Mintage figures can be deceiving.Collectors of Saint-Gaudens double eagles learn this quickly. Many of the later date coins in this series show healthy mintage figures in the hundreds of thousands or more, but check out the prices for these coins and see how so many are out of reach for the average collector. The figures show how many coins were minted, but no one can provide survival rates with true accuracy.
Perhaps no other coin series has so many created rarities as the Saint-Gaudens double eagle. Many other coin series contain a few dates that have been lost due to heavy melting. The 1929 quarter eagle, for example, saw most of its mintage lost due to the melting that occurred after the gold recall of 1933. No doubt, other coins have been lost, including many silver coins. No comprehensive list of figures has ever been released and probably can never be compiled.
Numismatists who specialize in Morgan silver dollars know of the 1895 coin, known only in proof and the key coin in this set. The 12,000 circulation strikes noted in the records were either never produced, had a different date, or were all melted. The Pittman Act of 1918 called for the melting of over 270 million silver dollars, dates not recorded, so many other dates were destroyed. But the only real stopper in the Morgan dollar set is the 1895.
Washington quarter collectors have a great number of dates and mintmarks to collect, going back to 1932 – now 80 years. During the rise in silver prices, recently and back in 1980, many of these 90 percent silver coins were melted for their metallic value. But there are not any real stoppers in this series either.
Specialists in the Saint-Gaudens double eagle can assemble a date set, but this is a real challenge, even if mintmarks are ignored; most of the later dates in the set have only a few hundred specimens, or even less, still in existence. There are few numismatists who can afford to seriously collect Saint-Gaudens double eagles, but even fewer coins remain to satisfy the want lists of this small number of collectors.
Estimates of the number of specimens known for each date and mint are just that – estimates. As any collector knows, coins that have been professionally graded and slabbed are often cracked out of their plastic slabs and resubmitted, in the hopes of a higher grade. Population reports can only be a guide. And maybe a few of these historic coins sit in a forgotten safe deposit box, a trunk up in someone’s attic; perhaps some are being worn as jewelry by people who are unaware of the status of these coins and only see the gold value.
Not including the famous 1933 double eagle, which has been written about at length due to its special status, there are still a good number of Saint-Gaudens double eagles that are out of reach for all but the most dedicated and well-heeled collectors.
The 1927-D is one of the rarest coins of the 20th century, if not the rarest. Of a mintage of 180,000, little more than a dozen are known. This coin could be even rarer than the famous 1933. Thirteen specimens of the famed 1933 are known, including two in the Smithsonian, the one auctioned for $7.59 million in 2002, and the 10 currently in the hands of the Treasury. Could there be more?
The 1927 San Francisco issue, though not as rare, has only 150 or so specimens known, from an original mintage of over three million.
Type collectors and those who want one example of a Saint-Gaudens double eagle often choose the 1928. With a mintage of over 8.8 million, by far the highest of any Saint-Gaudens gold $20, many still exist and did not suffer the massive melting of later issues.
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Later issues include the 1929, 1930-S, 1931-P and -D, and 1932, the final collectible year. All are rare, due to heavy melting in the 1930s.
Perhaps 250 or so 1929 double eagles survived melting of a mintage of over 1.7 million. Relatively speaking, this may be the most “common” of the later dates, although it commands a strong price whenever it is sold.
The 1930-S is probably the least common of the later dates; of a mintage of only 74,000, only 50-75 are known.
Nearly three million double eagles dated 1931 were struck at Philadelphia, with a few hundred escaping the melting pot. The Denver issue has a hundred or so left out of a mintage of 106,500.
Over 1.1 million double eagles were minted in 1932, with less than a hundred left. As the last collectible issue, this coin is in demand from Saint-Gaudens collectors to complete a set and is desirable to numismatists who want a real piece of history.
The survival rates for these later dates can be enough to put off all but the most devoted numismatist, but a few other dates are scarce due to melting. The 1921, a famous rarity in a year filled with scarce coins and low mintages, had a mintage of 528,500, with less than 200 still around. The 1926-D, not as popular as many other dates, also had a low survival rate of a few hundred coins out of 481,000. And the 1920-S has approximately 70 coins left, out of 558,000 minted.
Numismatists who are serious about completing sets of Saint-Gaudens double eagles have quite a challenge ahead of them. Locating these scarce coins can take some searching. Many of the available specimens are offered at major auctions and attract spirited bidding. Most, if not all, of the remaining double eagles are in Mint State, as they did not circulate. All command high prices, no matter what the price of gold bullion.
Many coins have been lost over the decades due to melting. No American series has been affected by this more than the Saint-Gaudens double eagle. The most beautiful United States coin may be one most of us can only admire from afar.