1909 $20 PF-68 NGC
Augustus Saint-Gaudens, designer; Henry Hering modeler; modified by Charles Barber
Obverse: In lowered relief: 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, 1909, below, monogram, ASG.
Reverse: Eagle flying left, across rays of the sun; above, UNITEDSTATESOFAMERICA / TWENTYDOLLARS in two lines; above sun, INGODWETRUST
Edge: E✴PLURIBUS✴UNUM✴✴✴✴✴✴✴✴✴✴✴ in Roman Face letters from triple-segment collar.
Condition: NGC Proof 68 (Certificate number: 1963253-017 Photo Proof 10-07; previous Photo Proof 10-05 [number 1965668-001]).
Beautiful, pale orange tone, with deeper peripheral color; a small mint-caused depression below Liberty's left elbow (this appears on most other examples as well); virtually free of the carbon spots which plague this series, a small inclusion on the third from the bottom of the eagle's tail feathers and, noticeable only under at least 6 power magnification, an even smaller vertical smudge in the sun are identifiers.
References: Breen (Encyclopedia) 7372; Breen (Proofs) pp. 212-213; Akers (1982) pp. 304-305; Garrett & Guth (Encyclopedia) p. 513 (PCGS 9206); Bowers (A Guide Book of Double Eagles) p. 247; Bowers (Garrett) pp. 477-478; United States Mint, Operating Records, "Medal Book," 1906-1916, NARA, Philadelphia. (PCGS 9206)
Condition Census: Tied for finest known. NGC lists two other coins of comparable grade and none finer; PCGS has graded none this fine (Proof 67+ the finest). (07-13)
Rarity: Very rare. Breen does not speculate the number of survivors, Akers suggested 20-25 survivors, Bowers slightly more. Garrett and Guth dismiss the larger number of auction appearances noted by Akers as "a statistical aberration." However, Garrett and Guth base their comment on the traditionally reported mintage of 67 pieces (as do both the PCGS and NGC websites). This is an error which has been repeated for decades; according to the United States Mint's Operating records for this period 200 1909 proof double eagles were struck, and 34 were rejected. Thus, the mintage should be 166 pieces, and would explain Akers' figures. This correct figure is used by Bowers in his work on Double Eagles. Of course, neither figure accounts the number actually sold or those that slipped into circulation.
The presently offered example is the finest certified by either PCGS or NGC to ever appear at auction. In 2008, Garrett and Guth noted that the finest example in the Smithsonian grades Proof-65, and the two most notable sales recorded by them are for a PCGS PF-67 and NGC PF-66 sold in November 2005. They cite no auction records of any Proof-68 examples having appeared; an observation confirmed by both the NGC and PCGS auction surveys.
Despite the upwardly revised mintage data 1909 Proof Sets were remarkably difficult to acquire, even after a year after their issuance. As has been previously published (Bowers, The History of United States Coinage as Illustrated by the Garrett Collection, 1979, pp. 477-478), Robert Garrett ordered his set from Henry Chapman, on May 11, 1910. Although Chapman advertised "for months" to buy a set, it took the well-connected Philadelphia dealer two and a half years to secure one. On January 18, 1913, he charged Garrett $65 for the set, compared to his usual price of $40 for the just produced 1913 Proof set.
Provenance: The Tacasyl Collection; possibly Property from a Collection formed in the 1930s, Sotheby's, June 10,1993, lot 185, "exceptional" ($118,250) (The grainy quality of the Sotheby's photograph prevents a conclusive match.)
Note: Although the majesty of the Saint-Gaudens high relief design was, and is, greatly admired it was not suitable for day to day commerce. It was a time when banks and counting-houses neatly stacked gold coins on counting boards and uniformity of thickness was essential to getting a quick and accurate figure.
There was also the issue of the motto IN GOD WE TRUST, which had been carried by virtually all coins since 1866. Nevertheless, its use was optional (the relevant Mint Regulations stated that such terms as LIBERTY and E PLURIBUS UNUM and the country's name "shall" be part of the coin design, but in the case of IN GOD WE TRUST the imperative "shall" was replaced by the optional "may." Saint-Gaudens (who thought it an "inartistic intrusion") dropped its inclusion in the interests of artistic simplicity and even relegated E PLURIBUS UNUM to the edge to further enhance the cleanliness of his design. Roosevelt, who could have ordered it to be used, felt the use of the Almighty's name on a coin was blasphemous, and so all the 1907 issues did not bear the Motto. But Congress exploded in a fury, put its foot down, and midway through 1908 the Motto was added to coins of all succeeding years.