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Branch-mint Saints hit by heavy melting

green0722.jpgThe Saint-Gaudens double eagle is one of the coins everyone would like to collect. Unfortunately, few are able to attempt a collection because of the high price of gold.

Assembling examples of Saint-Gaudens double eagles from the branch mints is one option. It is unlikely to be a complete collection, but the branch mint examples are a great way to study a great coin while having fun assembling at least a few examples of what might well be America’s most beautiful and difficult coin to collect.

One of the things that makes a collection or even a study of the branch mint Saint-Gaudens double eagles so interesting is that virtually every date is an individual story as their fates were rarely identical.

When the average Saint-Gaudens double eagle was produced, the options in terms of what would happen next were many. It must be remembered that at the time of the first Saint-Gaudens double eagle production in Denver and San Francisco in 1908 there were very few collectors of double eagles of any type.

It was only a couple decades earlier where we get the first evidence that anyone in the entire country was even attempting to collect double eagles by both date and mint. It was simply a case where many collectors of the 1800s were assembling sets only by date. That was natural. There was very little promotion of the idea of collecting by date and mint until Augustus Heaton helped to make branch mint coins more popular in the 1890s. Even then, most of the nation’s collectors having started with lower denominations like cents and nickels, were still naturally prone to collect only by date as in the 1890s cents and nickels were produced only at Philadelphia.

In the case of the double eagle, it was not only a case where people were not normally collecting by date and mint but also a case where the face value argued against collecting more than one date of every year for the simple reason of cost. One double eagle was a significant investment, but to attempt to obtain one from San Francisco and Denver as well as Philadelphia was a far larger investment than many could afford.

That lack of initial saving by collectors and dealers is important as they meant that the overwhelming number of Saint-Gaudens double eagles simply went into vaults. Some were released into circulation, but the use of double eagles was already becoming primarily regional with use in circulation being concentrated in the West.

green2.jpgFrom the vaults where they were being housed, a double eagle could potentially have a number of things happen to it. Millions ended up being exported. San Francisco double eagles were regularly shipped to Central America where they are found regularly. Coins from any facility could be shipped to Europe where they sat in European bank vaults in some cases for decades before American coin dealers started traveling to examine the holdings in Europe and that saw many dates return home sometimes in some numbers.

If, however, the date was not exported its fate was certain as the Gold Recall Order of 1933 brought about the massive destruction of all gold coins, but double eagles were one of the hardest hit denominations with well over 30 percent of all the double eagles ever produced being destroyed. That melting was higher in the case of the Saint-Gaudens double eagle and it turned some dates that were not seen as anything special into significant rarities.

That combination of factors makes the Saint-Gaudens double eagles very similar to Morgan silver dollars in that their availability today is almost impossible to determine based on their mintages. In fact, a number have had their availability change dramatically over time as previously rare dates like the 1924-S and 1926-D, which were assumed to have been melted, were discovered in Europe in small numbers making them better dates but not the great rarities everyone had assumed. On the other hand, the 1927-D, which most assumed was available, leaped to great rarity status. That makes virtually ever date a unique and interesting story.

The first branch mint production of Saint-Gaudens double eagles did not take place until 1908. The date was March 14, 1908, as that was the day the first 1908-D Saint-Gaudens double eagles were produced at Denver. At that time the design was still in the process of being determined.

Those first 663,750 1908-D double eagles were the only branch mint Saint-Gaudens double eagles to be produced without the motto IN GOD WE TRUST as it was deliberately left off the design as President Theodore Roosevelt had objections to the idea of using the phrase based on his reading of the Bible.

green3.jpgThe Congress would not read the Bible the same way and after that production in 1908, the motto would be restored, but that makes the no motto 1908-D the only branch mint Saint-Gaudens double eagle to have no motto. It is available today thanks to the fact that tens of thousands ended up in European vaults. That made it scarce for a time. While still being the least available of the type, the 1908-D can be found without much trouble in lower Mint State grades although when you reach MS-65 or better the no motto 1908-D becomes a problem with a current MS-65 price of $9,000, which interestingly is actually down in price from a $10,000 quote in late 2005.

The rest of the 1908 production would have the motto. At Denver that total was 349,500 pieces and the “with motto” 1908-D is also an available in most grades, but again is difficult in MS-65 or above.

The situation at San Francisco was different. There the Saint-Gaudens double eagle mintage was just 22,000, making it the lowest mintage date of the type. It did not have to be melted to be tough as that mintage alone would make the 1908-S better. There were some examples found in Europe and that has helped the supply in lower Mint State grades, but even with the additions the supply is still not good, making the 1908-S a $10,500 coin in MS-60 and $43,000 in MS-65.

