Why is a 1907 $10 Gold piece worth more than $2 million?
News and Analysis on, coin markets, and the coin collecting community #39
A Weekly Column by Greg Reynolds
Last week, I wrote about the auction of an NGC certified 1907 “Rolled Edge PF-67 SATIN” $10 gold piece for a record $2,185,000. I also listed all other American coins and related items that have sold at auction for more than $2 million each, as well as the few that have sold privately for more than $2 million. I did not then discuss the specific characteristics of this piece. What is it and why is it worth more than $2 million? Has another 1907 “Rolled Edge” Eagle ($10 gold) ever sold for as much as $500,000?
As I have already written several pieces on the Jan. 6th Platinum Night event, and I discussed the bidding for this item last week, the focus here will be on the $10 gold pieces of 1907, which require an explanation. Those who are interested in the auction, please click to see last week’s column on $2 million coins, my article on the business strike gold and silver coins that sold on Platinum Night, my piece on the Miller Collection of Proof Gold, or my earlier pre-auction perspective of O’Neal’s Indian Head Half Eagles. (As always, clickable links are in blue.) To understand great collections, prized coins, and auction results, though, it helps to understand coin types. The Eagles of 1907 are curious.
I. Four Kinds of 1907 Eagles
Generally, it is maintained that there are four kinds of 1907 $10 gold pieces (Eagles). Liberty Head Eagles were minted from 1838 to 1907. The Liberty Head type (or subtype), which features the motto “In God We Trust” on the reverse (back) was minted from 1866 to 1907. Besides the addition of this motto, this type is not significantly different from the ‘No Motto’ type that was minted from 1840 to 1866. At some point in 1907, however, a whole new generation of Eagles and Double Eagles ($20 gold coins) began. The discussion here concerns Eagles.
There are three kinds of 1907 Indian Head Eagles that are available to collectors. Although the names of these three are not clear and are a little misleading, it is best to continue to employ standard names for consistency and to avoid confusion. There are Wire Edge, Rolled Edge and No Periods Indian Head Eagles. As the motto, ‘In God We Trust,’ was not added to Indian Head Eagles until 1908, there is no need to refer to the absence of this motto on 1907 Indian Head Eagles, as it is known that no 1907 Indian Head Eagles include this motto.
The ‘No Periods’ issue is so called because the Wire Edge and Rolled Edge issues are characterized by “periods” or modernistic dots. There is such a dot, though it is not often struck up well, after the word LIBERTY on the obverse (front). The other dots are on the reverse (back) and appear before and after each word. While the absence of “periods” (dots) is noteworthy, the ‘No Periods’ issue is different in other ways. Even IF it had the same “periods” or dots, it would be much different from the Wire Edge and Rolled Edge issues.
The finishes of Wire Edge and Rolled Edge Eagles look startlingly different from the finishes of Liberty Head Eagles or from the Indian Head Eagles that were minted later. The ‘No Periods’ 1907 Eagles, in contrast, look like typical Indian Head Eagles. These resemble common 1926 and 1932 Indian Head Eagles, which many coin collectors and speculators have seen.
II. Wire Edge and Rolled Edge Eagles
All ‘Wire Edge’ Eagles are satiny in nature, some more so than others. While the name refers to the lack of a substantial rim and to the fins or wirelike metal extensions that form when metal gets trapped at the edges during striking, Wire Edge Eagles are truly distinguished by other characteristics. Fins or wires are sometimes termed ‘outer rims.’ But, these are not as consequential or substantive as the name ‘Wire Edge’ seems to suggest.
Remember that Capped Bust Half Dollars with lettered edges were replaced in 1836 by Capped Bust Half Dollars with reeded edges. While the difference in edges is important, there are many other differences between lettered edge Capped Bust Half Dollars and reeded edge Capped Bust Half Dollars. There is not a need to view the edges to identify half dollars of these two types.
Likewise, even if, hypothetically, Wire Edge Eagles, Rolled Edge Eagles and ‘No Periods’ Eagles had the same edge and rim structures, other differences would still distinguish these three kinds of 1907 Indian Head Eagles. Nonetheless, it is true that the Wire Edge Eagles have relatively flat rims, which are barely formed, plus fins (wires) at the edges. Rolled Edge Eagles have pronounced, much higher, rounded, fully formed rims.
The nature of the polishing of the dies used to manufacture Wire Edge Eagles is almost impossible to explain. These are not ‘satiny’ in the sense that the Roman Finish ‘Proof’ Eagles of 1908 and 1909 are satiny. The texture of the surfaces on Wire Edge Eagles is much different from those of Roman Finish Indian Head Eagles.
