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Bid for 1927-D reflects very precise grade

While most attention has been directed at the 1913 Liberty nickel that sold for $3,737,500, a 1927-D Saint-Gaudens $20 gold coin also sold during the Heritage Platinum Night Jan. 7 in Orlando.

While most attention has been directed at the 1913 Liberty nickel that sold for $3,737,500, a 1927-D Saint-Gaudens $20 gold coin also sold during the Heritage Platinum Night Jan. 7 in Orlando. It brought $1,495,000. While 1927-D Saints have sold for more in private transactions, this is the second highest auction price.


The Platinum Night session is devoted to costly choice and/or rare U.S. coins. According to Jim Halperin, Heritage co-chairman, the total for Platinum Night alone is more than $25 million.

About this 1927-D $20 gold coin, Matt Kleinsteuber exclaims that it is “absolutely spectacular with beautiful original surfaces, highlighted by the original copper showing through, especially on the obverse. A wonderful coin that is all there coin for the -66 grade. It was definitely special.”

Kleinsteuber is an expert grader and trader for NFC coins. Also, he teaches grading in ANA seminars.

The 1927-D $20 gold coin is a great rarity. There are four in museums and seven to nine that are privately owned. I know of just seven privately owned, though the existence of an eighth is probably indicated. So, it seems that there is a total of 11 or 12 known now, and that one or two others plausibly exist.

The 1927-D that sold was part of the Ralph Muller collection. Muller is rumored to have acquired his coins from a West Coast dealer over a period of many years. He consigned his set of Saint-Gaudens $20s to this auction. This same 1927-D was once in the collection of the Connecticut State Library. In 1995, Heritage auctioned a small number of coins that were de-accessioned from that collection. Curiously, the “library” retains another 1927-D $20 gold coin.

Jay Parrino bought the Connecticut Library-Muller coin in 1995 at an auction in Long Beach, Calif. It was then graded MS-66 by Numismatic Guaranty Corp. It has since been graded MS-66 by the Professional Coin Grading Service as well. It was in a PCGS holder when it was auctioned Jan. 7.

There was no floor bidding and the coin sold to an Internet buyer. Laura Sperber, however, stood up after it sold, grinned, and gave a literal ‘thumbs up” signal. In response to a query from me, she stated, unequivocally, “Legend Numismatics purchased the ’27-D out of the Heritage sale.” Sperber is the largest shareholder of Legend Numismatics.

In December 2009, Legend Numismatics bought and sold the Eliasberg 1927-D, which is also PCGS graded MS-66. In 2005, she bought the “Dallas Bank”-Browning 1927-D from Steve Contursi and placed it in a now complete collection of Saint-Gaudens $20 coins. The Dallas Bank collection 1927-D is one of five that is (or was) PCGS graded MS-66. The Steven Duckor 1927-D is another. It was formerly in the Auction ’84 event. Duckor consigned it to the Thaine Price sale that was conducted by the firm of David Akers in May 1998.

Dr. Duckor has assembled two sets of Saints, the first was complete and a 1927-D is deliberately omitted from the second. Both sets are listed in the PCGS Registry, as are his sets of Barber coins, two of which are “retired.” He is a distinguished expert in early 20th century gold and in Barber coins.

The finest known 1927-D is the Philip Morse coin that Heritage auctioned in November 2005 for $1,897,500, an auction record for a 1927-D. Earlier, Parrino bought it for $522,500 when Stack’s auctioned the “Charlotte” collection of Saints in March 1991.

Though I have never seen the Eliasberg 1927-D, I have held (in PCGS or NGC holders) and closely examined all of the six other privately owned 1927-D $20s that are known. I wish that Sperber and her partners had let me know that they briefly had the Eliasberg 1927-D, and invited me to see it. I would have been glad to travel to the Legend office at my own expense just to view the coin for five minutes.

Sperber figures that “the Eliasberg piece and the ‘Dallas Bank’ coin are identical. We had them side by side. Both have a few ticks – but very tiny and light ticks. Both have the same darn luster and color. If you hold one one way, it’s better; hold the other in a different way, it seems better. It was really neat to compare them.” Although the Muller coin is not quite as nice as the Eliasberg and “Dallas Bank” coins, Sperber does “still like it very much.”

Duckor asserts that the Eliasberg 1927-D, the Dallas Bank 1927-D, and the one that he used to own are “all comparable” and “are of very similar quality.” Further, in Duckor’s opinion, the Connecticut Library-Muller 1927-D is really a “-65 Premium Quality coin, not a -66.”