San Francisco and Denver would reverse roles in 1909 with the San Francisco mintage being the larger at 2,774,925 while the Denver total was just 52,000. Even with numbers being destroyed, the San Francisco date is available although as is typical with branch mint issues, an MS-65 or better would be tough. In the case of the 1909-D, we have a date which based on its mintage and the supply for many years was thought to be very tough. In fact, there have been a few hoards, though small ones, over the years, so now the 1909-D while certainly still a better date is more available at $3,100 in MS-60 and $39,500 in MS-65 where PCGS reports seeing just 10 coins in MS-65 or better.

 The 1910-S and 1910-D are actually two of the more readily available branch mint Saint-Gaudens double eagles. The mintages of 429,000 for the 1910-D and 2,128,250 for 1910-S certainly helped the available supply. It is likely many were melted, but at least up to MS-65 both the 1910-D and 1910-S can be found and usually at fairly modest prices, which for gold means a small mark-up from bullion value.

In the case of the 1911-D and 1911-S with mintages of 846,500 and 775,750, respectively, we have two branch mint dates that are actually available in all grades and even in some numbers in MS-65 and better, especially the 1911-D, which PCGS has seen over 1,000 times in MS-65 or better with most being quite attractive.

green4.jpgThere were no 1912 mintages at either San Francisco or Denver with the next branch mint Saint-Gaudens double eagle production coming in 1913.
The 1913-D had a mintage of 393,500 and that mintage again helps to explain why the 1913-D is relatively available. Even if many were circulated or melted there would be enough saved either in the United States or foreign bank vaults to meet the demand, although in MS-65 or better it is tougher with PCGS reporting just 91.

In the case of the 1913-S with a mintage of just 34,000, we have a very different situation. The 1913-S with that low mintage commands a premium price in every grade. It is, however, in Mint State where the 1913-S is especially difficult as if any were found in Europe or elsewhere the supply appears to have been very limited putting an MS-60 at $2,000 but an MS-65 at $36,500 and that is supported by roughly a dozen graded so far at PCGS in MS-65 or better.

The branch mint Saints of 1914 are available. The 1914-D had a mintage of 453,000 and somehow many survived and in top grades making it one of the likely dates if you are looking for an inexpensive example in top grades. The expectation is that many examples returned from European vaults, although numbers are unclear. What is clear is that the 1914-D with over 350 coins seen at PCGS in MS-65 or better is one of the good choices for a nice low-cost Saint-Gaudens double eagle. That is also true of the 1914-S with a mintage of nearly 1.5 million. Its numbers in top grades are a little higher than those of the 1914-D, but since its mintage was roughly three times higher that is not surprising.

After 1914 the pattern of a Saint-Gaudens double eagle being produced at both Denver and San Francisco each year was broken. There would be years where both facilities would issue coins but the number of years when only one or neither would produce double eagles would be greater.
In 1915 it was San Francisco that had a 567,500 while Denver had no production. The 1915-S is just a bit more difficult,  especially in MS-65 than some of the more available dates but even so it is a date most can find and afford.

The 1916-S is more deceptive. The mintage at 796,000 suggests that it is available, but look closely and especially closely at any 1916-S you are considering buying. The 1916-S is available but it is a date that like the 1915-S can be covered in small bagmarks and other defects. Its MS-65 price of $2,700 does not suggest it is especially tough, but you are going to have to work to find a really nice one.

The next branch mint Saint-Gaudens double eagle is the 1920-S and this is one very tough date. The 1920-S had a mintage of 558,000, so it should not be tough,  but at $12,500 in VF-20, $44,500 in MS-60 and $225,000 in MS-65, something very clearly went very wrong with the supply of the 1920-S. It seems to be a combination of factors.

The 1920-S from all indications was a date that was never exported as the market has shown little or no increase in supply over the years. That meant they sat in vaults or circulated and in both cases when the Gold Recall Order of 1933 was issued, they were around in large numbers to be melted.
The PCGS total today is just 86 coins and of that total only 3 made MS-65 or better. Worse, most of the examples known are circulated and even in lower Mint State grades the 1920-S does not tend to be very attractive, making it a real problem in literally every grade.

The  1922-S with a mintage of 2,658,000 should not be scarce, but at one point was actually considered a key date. Certainly large numbers of the 1922-S were melted as a result of the Gold Recall Order, but numbers were also shipped to Europe. The 1922-S remains tougher at nearly $2,450 in MS-60 and $42,500 in MS-65 where PCGS reports just 7 coins,  but the fact remains that hundreds of Mint State pieces are known and that is a much better supply than was suspected in the past.

