Two Landmark Years for San Francisco Gold Coinage
By Brian Zweig
1906-S Liberty Double Eagle and 1916-S Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle
The 4.1 earthquake that hit near Dover, Delaware, last Thursday couldn’t have come at a more ironic time—as one of the coins we have today was minted the year a particularly monumental earthquake struck San Francisco. And although you probably didn’t feel that earthquake, we’re sure you’ve heard of it…
The San Francisco Mint has served a pivotal role in American economic and numismatic history. It was first established in response to the California Gold Rush and remains in operation today. Unlike branch mints in Charlotte, Dahlonega, and Carson City—which closed when the local bullion supply dried up—the San Francisco Mint stayed open to serve the booming western economy.
In its 163 years of operation, two dates are particularly important for the San Francisco Mint: 1906 and 1916. Our supplier set off on a journey to locate these rare coins, but it proved to be much more difficult than expected. What you are about to read is the work of almost one full year of searching for these hard-to-find dates. Even after months of searching, we were only able to uncover 15 of each of these dates, exclusively for ASI readers.
1906: The San Francisco Earthquake
The 1906 San Francisco Earthquake is remembered as one of the worst natural disasters in American history. Not only was it a violently powerful 7.8 magnitude quake, but it struck a heavily populated and densely developed city. An astounding 80% of the city was destroyed by the earthquake, essentially decimating the area and forcing San Francisco to rebuild from scratch. The initial shaking did its share of harm, but it was the uncontrollable fires that did the most damage.
Incredibly, the San Francisco Mint was one of the few structures to survive the quake and ensuing fires. The building was solidly constructed for security purposes, ultimately helping it withstand the intense earthquake and firestorms. Dramatic photos from 1906 show the Mint surrounded by rubble and debris where adjacent buildings once stood. By all accounts, it was the only financial institution in San Francisco capable of operating immediately following the disaster.
At the time of the earthquake, an astounding $300 million worth of gold was stored in the San Francisco Mint. This represented a full third of the U.S. gold reserves! Had the building failed, the financial stability of the federal government could have been compromised. Not only did the building survive, but remarkably, it was able to resume production almost immediately.
Today, 1906-S gold coins are prized by numismatists for their connection to the San Francisco Earthquake. They are arguably some of the most desirable Liberty gold coins issued at the facility. In addition to boasting a fascinating historic backstory, 1906-S $20 Liberty Double Eagles represent outstanding value. Despite being almost 50 times rarer than the “generic” 1904 $20 Liberty, the 1906-S $20 Liberty sells for a modest premium.
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1916: War Halts Gold Coin Production
World War I also saw the mintage of another intriguing San Francisco issue—the 1916-S $20 Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle. Like the 1906-S $20 Liberty, the 1916-S $20 “Saint” is known for its unique backstory and low mintages—and the hardship that helped boost its rarity.
Prior to World War I, demand for United States gold coins was strong. Not only was the American economy healthy, but foreign governments became accepting of U.S. gold. Whereas coins like the British Sovereign and French 20 Franc dominated global commerce in the 19th century, American gold pieces were the coins of choice in the early 20th century.
This all changed during World War I, as the war had a profound impact on both the American and European economies. Foreign demand for U.S. gold coins evaporated quickly, as many countries channeled their resources toward the war effort. Meanwhile, in the states, the war created an environment of uncertainty. The economy slowed, and the country entered a brief recession in the latter portion of the decade.
With limited domestic and foreign need for U.S. gold coins, the Philadelphia and Denver Mints ceased production of $2.5, $5, $10, and $20 pieces after 1915. The significance of this moment cannot be overstated—this was the first time in decades that these gold coins were put on hiatus. For example, the Half Eagle had been made by the Philadelphia Mint every year without interruption since 1818! Yet, in 1916, not a single piece was struck in Philadelphia.
Nonetheless, the San Francisco Mint issued a tiny number of gold $5 Half Eagles, $10 Eagles, and $20 Double Eagles in 1916. These are the only American gold coins dated 1916—and, as such, are prized by numismatists. The combination of rarity and wartime connection makes the 1916-S $20 Saint one of the most intriguing coins in 20th century U.S. gold.
Much like the 1906-S $20 Liberty, the 1916-S $20 Saint is wildly rarer than the most common date but sells for a low premium. The 1916-S is a whopping 73 times scarcer than the most available issue, but you can pick up Uncirculated specimens for just a 20% to 25% premium.
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A Solid Gold Combination of Rarity and Value
Today, we have a limited quantity of 1906-S and 1916-S Double Eagles in Uncirculated grade available for our readers. Each coin is certified MS61 or better by either PCGS or NGC. All 1906-S and 1916-S $20 Double Eagles are difficult to source, but they are especially challenging in Uncirculated grades.
Although we’ve offered $20 Liberties and $20 Saints as past Spotlight coins, this is the first time we’ve been able to offer these two dates specifically. Why? They simply do not exist in almost any significant quantity. In fact, the coins available today represent many months of searching. Our numismatic expert has been tracking down these two dates since the beginning of 2017—and this is all they were able to locate!
Even though it took many months to locate these coins, it won’t take long for them to sell out. Whether you’re just getting started on a U.S. gold collection—or you’re finishing an advanced set—these coins represent an outstanding opportunity. The 1906-S and 1916-S Double Eagles are historic, numismatically significant, and a superb value! To secure your 1906-S and 1916-S $20 Double Eagles before they disappear from the market again, 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 is available for single coins and two-coin sets. Offer expires Friday, December 8, 2017, or while supplies last.