One of the Rarest $20 Saints on the Market
By Brian Zweig
PCGS MS64 1907 $20 Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle
For numismatists, the year 1907 has legendary status. It marked an important turning point for America’s gold coinage—the venerable Liberty design motif was phased out, and a new era began. At the request of President Theodore Roosevelt, all four major U.S. gold denominations were completely overhauled. Perhaps the most famous and beautiful of the four is Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ $20 Double Eagle.
While the $20 Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle is an extremely familiar coin to our clients, you may not know about its early history. Before the $20 “Saint” went into mass production, it underwent a series of dramatic changes and modifications. Along the way, the U.S. Mint issued a series of rare 1907 Double Eagle prototypes. Depending on the variety and condition, these can be worth hundreds of thousands—if not millions—of dollars!
Eventually, in 1907, the U.S. Mint settled on a final design and format for the $20 Saint. It took numerous revisions and adjustments—and it was nearly 1908 by the time this version was perfected. Consequently, the 1907 $20 Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle is one of the scarcer dates in the series. There’s a reason why we’ve never offered this coin by itself…until today!
At August’s Philadelphia ANA World’s Fair of Money convention, we were at the right place at the right time. One of our wholesale contacts had an original hoard of 1907 $20 Saints, which were submitted to PCGS for grading at the coin show. These coins are fresh to the market after having been stashed for many years. Judging by their condition, we wouldn’t be surprised if these sat untouched for decades! For this month’s Spotlight coin, we’re excited to make these beautifully-preserved 1907 $20 Saints available to investors for the first time.
Birth of the $20 Saint
In late 1904, President Theodore Roosevelt lamented that America’s coinage had become aesthetically bland. The U.S. Mint was more concerned with function over form—they preferred designs that were reliable and easy to strike. As evidence of this, the longstanding Liberty design had been in place for over 65 years! Roosevelt took the bold step of commissioning Augustus Saint-Gaudens, a famous sculptor, to overhaul all four gold denominations.
During the redesign process, Saint-Gaudens and Roosevelt corresponded about how these new coins should look. Roosevelt mentioned that he admired the coins of Ancient Greece—and felt that the most attractive specimens were those struck in high relief. The raised design elements gave the coins a dramatic and unique appearance. Saint-Gaudens attempted to replicate this look for the new $20 Double Eagle.
One of Saint-Gaudens’ first prototypes was a double-thick ultra-high relief coin. This exotic piece had the same gold content as a normal Double Eagle but was 20% smaller in diameter (it measured 27 millimeters versus 34 millimeters for a standard $20 piece). The narrower size created a “deep dish” appearance that is unlike any other United States coin. The coin, while aesthetically stunning, was virtually impossible to strike. The Mint complained that it could not produce this coin in an efficient manner. Just two specimens were struck and both remain impounded in the Smithsonian Institution. Numismatists value these coins at $5 million or more!
The Mint tried again with the same basic design in a larger size. That is, the second version was the same diameter as an 1849 to 1907 $20 Liberty but still struck in ultra-high relief. After making just a few dozen pieces, Mint engineers essentially gave up once again. An incredible amount of pressure was needed just to get a single coin off the dies. Staff engravers went back to the drawing board after producing a scant 20 to 30 of these Ultra-High Relief 1907 $20 Saints—nowadays these coins are worth between $2 to $3 million each!
Roosevelt and Saint-Gaudens were adamant upon the high relief format, but Mint officials complained vociferously about production issues. After all, by the early 20th century, the $20 Double Eagle had become quite popular worldwide with annual demand in the millions. How could the Mint cover orders when each coin took so long to make? The solution was to scale back the coin’s depth further; the Ultra-High Relief gave way to the High Relief. While somewhat easier to strike, it was still considered too labor-intensive. The High Relief was jettisoned after a brief production run of 11,250 pieces. Specimens of this variety sell for anywhere between $7,500 to $500,000 per coin depending on condition.
Finally, late in 1907, the U.S. Mint stopped experimenting and decided to make the $20 Saint in standard relief. Roosevelt reluctantly agreed to the low relief version but was happy to see that the basic design was left intact. Despite the extensive modifications, the final edition was still met with tremendous praise by the President. The U.S. Mint finally released a relatively small quantity of the new and final $20 Saints in December 1907.
This saga explains why 1907 $20 Saints are rare while 1908 $20 Saints are extremely common. It took the U.S. Mint many months to adjust and perfect the $20 Saint—it was November before the final version was adopted. By that point, the year was essentially over. Not surprisingly, the difference in mintages between the 1907 and 1908 Philadelphia issues is stark. Just 361,667 $20 Saints were made in 1907, while over 4.5 million were released in 1908! Essentially, the Mint then played “catch up” in 1908.
A Rare Find
The 1907 $20 Saint is significantly rarer than common dates like 1908 and 1924. In PCGS MS64, for instance, the 1907 $20 Saint has a total population of 5,222 pieces. By comparison, the 1908 “No Motto” $20 Saint has a PCGS population of over 49,000, and the 1924 population exceeds 98,000. Despite being many times scarcer, the 1907 $20 Saint sells for less than double the cost of a generic MS64 $20 Saint. One might expect a coin of this rarity to be worth more like $4,000 to $6,000 each, but it trades for substantially less.
This is well below the PCGS Price Guide Value of $2,500 per coin—and an outstanding value given the coin’s rarity in MS64. Keep in mind that in 2011, any MS64 $20 Saint was fetching between $2,200 and $2,500 on the wholesale market. Even the most common dates were bid up to this level!
Putting value and future price potential aside, the 1907 $20 Saint offers tremendous numismatic appeal. It is historically significant as the first year of issue, and many $20 Saint enthusiasts consider it a “must own” for that reason alone. It is also the rarer of two “No Motto” issues in the series. As you may know, the first two dates in the $20 Saint-Gaudens series did not show the legend “IN GOD WE TRUST” on the reverse. Few coins of any price point can offer such a fascinating backstory—or make such fantastic conversation pieces.
All the Traits of Excellence
We have just 40 pieces in total, all of which are in fresh PCGS MS64 holders. The coins were just recently graded and are uncannily uniform in appearance. Each piece displays lovely satiny luster, clean surfaces, a perfect strike, and solid eye appeal. The coins were probably kept as souvenirs upon release in 1907, as they do not display the usual bag marks or signs of handling. Most $20 Saints of this era are well-abraded and nicked up, but these are remarkably smooth. Simply put, the quality of this group is exceptional and far superior than the average MS64.
This is a highly unusual opportunity to own a high-quality $20 Saint from the first year of issue—and one we urge you to act on quickly! These coins have all the traits that make classic U.S. gold coins special: rarity, quality, numismatic significance, historical allure, and dazzling eye appeal. Even better, these 1907 $20 Saints also represent outstanding value! For just 40% to 50% over the cost of a common MS64, you can own this immensely scarcer date—in high grade no less. You absolutely don’t want to miss this truly unique offering. Whether you’re a Saint-Gaudens enthusiast or just getting started, these coins make a fantastic addition to your numismatic holdings. To secure these remarkable coins today, please call us at 800-831-0007 or email us.
*Prices subject to change based on market fluctuation and product availability. Prices reflected are for cash, check, or bank wire. Free shipping, handling, and insurance are available for all quantities ordered. Offer expires Friday, October 5, 2018, or while supplies last.