The Rarest 20th Century, Regular U.S. Coins: 1927-D Saint Gaudens Double Eagles ($20 gold pieces)
Coin Rarities & Related Topics: News and Analysis regarding scarce coins, coin markets, and the coin collecting community, #216
A Weekly CoinWeek Column by Greg Reynolds ………..
Double Eagles are U.S. $20 gold coins, and regular issues were minted from 1850 to 1933. ‘Liberty Head’ or Liberty Double Eagles date from 1850 to 1907. Saint Gaudens Double Eagles were minted from 1907 to 1933. These were designed by Augustus Saint Gaudens, the most famous sculptor in the history of the United States. The 1927-Denver Mint issue is the rarest Saint.
As I made clear in January, only eleven 1927-D Saint Gaudens Double Eagles are currently known. It is extremely unlikely that more than fifteen exist. I estimate that there exist twelve or thirteen 1927-D Saints, perhaps just twelve!
Some of those “1927-D” Saints that traded many years ago are not genuine. Before the advent of certification services, coins with added mintmarks were frequently offered at major coin shows. Also, forgeries of U.S. gold coins were much more of a problem for the coin collecting community during the 1960s and 1970s than they have been since 1990. Even so, I am tentatively figuring that the 1927-D that Lester Merkin offered in 1969 and Superior Galleries (Goldbergs) auctioned in 1973 is genuine, even though it has never been certified by the PCGS or the NGC.
A 1927-D Saint has been recently ‘in the news.’ On March 20, in San Francisco, Heritage auctioned the PCGS graded “MS-63” 1927-D, which is the lowest graded of the seven that are PCGS or NGC certified. Even so, it is an exciting coin that I have enjoyed viewing on a few occasions.
Generally, it is more thrilling to view rarities in private collections or just before public auctions than to view such rarities in museums. There are three 1927-D Saints in the coin collection of the Smithsonian Institution. There is also one in the collection of the museum of the “Connecticut State Library.” These four are all widely believed to grade from MS-64 to MS-66. I have not seen them. (Uncirculated or ‘mint state’ coins are graded on a scale from 60 to 70.)
As these four are not available to collectors and are not often seen by experts, I am ignoring them here and focusing upon the seven that are PCGS or NGC certified. Certified 1927-D Saints tend to appear somewhat frequently in major auctions or at major shows. Indeed, it seems that at least one 1927-D Saint trades, publicly or privately, every two years. Two have been auctioned so far in 2014.
So, it is realistic to expect that at least one privately owned 1927-D may be seen by each coin enthusiast who has the time to view auction lots and/or attend major coin conventions. Besides, these seven tend to ‘make news’ when they sell. Is it more fun to read about a Great Rarity that sells for a large sum to an overjoyed collector than it is to read about one that is impounded in a museum?
Evidently, the museum of the Connecticut State Library contained two 1927-D Saints and now contains just one. The other was consigned to a Heritage auction in 1995 and was later auctioned again by Heritage on Jan. 7, 2010 as part of the Muller Collection.
Condition rankings for currently known, privately owned 1927-D Saints are, in my view, as follows: 1) Charlotte-Parrino-Morse, low end to mid range 67; 2) Eliasberg, mid range 66; 3) Browning- ‘Dallas Bank’ -Simpson, low end to mid range 66; 4) Connecticut-Muller, high 65 to low 66; 5) McDougal-‘Jan. 2006 and Jan. 2007 FUN auctions’, high 65; 6) Duckor-Martin, mid range 65; 7) Kramer-Richmond-“Lord Baltimore”-Bently, 62.
I have carefully examined six of these seven. Though I saw the Eliasberg piece only once and was then unable to closely examine it, I have heard a great deal about it from relevant experts.
Over time, I thought more about the notion that the McDougal piece became slightly less original between Jan. 2006 and Jan. 2007, and I thought more about some of its technical imperfections. Additionally, I reflected further upon the luster and terrific color of the Connecticut-Muller 1927-D.
Although its certified grade is not higher, the Connecticut-Muller 1927-D is of higher quality than the McDougal 1927-D, which has a long gash on Miss Liberty’s chest and a rather deep gash on one of the rays. Even so, the McDougal 1927-D is very lustrous and certainly grabs the attention of the viewer.
