low mintages but extremely high survival rates.

Although just 12,367 1907 Saint-Gaudens, High Relief double eagles were struck, most were saved. Some of today’s most available Saint-Gaudens double eagles — like the 1924 — were mainly produced for international consumption, after domestic demand for new gold coins evaporated. Today’s population of these issues comes largely from European bank holdings. In contrast, although 1.7 million 1929 double eagles were struck, almost the entire mintage was melted, and today just 300 to 400 exist.

A highlight of the FUN auctions that might break the million-dollar mark is an MS-66 1921 double eagle. The other known MS-66 example sold at the 2005 Heritage auction of the Philip H. Morse Collection for $1,092,500. ¦

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