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Filed die makes rare gold even rarer

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The 1922-S Saint-Gaudens is already a rare date. The File Die variety adds another scarcity factor. (Photo courtesy Heritage Auctions, HA.com)

By Roger Burdette

A rare die variety has been identified in the Saint-Gaudens gold $20 series.

I call it the 1922-S “Filed Die” double eagle.

It was first identified in January 2015 during detailed research for a pending Saint-Gaudens double eagle book that I am working on. It took almost two years to locate a second specimen and have the variety certified by Numismatic Guaranty Corporation.

[1922-S MS63; Certificate #4447614-001 by NGC; new variety “VP-001 “Filing Lines” or “Filed Die.”]

This is possibly the most spectacular non-overdate die variety of the entire double eagle series, 1850-1933.

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Deep file grooves extend across the central part of the coin and also are boldly apparent above the letters RT of LIBERTY and at the left base of Liberty’s skirt. (Photos courtesy Heritage Auctions, HA.com)


The “Filed Die” variety has deep parallel grooves across parts of the obverse field. In places these are nearly as prominent as the rays. Deep file grooves extend across the central part of the coin and also are boldly apparent above the letters RT of LIBERTY and at the left base of Liberty’s skirt.

This coin was made from a working die that evidently was defaced using a flat metal file. The file appears to have been harshly scraped across the obverse, leaving behind deep, parallel cuts in the working die. Liberty and the balance of design relief is affected only to a limited extent.

Was this a deliberate attempt to deface a die and prevent its use? Was it a wanton act of vandalism by a disgruntled employee? Was there some other reason that we can’t imagine? We’ll probably never know. My examination of San Francisco Mint records for 1922 disclose nothing unusual, so the best we can do is speculate.

Discovery

During 2014 and 2015 I was working on a detailed research project involving Saint-Gaudens double eagles. The goals were to identify as many die varieties as possible while also determining the quantities of each date and mintmark that were released. Further, I wanted to make reliable estimates of the quantities remaining after accounting for attrition, and assign a relative abundance to each coin in the series.

The process was to examine as many coins and high quality photos of coins as possible for every date and mintmark combination. This involved thousands of coins and in some instances, nearly every known specimen of very rare dates. Among the rare dates was 1922-S. With a mintage of 2,658,000 but an estimated survival of 2,100 pieces, most of which were low-end uncirculated, the coin is considered scarce except in MS-66 condition. Ninety pairs of dies were used for double eagles at San Francisco in 1922 resulting in an average of 29,500 good coins per pair. Thus, the number of pieces from a single die pair was very modest.

While searching through more than 300 individual coins in auctions and in-hand, I was able to locate one example of this variety by photograph only. Without the physical coin, I did not consider this a true “discovery piece” although the variety was illustrated and described in my research notes.

It was September 2016 when a second, unattributed specimen, was offered in Heritage’s Sept. 11, 2016, Internet action, lot #23744. I purchased the coin, which was graded by th Professional Coin Grading Service as MS-64, and immediately asked that it be reviewed. This became the true “discovery coin.” It was not until December 2016 that NGC was able to examine the coin and record the variety. At this point the coin had been authenticated and was graded MS=63 – a grade which I felt was reasonable.

Auction

The Discovery Coin is being offered as Lot #4109 in Heritage’s Long Beach Expo U.S. Coins Signature Auction of February 16-19, 2017.

Although I prefer to keep the coin and enjoy having a very special discovery piece, the economics of numismatic research do not permit that option.

Description

Double eagles dated 1922-S of this variety show deep, parallel grooves with the obverse field. These prominent grooves are diagonal and extend across the central portion of the coin from approximately the 10 o’clock position to the 4 o’clock position. The rim, stars and other peripheral devices are also affected largely at the 1 o’clock and 7 o’clock positions.

Survival Estimate

The 1922-S Filed Die coins were struck from a working die that had been harshly filed. San Francisco Mint production records show that the smallest delivery quantity for 1922 was 8,000 pieces on Aug. 15 and the greatest was 75,000 on Sept. 8. The modern estimate of the total surviving 1922-S double eagle is 2,100 pieces. With a total mintage of 2,657,729 coins, most of which were believed melted, the data suggest that only one coin out of every 1,266 pieces struck survives. If these 1922-S Filed Die coins were part of a delivery of 8,000, then we can expect approximately six (6) to have survived. On the other hand, if the Filed Die survived for 75,000 coins, there might be up to fifty-nine (59) surviving in all conditions. A search of more than 300 unique auction lots and dealer holdings has failed to reveal another coin. Given the inability to find another example among approximately 15 percent of the estimated total population, it is likely that very few of this major die variety exist.

Discussion

The deep parallel grooves and their location primarily in the central field portions of the coin, are consistent with use of a mill- or flat-file rubbed across the center of a working die. Since the die is slightly convex, and relief is inverse in relation to the coin, scraping a file across a die would affect principally the central field (highest part of the die). This part of the die – called the “field” by coin collectors – is known as the “die table” by U.S. Mint specialists.

Given the deep and very prominent grooves in the coin, it seems impossible that this would have been missed by die sinkers at the Philadelphia Mint. In fact, this dramatic variety is so unusual that the only points of comparison are with early U.S. gold and silver coinage where planchets were manually adjusted by filing across the face of the disc.

There is no known mechanical, die production or handling reason for filing a working die in this manner. Thus, it must have been performed deliberately, possibly in an attempt to condemn a defective die, or as act of vandalism by an employee.

 

This article was originally printed in Numismatic News Express. >> Subscribe today

 

More Collecting Resources

• If you enjoy reading about what inspires coin designs, you’ll want to check out Fascinating Facts, Mysteries & Myths about U.S. Coins.

• Is that coin in your hand the real deal or a clever fake? Discover the difference with U.S. Coins Close Up, a one-of-a-kind visual guide to every U.S. coin type.

 

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