US Coins

Market Analysis: 1921 Saint-Gaudens gold $20 in Proof brings $2,010,000

An enigmatic 1921 Saint-Gaudens gold $20 double eagle graded Proof 64+ by NGC with a green CAC sticker brought $2,010,000 at Heritage’s Aug. 18 ANA Platinum Night session in Dallas.

Images courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

This year’s American Numismatic Association World’s Fair of Money in metropolitan Chicago was a success despite the challenges of navigating a convention during a pandemic, bad weather, and skittish bullion markets.

The official auctions by Stack’s Bowers Galleries and Heritage Auctions held at their respective headquarters are ongoing as this issue goes to press. Both sales are full of fresh discoveries, including a rare 1921 Saint-Gaudens gold $20 double eagle graded Proof 64+ by Numismatic Guaranty Corp. with a green Certified Acceptance Corp. sticker that realized $2,010,000 at Heritage’s Aug. 18 Platinum Night session in Dallas.

Heritage set the stage for drama by starting its lot entry with a quotation from Shakespeare’s Hamlet and observing, “New research in the archives can fundamentally change our thinking about famous rarities, but the researchers were usually looking for answers to longstanding questions when they started,” rather than entirely unknown issues.

The first Satin Proof 1921 double eagle emerged in 2000. The discovery coin was once in the collection of Raymond T. Baker, director of the U.S. Mint, who gifted it to his newborn nephew soon after it was struck. The subject example surfaced six years later, offered in the 2006 summer ANA auction as a regular issue, certified Mint State 63 by Professional Coin Grading Service. Several sharp-eyed dealers identified it as Proof strike. It would realize $1,495,000, selling to dealer Dan Ratner, according to notes provided by dealer Brian Hendelson in the ANA’s catalog, who added, “Truly great coins rarely appear on the market and hopefully a new generation of collectors will experience the same passion and excitement Dan and I did fifteen years ago when this coin crosses the auction block this summer.”

Philadelphia’s Mint experimented with various Proof finishes with the Saint-Gaudens series, from the darker Sandblast Matte Finish to a more luxurious finish today called the “Roman Finish,” but contemporary collectors weren’t too excited, and after 1915, production of Proof double eagles stopped.

An absence of contemporary documentation means that the technical qualities of the 1921 Proof issues must “speak for themselves.”

Heritage calls it “one of the most important numismatic discoveries of the 21st century.” The offered coin has “razor-sharp definition,” with a faint die crack visible through the letters of LIBERTY and the torch; a thin wire-rim visible around much of the circumference of the coin.”

CAC-founder John Albanese has said, “I knew instantly it was a proof from the first time I saw it,” explaining, “This one doesn’t look like any of the Mint State coins, but does have the look, texture, and fabric of the proofs I have seen. This was a no brainer.”

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