On both Wire Edge and Rolled Edge Eagles, there are an extraordinarily large number of die finishing lines, many of which curve or swirl. The dies were probably ‘polished’ with sharp metal-wire brushes. Dies were also polished in other ways. The polishing of the dies for Wire Edge Eagles, however, was different from the polishing of the dies for Rolled Edge Eagles. I wish there was an easy way to explain the differences. If three Wire Edge Eagles were placed next to three Rolled Edge Eagles, differences other than those that relate to the rims and edges would be apparent.
Wire Edge and Rolled Edge Eagles have in common the characteristic that the dies for these have less detail, and are shallower, than typical dies for U.S. coinage. Scott Schechter of the NGC refers to dies for Wire Edge and Rolled Eagles as “sculptural”! I agree, as there is a relative emphasis on flows and the fading of devices into fields. Divisions between the devices (raised design elements) and the fields are deliberately not emphasized. There is intentionally less detail. Dies for Wire Edge and Rolled Edge 1907 Eagles embody a different concept for dies for coinage.
Wire Edge Eagles do not have a Roman or Sandblast finish, as ‘Proof’ Eagles of the 1908 to 1915 period do. Moreover, Wire Edge Eagles do not have the ‘mint luster’ or ‘mint bloom’ of business strikes. Wire Edge Eagles have a finish that gives the appearance of a network of raised lines. These lines seem to reveal more of a sense of direction than the similar lines on Rolled Edge Eagles, and these are often longer on Wire Edge Eagles than on Rolled Edge Eagles. Plus, the dies for Wire Edge Eagles were also polished such that the surfaces have a texture, which I cannot seem to describe at the moment, almost floury. Rolled Edge Eagles, in contrast, have raised die lines, but do not have such a texture; Rolled Edge Eagles exhibit a more traditional mint bloom along with a business strike luster.
The surfaces of Wire Edge Eagles give the impression of smoothness and are usually satiny, while the surfaces of Rolled Edge Eagles are semi-vibrant. Although Wire Edge Eagles are not Proofs, these are not quite business strikes; it is hard to categorize them, perhaps they are best regarded as patterns and experimental pieces.
Rolled Edge Eagles also exhibit the effects of very extensive and very unusual die polishing, but not to the same extent, and not in the exact same way, as Wire Edge Eagles. In some ways, the die finishing lines on Wire Edge Eagles and Rolled Edge Eagles are very similar, but it is also true that these are very different in terms of length, shape, relief and extent.
The raised die lines on Rolled Edge Eagles seem to be like an assortment of veins, fibers and crossing lines. The lines on Wire Edge Eagles have a little more order. While some of the images in PCGS Coin Facts and in the Heritage Auction archives are illuminating in this regard, there is really a need to personally inspect these $10 pieces under magnification to appreciate the phenomena to which I am referring.
During the year 1907, Rolled Edge Eagles were made after Wire Edge Eagles. Evidently, tens of thousands were minted and almost all of them were melted. Rolled Edge Eagles are much rarer than Wire Edge Eagles. Fewer than sixty survive.
III. The Satin Finish 1907 “Rolled Edge” $10 piece
My impression is that graders at the NGC regard the Leach-Monroe $2,185,000 “Rolled Edge” Eagle and the Adam Crum piece as Proofs of the regular “Rolled Edge” Eagle issue. The $10 piece that Adam Crum, of Monaco Financial, bought and sold in 2007, it seems, has the same certification as the Leach-Monroe piece. Essentially, both are termed by the NGC as “ROLLED EDGE PF-67 SATIN.”
What are these two pieces? Why refer to them as Proof Rolled Edge $10 pieces?
Curiously, the Leach-Monroe Satin Finish 1907 does have partial wires, fins that could be termed ‘outer rims.’ It, though, has true rims that is very similar to those typically found on Rolled Edge Eagles and are not like the barely defined rims of typical Wire Edge Eagles.
As I have never seen the piece that Crum sold, I am focusing on the Leach-Monroe Satin Finish 1907 “Rolled Edge” Eagle. It is clear, though, that both of these are much more sharply struck than typical Rolled Edge Eagles, certainly more sharply struck than all the Rolled Edge Eagles that I remember seeing. Consider the curls in the hair, the letters of LIBERTY, the meeting of the eagle’s wings with its chest, the eagle’s claws and the tail feathers. There is a blatant contrast between the level of detail on these two coins and that on typical Rolled Edge Eagles. More importantly, these two pieces were struck from dies that are much more heavily and also differently polished than the dies used to strike typical Rolled Edge Eagles.
