Once rare, until hoards started to be revealed
- Published: Mar 21, 2017, 8 AM
The Saint-Gaudens gold double eagle series is not known to be plentiful in die varieties. Just two major ones are known, with one discovered earlier in 2017 as reported here, and the other the best-known one in the series — an overdate variety.
The 1909/8 Saint-Gaudens $20 double eagle is the last overdate of any gold U.S. coin but it is also a first — the first overdate of any denomination that was created from the use of two hubs with different dates to make a die, and not an overdate created when different date punches were simply stamped one atop the other.
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“Tradtitional” overdates are of the kind represented by the 1802/1 Capped Bust gold $2.50 quarter eagle. A die that bore the date 1801 was updated through the use of a 2 punch, which was positioned over the second 1 and then struck with a mallet. Remnants of the original 1 are clearly visible under the 2. Multiple overdates of this kind are counted among early U.S. coinage in copper, silver, and gold, and most are probably not “errors” in the broad sense of the word. Dies were probably deliberately updated; a die of one date left over at the end of a calendar year would be carried over into the new year, and sometimes the date would be repunched to the new year’s date.
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While the Mint administration then was not even thinking about the interests of future coin collectors, their methods nonetheless created die varieties that are highly prized today.
Similarly, in 1909 it is entirely possible that an obverse die dated 1908, remaining unused at the end of the year, was deliberately updated to make it usable after Dec. 31. However, the process employed for its update was quite different than that used in 1802.
This 1908 die was hubbed a second time with a 1909 hub. Technically, the variety is also a doubled die, but the most prominent diagnostic of the completed die is the remnant of the 8 visible beneath the second 9.
For years, this 1909/8 variety was considered scarce, but as European hoards began to be dispersed, larger numbers of the overdate coins began to appear in the marketplace. (The concept of European hoards of U.S. gold coins should not be a surprise; it had been commonplace for American gold coinage to be exported since the 1790s, and large quantities of U.S. gold coins ended up in European holdings. In many ways, that was fortunate for collectors, as these European hoards escaped the mass meltings in the United States after U.S. gold coins were withdrawn from circulation in 1933.)
How rare are they? Ron Guth and Jeff Garrett, in their book on U.S. gold coins, believe it possible that as many as 80,000 examples of the overdate could have been struck, about on par with the regular 1909 double eagle (at least, based on grading service population reports).
It is no longer unusual to see a 1909/8 Saint-Gaudens double eagle in an auction, though that frequency does not detract from the appeal of the coin. One such piece is being offered in Stack’s Bowers Galleries’ Baltimore auctions in late March. The illustrated example is graded About Uncirculated 58 by Numismatic Guaranty Corp., meaning that it has just the slightest traces of wear on the high points, with a minimum of distracting contact marks. The auction description states: “A predominantly lustrous, medium orange example of the only overdate in the four popular 20th century U.S. Mint gold series. Boldly defined.” Live bidding is set to begin on March 31.
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