The 1923-D with a mintage of 1,702,250 is one of the extremes for branch mint Saint-Gaudens double eagles in that it is readily available. In fact, it may be the most available of the branch mint dates with the PCGS total at over 2,400 pieces in MS-65 or better.

The issues of 1924 were thought to be the other extreme. The 1924-D with its mintage of just over 3 million was thought to be available based on its mintage, but it turned out to not be the case causing many to assume it was a heavily melted date. In fact, it was a heavily melted date but small numbers did surface in Europe and return home, making it a better date today but not a great rarity. The 1924-D is at $3,100 in MS-60 and $76,500 in MS-65. In high grades it is almost never seen with PCGS reporting only 4 coins in MS-65 or better.

The 1924-S with a 2,927,500 mintage is one of everyone’s favorites. As recently as the late 1940s the 1924-S was seen as one of the great rarities of the Saint-Gaudens double eagle set on a par with if not better than the 1933. As Q. David Bowers suggests in his book, A Guide Book of Double Eagle Gold Coins, the 1924-S  was seen as “handily outclassing the famous MCMVII Ultra High Relief and the incredible proofs of 1883 and 1884.”

That changed when the 1924-S started to return home from European vaults. The numbers were not high, but they were enough to fill some of the orders leaving the 1924-S today as a better date at $3,000 in MS-60 and $54,500 in MS-65,  but not the great rarity it had once been.

In 1925 there was production at both Denver and San Francisco. Both had large mintages, with the 1925-D at 2,938,500 and the 1925-S at 3,776,500. The 1925-D is another case of a date thought to be rare and heavily melted, which was certainly melted, but which is not as rare as originally believed thanks to coins found in Europe. At $4,450 in MS-60 and $96,000 in MS-65, the 1925-D while more available than in the past is still a very tough coin especially in Mint State.

The 1925-S is another interesting case. The mintage made everyone assume the  1925-S was available, but it was not. The relatively small numbers seem to be either upper circulated grades or lower Mint State grades, making any Mint State 1925-S tough as is seen by an MS-60 price of  $9,000 while an MS-65 is at $105,000 and there the PCGS total is just two examples at MS-65 or better.

The following year also saw production at both Denver and San Francisco. The 1926-D is another case of a coin thought to be a great rarity but with a few being found in Europe. The number in Europe was small, leaving the 1926-D as a very difficult date today at $8,500 just in VF-20 while an MS-60 is $28,500 where an MS-65 is $115,000. In MS-65 or better, PCGS has seen just 6 coins out of over 150 graded, suggesting how tough the 1926-D is in top grades.

The 1926-S is a similar situation with a mintage just over 2 million. Certainly the vast majority were melted, but some were found in Europe. The number, however, was not large and that makes the 1926-S a $3,150 coin in MS-60 while an MS-65 is $31,500.

It is safe to assume that any branch mint Saint-Gaudens double eagle dated after 1926 was very heavily melted. The 3,107,000 mintage 1927-S is a significant rarity, starting at $5,850 in VF-20 and reaching $130,000 in MS-65 where only 3 have been seen by PCGS.

The 1927-D is far tougher. It was almost totally destroyed. It was ironic as it was one of a number of good dates the government offered to collectors in the early 1930s for face value plus shipping. Apparently no one took the opportunity as NGC and PCGS combined have graded only 8 examples. The current price listing of $2.1 million in MS-65 is nearly triple the $785,000 price it listed at in late 2005.

The 1930-S would have been better anyway with a mintage of 74,000, but it would not have been $15,500 in VF-20 as it is today or $39,000 in MS-60 and $235,000 in MS-65 with normal survivorship. Those prices are a result of only one thing and that is melting as the 1930-S ranks second only to the 1927-D in terms of rarity. Most examples of the 1930-S are low Mint State grades with bagmarks making an MS-65 a major problem with PCGS reporting just 9 graded MS-65 or better.

The final branch mint Saint-Gaudens double eagle was the 1931-D with a mintage of 106,500. It too was heavily destroyed and like the 1930-S is rarely seen in circulated grades because they had no chance to circulate before the Gold Recall Order of 1933. At $42,500 in MS-60 and $130,000 in MS-65, the 1931-D is another of the real rarities in top grades.

Clearly the branch mint Saint-Gaudens double eagles especially in the case of dates from 1927-1931 rank as significant rarities. The branch mint Saint-Gaudens double eagles are, however, a group of surprises. Old-time rarities became more common, while some earlier thought more common became rarities. It makes for a fascinating group to study or to collect as every date tells a story and rarely are those stories identical.

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