While I am concerned about the contact marks on Miss Liberty’s legs on the Connecticut-Muller 1927-D, I maintain that it is technically superior overall to the McDougal 1927-D and scores relatively higher in the category of originality. Indeed, the original luster and rich natural toning on the Connecticut-Muller piece are wonderful. All seven of the PCGS or NGC certified 1927-D Saints, however, are especially attractive coins. Collectors should be happy with any one of them.
It is almost indisputable that the finest known 1927-D Saint is the Charlotte-Parrino-Morse coin. In March 1991, Stack’s auctioned the Charlotte Collection of Saints in New York, which contained many gem quality representatives of better dates.
The Charlotte 1927-D is virtually flawless. There are hardly any contact marks or hairlines. It is more than very attractive overall. In March 1991, Jay Parrino bought the Charlotte 1927-D for $522,500, which was not considered a very strong price at the time. Parrino indicated to me that he was then willing to pay as much as “$850,000”!
Shortly after that auction in 1991, the Charlotte 1927-D was PCGS graded “MS-66.” At a later time, Parrino re-submitted it to the PCGS and it then upgraded to “MS-67.” Parrino sold the Charlotte 1927-D to Philip Morse, by way of a relatively unknown dealer in Maryland.
In Nov. 2005, in Dallas, Heritage auctioned the Philip Morse Collection of Saints. It is certainly indisputable that this was the greatest collection of Saints that has ever been auctioned. Morse had business strikes and Proofs. He had many first or second finest known representatives of particular issues. Moreover, the Morse set of Saints had astonishing depth. A prime example is that Morse owned a PCGS graded MS-66 1921, a PCGS graded MS-65 1921 and a PCGS graded MS-64 1921 Saint! To a significant extent, Morse had duplicates and sometimes triplicates of ‘better date’ Saints in MS-65 or higher grades.
The likes of the Morse Collection of Saints had never been seen before, at least not publicly. There is a set of Saints on the East Coast that is rumored to be of higher quality than the best coins of each date in the Morse Collection of Saints.
Although the Eliasberg 1927-D is dynamic and livelier, the Charlotte-Morse 1927-D is superior in terms of technical factors; it is virtually flawless and is really pretty. If the Charlotte-Parrino-Morse 1927-D was offered in a summer ANA or winter FUN Convention auction over the next eighteen months, or as part of a special event in New York, it would be valued by major market participants at more than $2.6 million, maybe much more.
The buyer of the Charlotte-Parrino-Morse 1927-D in Nov. 2005 was upgrading. I believe that he then owned the Eliasberg 1927-D, though I am far from certain of this point. Todd Imhof, who was then a partner of a coin firm in Washington State, represented this collector at the Morse sale and afterwards.
In 2005, the Eliasberg 1927-D was NGC graded “MS-66” and later that year it was ‘crossed’ into a PCGS holder as “MS-66” after being submitted by Imhof. Todd sold it to North American Certified Trading (NACT) of Irvine, California, and this firm sold it to an unnamed buyer. In May 2006, NACT arranged for that buyer to allow the Eliasberg 1927-D Saint to be displayed at the summer ANA Convention in Denver, which was held from Aug. 16 to 19, 2006. Although I was unable to attend that ANA Convention, the Eliasberg 1927-D was, as far as I know, on display there.
In Dec. 2009, a firm in New Jersey obtained the Eliasberg 1927-D, presumably from the person who had bought it from NACT. The details of the private transactions involving the Eliasberg 1927-D were never completely clear to me. Through Barry Stuppler, it was then acquired by a collector. My impression is that the Eliasberg 1927-D has been in the same place since Dec. 2009, in a collection in the Southwest. This collection of Saints is listed in the NGC set registry as the “Snap Daddy Saint Set.”
III. Browning-‘Dallas Bank’-Simpson
The ‘Dallas Bank’ collection of U.S. gold coins was owned by the late Jeff Browning. I believe that Browning died in 1979 or 1980. Until 2001, Browning’s collection was held in a bank in the Dallas area. In Oct. 2001, the ‘Dallas Bank’-Browning Collection was auctioned by Sotheby’s, in cooperation with Stack’s, in New York.
According to the PCGS Coin Facts site, Mike Brownlee and Julian Leidman sold this 1927-D Saint to Jeff Browning in Sept. 1974 for “$175,000.” In 2001, it realized $402,500. A Long Island wholesaler was the successful bidder, though I am not sure now that he lived on Long Island in 2001. Later, perhaps in 2004, that Long Island wholesaler sold this 1927-D to John Albanese, who, in turn, sold it to Blanchard.
