US Coins

Gold $20s lead Bonhams auction

International auctioneer Bonhams continues to have success with its rare coin auctions. Its most recent in Los Angeles on June 2 brought nearly $1.2 million with nearly 90 percent of the 368 lots finding buyers. 

The auction was notable for its selection of gold U.S. coins including these two Proof $20 double eagles that both broke the $200,000 mark. 

Among the coins that didn’t find a buyer was a 1921 Saint-Gaudens gold $20 double eagle graded About Uncirculated Details, Improperly Cleaned, by Numismatic Guaranty Corp. — one of perhaps 150, or so, known — that went unsold against an estimate of $80,000 to $90,000. 

1859 Coronet double eagle, Proof 62+ Cameo, $210,600

This is a rather mysterious issue in that the number of Proof Coronet double eagles minted in 1859 is unrecorded in Mint records. Researcher Walter Breen suggested that as many as 50 to 70 could have been produced, but many of these were probably melted. Likely fewer than 10 survive today, since the high face value of the double eagle kept all but the wealthiest collectors from obtaining — and keeping — them. 

Bonhams believes that seven or eight Proof examples may survive. Two are in the permanent collections of museums: one in the American Numismatic Society and another in the National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian Institution, placing additional price pressure on the examples in the marketplace. 

The description captures the excitement of this sort of coin, writing, “This is the kind of rare gold coin that makes history-minded numismatists marvel, to think of all the hardships and economic challenges this coin’s owners must have endured for this piece to survive in such a well preserved condition.”

Several are known in complete 1859 Proof sets, although the 1859 Proof set from the Royal Mint Museum collection offered at a March 2013 Morton and Eden auction was lacking the Proof double eagle. 

The coin is one of 24 coins from the Kernochan Family Collection of U.S. gold coins. According to Bonhams, the Kernochans were an Irish immigrant family who first worked as colliers and teamsters, then made a fortune in dry goods in the 19th century. The coins were uncovered in the bank vault of John Marshall Kernochan (1919 to 2007), an early 20th century patriarch of the family.

Likely resting in the middle of the condition census of known survivors and graded Proof 62+ Cameo by Professional Coin Grading Service, it sold for $210,600.

1907 Saint-Gaudens, High Relief double eagle, Proof 67, $222,300

The 1907 Saint-Gaudens, High Relief, Roman Numerals double eagle, designed by Augustus Saint-Gaudens, is legendary for its beauty and is always popular with collectors. 

Many consider it America’s most beautiful coin. Alas, the high relief made it impractical for mass production, and the relief was lowered in 1907. 

Debate continues as to whether or not some 1907 High Relief double eagles that display a certain set of characteristics are Proofs. While Numismatic Guaranty Corp. recognizes High Relief Proofs, Professional Coin Grading Service does not. 

Key differences include:

??Extremely sharp details, both at the centers and toward the edges.

??No die erosion or distortion.

??Bold, raised die-polishing lines on both sides in a random, swirling pattern.

??A build-up of metal inside both borders, most notable on the obverse (quite possibly a result of the tremendous pressure exerted during multiple strikes on the hydraulic medal press). 

Even the description acknowledges, “Many proofs look very much like their business-strike counterparts, and close examination is required to differentiate the two.” It adds, “There are no official mintage figures for Proofs and the origins of the coins are a mystery.”

NGC has recorded more than 250 submissions of Proof High Relief double eagles and, at Proof 67, this piece is among the finest graded by NGC. It sold for $222,300.

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