While the 1908-S Saint-Gaudens double eagle is not a great rarity, it is tough. It also has an interesting story, which makes it fun for collectors to study and to own.
In 1908, this coin was relatively new on the scene, but it had already gone through a number of modifications. The first examples the public had seen were high relief. When the relief was lowered, the date was changed from Roman to Arabic numerals. That all happened in 1907, and after some 1908 mintage, the motto “IN GOD WE TRUST” was added to the reverse.
All of this would have been pretty exciting to anyone collecting double eagles, but unfortunately, virtually no one was. There was flurry of speculation over the Roman numeral high-relief coins of 1907, but a very limited number of people were putting together double eagle collections by date and mint.
San Francisco was remarkably silent during the flurry of changes, producing none of the new Saint-Gaudens double eagles in 1907. That can be easily understood, since sending out dies to the branch mints before the design process was complete could have resulted in all sorts of disasters. That said, Denver did produced a 1908-D without the motto, but San Francisco did not produce its first Saint-Gaudens double eagle until the motto was added in 1908.
Even with the delay, mintage was 22,000 pieces. Under normal circumstances, the 1908-S would be a better date, as that is the lowest mintage of the type. In fact, it stands as a key Saint-Gaudens double eagle and the key of the early years (not counting high-relief coins).
Since no one was really collecting at the time, there was a real chance for the 1908-S to become even tougher. After all, whatever examples were turned in during the Gold Recall Order of 1933 aftermath would have been melted, and that could have reduced the 22,000 to a much lower total. In fact, that may indeed have happened to a small number of coins.
However, the 1908-S is actually somewhat more available, at least in some grades, than would be expected. This is because the coins were apparently shipped to Europe in small numbers and, instead of being melted, were found by dealers in the 1950s and 1960s who went exploring to see what U.S. gold coins might be found in European bank vaults.
There are no records as to number. In A Guide Book of Double Eagle Gold Coins, author Q. David Bowers suggests, “but thanks to importations of the current generation, such coins in MS-62 to MS-64 are much more available than they were prior to the 1980s.”
Nor is the situation limited to MS-62 to MS-64. Bowers estimates there may be from 800 to more than 1,200 examples of the 1908-S known in circulated grades, along with 400 to 600 examples in Mint State. Such numbers – around 5 percent of the entire mintage – could never have been saved by collectors at the time, especially when the face value of the coin was $20.
Today, the 1908-S Saint-Gaudens double eagle is at $1,800 in VF-20 condition, $9,500 in MS-60 and $42,000 in MS-65. The Numismatic Guaranty Corporation reports 14 examples in MS-65 or better, while the Professional Coin Grading Service reports 31 in MS-65 or better.
The situation leaves us with a lot of questions. Q. David Bowers may have put it best, suggesting “No doubt in the early 21st century the price of this desirable variety will stabilize, but at a level reflecting its scarcity.” If Bowers is right, and he usually is, you can expect to see some changes in the 1908-S in the future. What will not change, however, is that it will remain a key early Saint-Gaudens double eagle.
This article was originally printed in Numismatic News. >> Subscribe today.
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