Additionally, Duckor states that the McDougal collection 1927-D that Heritage sold in January 2006, and offered again in January 2007, grades just -65. It was NGC certified MS-65 when it sold on Platinum Night in January 2006, and the buyer later resubmitted it to the grading services. It is now PCGS graded MS-66. It is said to have traded privately in the summer of 2007, prior to the start of the American Numismatic Association Convention in Milwaukee.

I agree with Duckor that the McDougal coin does not grade -66. I agree with Kleinsteuber, however, that the Connecticut-Muller 1927-D, which just sold, grades -66, though my impression is that it just barely does.

Duckor emphatically points out that the Connecticut Library-Muller 1927-D did not receive a sticker of approval from the Certified Acceptance Corp. The failure of a coin to receive a sticker from the CAC, though, does not mean that the respective coin is questionably graded, and it does not even mean that CAC experts have determined that it is overgraded.

A coin that is certified as grading -66 may be overgraded, may be undergraded, or its grade may be in the low end, mid range or high end of the -66 range. The CAC will not approve a coin that the CAC regards as low end, but a low-end coin may be accurately graded.

According to CAC policy, a low-end, accurately graded coin will not receive a CAC sticker of approval.

It may be fair to grade the Connecticut-Muller 1927-D as -66.1, more or less, by widely accepted standards. While very advanced collectors of early 20th century gold coins are not thrilled about a -66 grade for this coin, my guess is that most coin buyers are or would be accepting of it. It is of higher quality than a large number of common date 1924 and 1928 $20 gold coins that have been graded MS-66 by the PCGS or the NGC. It is preferable to the McDougal 1927-D that is also PCGS graded MS-66.

The Connecticut-Muller 1927-D has never been cleaned or dipped. It has glistening fields on the obverse, with nice, natural blue, russet and tan tones. The reverse is of a neat slightly brassy, somewhat reddish gold. Indeed, I cannot now find words to fairly describe the colors of this coin, which are appealing.

This coin is very attractive on the whole, with the reverse being both more attractive and of higher quality than the obverse. The contact marks on the lower part of Miss Liberty and in adjacent areas are really only distracting when the coin is viewed with a magnifying glass. Generally, this coin has a pleasing natural look.

While Duckor holds that the $1,495,000 result is “a -65 price” not a price for a -66 grade 1927-D, I disagree. I believe it is a strong price for low-to-mid-range -66 grade 1927-D. Coin markets were stronger when the McDougal 1927-D realized $1,322,500 in January 2006. While coin markets have been moving upward in recent weeks, the market peak in August 2008 is still a distance above the current levels. Moreover, the market for gem quality, early 20th century gold peaked before overall markets for coins in general. If the “Dallas Bank” 1927-D or the Duckor 1927-D $20 gold coins had been in this same auction, one or the other probably would have realized at least $1.7 million.

It may be impossible to buy a 1927-D Saint for less than $1 million. The lowest graded 1927-D is the Kramer-Richmond-Lord Baltimore-Park Avenue coin. It was NGC or PCGS graded MS-62 for many years, though it was graded AU-58 in an earlier era, and is now PCGS graded MS-63. Most of its history is not found in the Heritage catalog.

The lowest graded 1927-D became famous for being in the Richmond and Lord Baltimore collections. Richmond and Lord Baltimore are code names for collectors. The Lord Baltimore-Park Avenue (#1) Collection of Saints was retired from the PCGS registry on April 4, 2005. It was 100 percent complete in business-strike Saints and included the 1927-D that was earlier in the Richmond Collection, which DLRC auctioned in 2004 and 2005.

Bob Green of Park Avenue Numismatics sold the Richmond-Lord Baltimore 1927-D to Superior Galleries in the summer of 2005 for slightly above $1 million. An associate at Superior reported to me that he sold it for less than $1.1 million.

There are no 1927-D Saints that are currently PCGS or NGC graded less than -63, and none currently graded -64 or -65. All certified 1927-D Saints are (or were when I last saw them) encapsulated in PCGS holders, one -67, five -66s, and one -63. The reports published by the PCGS and the NGC, and cited elsewhere, are not accurate regarding 1927-D Saints.

As only seven privately owned 1927-D Saints have been seen in decades, the offering of one of them is a major event. It is the rarest date in the most popular series of gold coins.

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2010 U.S. Coin Digest, The Complete Guide to Current Market Values, 8th ed.

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Standard Guide to Small-Size U.S. Paper Money, 1928 to Date

Strike It Rich with Pocket Change, 2nd Edition