Before the summer of 2003, the ‘Dallas Bank’ 1927-D was PCGS graded “MS-66.” It was offered in the summer 2003 ANA auction by Spectrum-B&M and did not sell.
During the June 2005 Long Beach Expo, the ‘Dallas Bank’ 1927-D sold among dealers for “$1,650,000.” Soon afterwards, it became part of the Simpson Collection. Later, it was listed as part of the Simpson registry set of Saints and it is currently pictured on the PCGS CoinFacts site.
I remember seeing it in 2001 and in 2003. The ‘Dallas Bank’ 1927-D is a stunning coin. It does not sparkle to the extent that the Eliasberg 1927-D does. Yet, it has rich luster and glows brightly.
Although it has more technical imperfections than the Dallas Bank 1927-D, the Connecticut-Muller 1927-D has incredible natural color and texture. I cannot describe the terrific brass and green toning over exceptionally pleasing original luster. Despite some contact marks on Miss Liberty’s legs and scattered about the reverse, it is an exceptionally pleasing coin.
I wrote an article about the Connecticut-Muller 1927-D for Numismatic News newspaper in Jan. 2010. I emphasized then that relevant experts were divided as to whether its grade is in the high end of the 65 range or in the low end of the 66 range. Indeed, its grade is right around the border, though I contend that a 66 grade is fair enough. It brought $1.495 million at the FUN Platinum Night event of Jan. 7, 2010, which I regarded as a strong price at the time. Some very interested, wealthy players in attendance found this result to be weak, yet they did not bid on this coin. It was part of the Muller set of Saints.
Later, “in 2011,” John Albanese bought the Connecticut-Muller 1927-D for “over $1.6 million.” John had it downgraded from being PCGS graded MS-66 to being NGC graded MS-65+. “My client wanted a CAC [approved] 1927-D, ” Albanese says. John is the founder and president of the CAC.
So, as an NGC graded “MS-65+” coin, it received a sticker of approval from the CAC. It would not have been CAC approved while in a PCGS or NGC holder with a “MS-66” grade. A similar story pertains to the Duckor-Martin 1927-D, though the next in the condition ranking is the McDougal 1927-D
V. Delbert McDougal
The “Delbert McDougal” set of Saints was auctioned by Heritage in Jan. 2006 in Orlando. The McDougal 1927-D had been NGC graded “MS-65” for a long time. Earlier, this same coin was in “The Orlando Sale” by Superior (Goldbergs) in August 1992, just prior to a summer ANA Convention. Yes, almost unbelievably, a summer ANA Convention was held in Florida in 1992. According to cataloguers at Heritage, this same 1927-D Saint had still earlier been auctioned by Stack’s in 1984 for “$275,000.”
This 1927-D was NGC graded “MS-65” well before that Aug. 1992 auction and it did not then sell. When describing this same coin for an auction in Jan. 2007, a Heritage cataloguer stresses the notion that it was graded “MS-65” long ago, when grading standards were more strict. In actuality, I was at “The Orlando Sale” by Superior Galleries in 1992 and I then discussed this coin with relevant experts who were in attendance. Most were in agreement that the assigned “MS-65” grade was rather generous at the time. My impression was that no one then thought that the PCGS would also grade this coin as high as “MS-65” in 1992. In 2006, however, the PCGS graded it as “MS-66.”
In Jan. 2006, the McDougal 1927-D was purchased for $1,322,500 by a trio of dealers including John Albanese. Though I was not at this auction, my guess is that Kevin Lipton was the successful bidder, ‘in person’ or by phone. Lipton sold the coin later in Jan. or in early Feb. 2006.
Later in 2006, the coin was upgraded from being NGC graded “MS-65” to being PCGS graded “MS-66.” It seems to me that the new owner, or more likely a dealer-consultant, lightly dipped and/or otherwise modified this coin. I am certain that its appearance in Jan. 2007 was different from its appearance in Jan. 2006.
On Jan. 4, 2007, it did not sell in a FUN Platinum Night event. Rumors, from somewhat reliable sources, suggest that it sold privately more than six months later, just prior to a summer ANA Convention in Milwaukee.
VI. Duckor-Martin 1927-D
“Douglas Martin,” if that is his real name, collected both Liberty Double Eagles and Saints ‘by date’ (and U.S. Mint location). His sets were auctioned by Heritage in January 2014.
