1907 $20 Saint Gaudens High Relief PF-69 NGC
Augustus Saint-Gaudens, designer; Henry Hering modeler; modified by Charles Barber
Obverse: Liberty striding forward, wearing flowing gown, and hair blowing in the wind; her left foot on a rock, beside which is an oak branch; she holds a lighted torch in her right hand, and an olive branch in her left. To her lower right, a small representation of the Capitol building, behind which 23 rays of the sun emanate, around, 46 stars; above, LIBERTY; at lower right, MCMVII. Around, broad border.
Reverse: Eagle flying left, across rays of the sun; above, UNITEDSTATESOFAMERICA / TWENTYDOLLARS in two lines.
Edge: E✴PLURIBUS✴UNUM✴✴✴✴✴✴✴✴✴✴✴ in Roman Face letters from triple-segment collar.
Condition: NGC Proof 69 Wire Rim (Certificate number: 1963253-016 Photo Proof 10-07; previous Photo Proof 10-05 [number 163434-001]).
Wire rim. Warm, softly satiny fields, with the Mint-made swirls of raised die polish lines that are a hallmark. The small shadow at the rim at 5.30 on the obverse is not a flaw, but a raised, mint-caused bulge of metal. Under 10 power magnification three or four mint-made specks can be seen above the leading edge of the eagle's front wing and help to identify this exceptional coin (these can also be seen on the Browning collection example). Simply spectacular, and as the grade suggests the coin is mint-fresh, and essentially unimprovable.
References: This Coin Published: Garrett & Guth (Encyclopedia) p. 511, 573; Bowers (A Guide Book of Double Eagles) p. 233; A Guide Book to United States Coins (The Red Book), 60th 65 eds., 2007 - 2012; A Guide Book to United States Coins (The Red Book) 66th ed., 2013, pp. 278, 425; this coin cited on the NGC Coin Explorer website in Jeff Garrett's Description and Analysis: "The finest High Relief graded by NGC is a PR 69 that sold for $534,000 in 2005." Other references: Breen (Proofs) p. 209; Breen (Encyclopedia) 7358; Akers (1982) pp. 282-285. (PCGS 9136)
Condition Census: Tied for finest known, or the finest (although until recently one other coin appeared in the NGC census), none finer; PCGS (which does not acknowledge the Proof term for Saint-Gaudens high relief issues) has graded a single Mint State 69 example and none finer. (07-13)
Rarity: While scarce as a type, the high relief Saint-Gaudens double eagles are probably the most popular coins in the entire gold series. The combined number graded at both NGC and PCGS (which, naturally, includes a fair number of re-submissions) exceeds 8,500 pieces, or approximately two-thirds of the total produced. However, the air gets much thinner when one realizes that only two examples (or approximately two-one-hundredths of one percent) have been graded as perfectly preserved as the present lot. Jeff Garrett on the NGC website notes this example as the finest graded by NGC (however, the 2005 Photo Proof cites one other at this grade, and the 2007 Photo Proof adds yet another; but as noted above, the current census cites only this single coin). A remarkably rare coin, especially when one takes into consideration that of the approximately 1.8 million Saint-Gaudens double eagles (proof and business strike) graded by the big-two firms, only about a dozen 69s have been graded; and this, as one of the most admired and desired designs in the entire US coin series is in a class apart. Since the Morse Collection sale in 2005,no examples of comparable grade have appeared at auction (apart from reappearances of the MS 69 Morse coin).
Provenance: The Philip H. Morse Collection of Saint Gaudens Coinage, Heritage, November 3, 2005, lot 6529, Flat Rim PR 69 NGC (Certificate number: 163434-001), "Possible Finest known 1907 Specimen Striking .... essentially perfect..." ($534,750) ) [Note: Although catalogued in the Morse sale as a flat rim, it is a wire rim specimen. The old NGC insert did not specify the type, and the holder in which it was then housed may have obscured the true type of rim.]; probably [as noted above, the microscopic specks above the eagle's wing are present] H. Jeff Browning Collection ("The Dallas Bank Collection"), Sotheby's/Stack's, October 29-30, 2001, lot 151, "Wire Rim...Superb Gem Satin Finish Proof. Spectacular." ($115,000); most of the Browning Double Eagles were acquired privately (via a group of dealers including Mike Brownlee) as a single purchase of the R.E. ("Ted") Naftzger Collection in the early 1970s. Naftzger assembled much of his collection in the 1940s and 1950s via Abe Kosoff, and it is entirely possible that this amazing superb gem comes from this source.
Note: The history of the Saint-Gaudens gold coin designs has been published in various forms for years, and in the last decade or so more information than ever has been made public. President Theodore Roosevelt intensely disliked the look of the 19th century coin designs and pressured a dying Augustus Saint-Gaudens to take the commission in 1905. The intent was to develop coins struck in high relief to emulate the coins of ancient Greece. Saint-Gaudens, mortally ill, designed the coins and left the modeling to his assistant Henry Hering. Throughout the Mint's Chief Engraver Charles Barber fought the President and his chosen artist every step of the way. But in the end a handful of patterns with exceptionally high relief were struck. Although they delighted the President they were useless for commercial use. Following Saint-Gaudens' death in August 1907 the President ordered an extensive run of examples with slightly reduced relief be struck for general circulation; both to show what could be achieved and probably to honor the dead artist. With approximately 12,000 produced, examples of the 'regular' high relief double eagle are probably the most popular of all collectible American coin designs, and is widely acclaimed as America's most beautiful.
The archival record regarding the production of Proofs of this design is scant. However, according to Breen, Charles Barber confirmed their production, and approximately seven examples were contained in his estate. While the pedigrees of these have become hopelessly muddled over the years, the extraordinary quality of this example may point to it having been one of those saved by Barber.