In my view, the combination of being more sharply struck and having been struck from heavily and interestingly polished dies does not demonstrate that the Leach-Monroe coin is a Proof. Please see my articles on the unique Proof 1876-CC dime, the Proof 1907-Denver Double Eagle and a meeting of the early 20th century gold club for discussions of the concept of a Proof.
In fairness, however, it is generally agreed that the term Proof has a special set of definitions in regards to pre-1930 U.S. coins of design types that were FIRST minted between 1907 and 1921. Though I respect opinions to the contrary, I maintain that the Leach-Monroe Satin Finish 1907 Eagle does not fulfill such special criteria. It is not a Proof, though it is not a business strike Rolled Edge Eagle either.
While its detail is too sharp for it be a typical Rolled Edge Eagle, its detail is just a little sharper than a typical Wire Edge Eagle. Though it has a ‘Rolled Edge’ and rim, this piece, in other ways, is like a Wire Edge Eagle. Rim and edge characteristics are only some of the factors that distinguish Wire Edge Eagles from Rolled Edge Eagles. If the central features of the Indian’s hair, headband and feathers are compared to the NGC certified MS-67 Wire Edge Eagle that Heritage auctioned in May 2008, it is apparent that the Leach-Monroe piece has very similar detail to that one, and is only slightly more sharply struck.
I realize that I am going out on a limb by asserting that the Leach-Monroe Satin Finish 1907 is not a Proof and, despite having rims of the Rolled Edge type, is not really a Rolled Edge Eagle either. Though I found some support for my theory in conversations with Jim Halperin and Scott Schechter, I am NOT implying that Jim or Scott entirely agrees with me. I take full and sole responsibility for my theory.
After I communicated my theory to Jim Halperin, he said “I agree with you about the Satin Finish 1907. When I [Jim] first saw it, I thought it was some sort of hybrid of” a Wire Edge Eagle and a Rolled Edge Eagle. Jim Halperin is the co-founder and co-chairman of Heritage, and a recognized expert in the technical aspects of rare U.S. coins.
Halperin continued, “In fact, I said exactly that [about it being a hybrid] to Mark Salzberg before we sent it to NGC, but of course Mark had the benefit of a lot more research materials than I did, including his detailed notes and probably even photos from NGC’s review of the 1907 coinage in the Smithsonian collection. So, I [Jim] defer to [Salzberg’s] judgment.” Salzberg is the chairman and largest shareholder of the NGC, and is a distinguished expert in gold coins.
I (this writer) do not perceive how information relating to the coins and patterns in the Smithsonian could demonstrate that this Leach-Monroe Satin 1907 piece is a Proof ‘Rolled Edge’ Eagle. Scott Schechter of the NGC states that the Leach-Monroe and Adam Crum pieces “are different in appearance from other known Rolled Edge[Eagles], being fully satin finish and very well made from early-state highly-polished dies.” Yes, I concur. These factors, however, are not sufficient to demonstrate that it is a Proof and, in my (this writer’s) view, the Leach-Monroe piece is just too different for it to be a Rolled Edge Eagle, and this may be true of the Crum piece as well.
Halperin and I talked about how the satiny fields are more similar to the fields of Wire Edge Eagles and very different from the fields of typical Rolled Edge Eagles. Furthermore, while the Leach-Monroe Satin Finish 1907 obviously has a ‘Rolled Edge’ and rim, Halperin agrees that the rim and the edge are somewhat different from those of typical Rolled Edge Eagles.
I maintain that the Leach-Monroe Satin Finish 1907 Eagle is a pattern or experimental piece. Schechter asserts that the Leach-Monroe and Adam Crum pieces “are either presentation specimens of the design intended for circulation or patterns. In either case, they are exceptionally rare and rank highly among the very most important of all 20th Century coins.” Here and above, Schechter is putting forth his own views in response to my arguments. Schechter’s views are not necessarily those of Mark Salzberg or of other experts at the NGC.
My (this writer’s) theory is that the Leach-Monroe Satin Finish 1907 Eagle has primary features of both the Rolled Edge and Wire Edge issues, and it is neither a Proof nor a business strike. It is some kind of ‘Specimen’ striking. This variety deserves its own listing in pattern references. The Adam Crum piece may very well be of the same variety.
Patterns relating to early 20th century U.S. coins are rarer than patterns of the second half of the 19th century. As a pattern, the Leach-Monroe Satin Finish 1907 Eagle is perhaps worth more than it would be if it was a Proof “Rolled Edge” Eagle. How many early 20th century gold patterns are privately owned?
©2011 Greg Reynolds