Martin’s 1927-D Saint was formerly owned by Steven Duckor, MD, one of the most sophisticated and influential coin collectors of all time. This 1927-D was part of Duckor’s first set of Saints, which he dismantled in the 1990s. Dr. Duckor’s second set, which lacked a 1927-D, was auctioned by Heritage on Jan. 5, 2012.
I already wrote in detail about this coin in January, in a review of million dollar items in the Jan. 9, 2014 FUN Platinum Night event. The Duckor-Martin 1927-D sold for a $1,997,500, an auction record for a 1927-D Saint. Since then, it has become public knowledge that the Duckor-Martin 1927-D has been downgraded. My impression is that the collector-buyer desired this downgrade.
The “Fox Collection” of Saints is publicly listed in the PCGS registry. It is there clearly evident that this coin was downgraded from being NGC graded “MS-66” to being PCGS graded “MS-65+.”
The listing for this coin in the “Fox Collection” specifically states that the now PCGS graded “MS-65+” Duckor 1927-D Saint has a sticker of approval from the CAC. Through other sources, I have confirmed that this is true. The Duckor-Martin 1927-D would could not have been CAC approved while it was certified as grading “MS-66.”
Perhaps I was a little too harsh on the Duckor-Martin 1927-D, when I discussed it in January. Its grade is just about in the middle of the 65 range and it is a very attractive coin. I just find the Charlotte-Morse, Eliasberg, ‘Dallas Bank,’ and Connecticut-Muller coins to be much more appealing than the Duckor-Martin coin.
The McDougal coin beats the Duckor-Martin 1927-D by only a fraction of a point in terms of grade. Nevertheless, I could understand why some collectors might prefer the Duckor-Martin 1927-D. Some of the gashes on the McDougal coin are relatively more distracting than the contact marks on the Duckor-Martin 1927-D. In terms of widely accepted grading criteria, these are both gem quality, MS-65 grade coins.
VII. Kramer-Richmond-“Lord Baltimore”-Bently
The 1927-D Saint that just sold on March 20 is not a gem. It is PCGS graded “MS-63” and it realized $1,292,500, a strong price. Heritage has been auctioning the collection of the late Donald Bently, and also coins from a collection formed by Bently’s son, Christopher. Many of Donald Bently’s rarities were auctioned on March 20 in San Francisco at the “Bently Reserve,” which occupies in the same building that housed the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, for decades.
The Connecticut-Muller 1927-D that brought $1.495 million, on Jan. 7, 2010, is vastly superior to the Bently 1927-D. Moreover, the record $1,997,500 that the Duckor-Martin coin brought on Jan. 9, 2014 is very strong. I was figuring moderate auction levels of $1.65 million for the Duckor-Martin 1927-D and $1,075,000 for the Kramer-Richmond-Bently coin. Generally, a moderate auction price falls around the border between a wholesale price and a retail price.
The Bently 1927-D was NGC graded “AU-58” in the 1980s. Stack’s and Superior Galleries (Goldbergs) jointly auctioned the Charles Kramer Collection in New York in Nov. 1988. This coin then sold for $187,000, which was a weak price at that time. The Kramer 1927-D later became part of the Richmond Collection, which the firm of David Lawrence auctioned in 2004 and 2005.
Before the summer of 2004, the Kramer-Richmond 1927-D was upgraded by the NGC to “MS-62.” In July 2004, it was auctioned for $575,000. Bob Green was the successful bidder, on behalf of the collector known as “Lord Baltimore.” It was then submitted to the PCGS so that it could be part of Lord Baltimore’s PCGS registry set of Saints. It ‘crossed’ and was then PCGS graded “MS-62.”
Early in 2005, “Lord Baltimore” decided to sell his set of Saints and the PCGS upgraded this 1927-D to “MS-63.” Although it is characterized by very noticeable friction, the Kramer-Richmond 1927-D is lustrous, dynamic and attractive. In accordance with currently accepted grading standards, a ‘62’ grade would be fair.
Green’s firm later bought the “Lord Baltimore” set and renamed it, “The Park Avenue Collection.” The coins in this set were sold privately. At some point, Don Bently acquired this 1927-D.
Although this is the worst of the seven 1927-D Saints that are PCGS or NGC certified, it is understandable that this coin would sell for nearly $1.3 million. The Kramer-Richmond-Bently 1927-D is very appealing and thousands of people collect Saints. These are among the most beautiful and popular of all coins. The 1927-D is rarer than the 1933 and is the rarest Saint.
©2014 Greg Reynolds
email: insightful10 gmail.com