The 1921 Saint-Gaudens double eagle has always been an interesting Saint-Gaudens double eagle date. All the factors that could make any single date of Saint-Gaudens double eagles available or scarce were at work in the case of the 1921 and that makes it a fascinating and difficult one to figure out.
The 1921 story starts with a mintage of 528,500, which is a lower-than-average total for the 1920s, when totals of 1 million or more were common. But, the figure was not so low as to suggest that the 1921 would be a tough date.
The 1921 was more than a decade before the Gold Recall Order and the melting that followed. It?s easy to understand why a date in the 1930s might have been heavily melted, but it?s less easy to figure out why the 1921 would have been melted in large numbers. After all, a number of dates produced after 1921 show little evidence of being heavily destroyed in the recall.
The 1923, for example, had a nearly identical mintage, but there is no evidence of unusual melting. Other dates with large mintages might be a case where some were melted, but there were still enough to make them available, but the 1923 and 1921 are almost identical in mintage, yet the 1923 is $850 in VF-20, but the 1921 is priced at $12,000. In the case of the 1921, the Numismatic Guaranty Corp. total is 64 coins, of which all but 26 were Mint State. That suggests that at least a few examples of the 1921 did reach circulation, as a couple graded were in the AU-50 to AU-53 range, so it was real circulation, where in the case of a date from the 1930s, you might see an AU-58 or two, but all the other examples graded were Mint State. Such dates are suspect, as the wear is very light, potentially from poor handling, and the numbers are so low as to suggest the date really was never released.
The Professional Coin Grading Service totals are similar, with 94 coins graded, of which 51 were circulated. That included an XF-40, as well as any number of dates in various AU grades. There was also one coin that received an MS-66 grade, the highest at either service ? the best 1921 seen by NGC graded MS-64.
The circulated numbers seen at both grading services suggest that the 1921 had a rather routine period, with some coins being released, although probably not all. There is reason to believe that a small number went overseas.
One of the best sources we have is Q. David Bowers, who mentions that there seems to be some added supply. In his book, The Official Red Book Of Double Eagle Gold Coins, he says, ?some have sneaked into the market in recent years, and offerings of the past decade are more numerous than in earlier times.?
Under the circumstances, the former MS-60 listing of the 1921 of $36,000 seemed fair and with only a couple examples known to exist, the $285,000 listing for an MS-65 also seemed possible. After all, this is a coin where perhaps 90 to 125 total pieces exist. Perhaps 40 are Mint State and virtually none are MS-65 or better.
Then a 2005 Heritage auction offered that single MS-66. The highest price paid for a 1921 up to that time was a 1997 Heritage sale that saw an MS-64 produce a price of $123,500. This time, however, the MS-66 surprised any number of people with a price of $1,092,500, putting the coin in an elite group.
It also caused its other grades to skyrocket, with current values of $90,000 in MS-60 and $950,000 in MS-65.