US Coins

Rare High Relief gold double eagle, shipwreck silver ingot in Heritage sale

An always-popular top-graded 1907 Saint-Gaudens, High Relief, Wire Rim gold $20 double eagle and a World War II-era ingot are headliners at Heritage’s Dec. 5 to 7 U.S. Coin Signature Auction at its Dallas headquarters. 

The double eagle will be offered at the Dec. 5 Premier Session. It is graded Mint State 68 by Numismatic Guaranty Corp. The mintage of 12,367 1907 High Relief double eagles was split roughly equally between Wire Rim and Flat Rim varieties. As a first-year of issue and a show-stopping example of Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ artistry, a large percentage of the mintage was saved, including many Uncirculated survivors. 

On the offered coin from Part II of the Burgess Lee Berlin, M.D., J.D. Collection, Heritage writes, “The surfaces display uncommonly thick mint luster and each side is almost devoid of post-striking contact, certainly none is evident to the unaided eye.” The cataloger further observes, “Rich reddish tinted patina covers the mint luster throughout.” 

It is the finest of eight 1907 Saint-Gaudens, High Relief double eagles offered in the auction, with another Wire Rim representative graded MS-63 by Professional Coin Grading Service and bearing a green Certified Acceptance Corp. sticker, one PCGS About Uncirculated 58, another in NGC AU-58, and two graded NGC Uncirculated Details, Improperly Cleaned, each providing more affordable opportunities for bidders. 

Huge, historical silver ingot

Among the most fascinating lots in the auction, not to mention one of the biggest, is a silver ingot recovered from the wreck of the SS Gairsoppa, a 5,327-ton, 399-foot-long cargo steamship built in 1919 for the British India Steam Navigation Company. It sank 300 miles off of the southwest coast of Ireland on Feb. 17, 1941. 

Richard Ayers was the lone man to survive of the 85 crewmembers, of which 30 had deployed in a single lifeboat. The cargo ship set out from the port of Calcutta in December 1940 headed to Liverpool, England, carrying iron, tea, and as much as 7 million ounces of silver for the war effort. The ship was sunk by torpedoes launched by a German submarine. The Germans also attacked the crewmembers with machine-gun fire during their escape.

Heritage shares the fascinating story of Ayers’ survival in the sole lifeboat believed to have escaped in its description, writing, “They navigated the treacherous waters of the North Atlantic, surviving on rations of biscuits, condensed milk, and a pint of water a day, at least for the first eight days. Their staple foodstuffs eventually ran out. By the end of the next five days all but seven men had capitulated to the starvation, delirium, and freezing temperatures. Then on day 13 the lifeboat capsized as the surviving Gairsoppa sailors spotted land. Four drowned immediately in their weakened state. Ayers and two others managed to right the boat, but waves once again threw them into the sea. Robert Hampshire, an 18-year-old radio officer became the 83rd casualty. Norman Thomas, a 20-year-old gunner, managed to make it to the rocky shore before another swell took his life, the 84th and final one lost in the tragedy. An unconscious Richard Ayers eventually made it to safety, the only one capable of recounting the sinking.” 

The wreck — situated three miles below the surface of the ocean — was discovered by Odyssey Marine Exploration and by 2013, the firm had recovered more than 3 million ounces of silver, including at least 1,200 ingots. 

The offered ingot is one of 462 of this type that have been recovered and each is between 1,000 and 1,100 ounces with a marked fineness of .999. It is trapezoidal in shape and measures 90 by 287 by 100 millimeters with the top side bearing the Bombay Mint hallmark and reading / JZ0423 / 5 / FINENESS / 999.2 / 1060.5 / OZS. 

Heritage adds, “Charcoal patina is seen on each side and there are scattered bits of rust in the recessed areas on the sides,” before calling it, “A rare and unusual ingot.” 

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