Background and History
When it comes to rarities in American numismatics, the discussion often starts with the total original mintage for a particular issue. In most cases, the total quantity minted does provide a fairly good indication of whether or not an issue is rare. As an example, the key date coin for the Lincoln Cent series is the 1909-S VDB Cent, which also had the lowest mintage. However, in some cases the rarest issues of a series cannot be determined by the mintage level alone. Rather the more pertinent factor is the total number of surviving pieces.
The 1927-D Double Eagle is one of those issues whose rarity should be determined by the total number of surviving examples, and not solely by the total mintage. The issue represents one of the rarest Saint Gaudens Double Eagles ever publicly released with only a little over a dozen pieces known to exist. While the mintage for the issue was somewhat low, this is not the primary factor behind its rarity.
The reason for the rarity of this particular double eagle is that virtually none ever left the Mint. In the late 1920s the economy was slowing (which would eventually lead to the Great Depression) and few of the Branch Mint double eagles were needed for circulation. The double eagles struck at the Philadelphia Mint were more than sufficient and often exported in quantity as part of foreign trade, making these issues mostly available today. In the case of many of the Denver and San Francisco minted twenty dollar gold pieces from the period, the pieces remained in storage only to be melted years later. With only a small number of pieces escaping this fate, rare issues were created irrespective of the original mintage levels.
Key Date Coin Mintage
The 1927-D Double Eagle had a mintage of 180,000 pieces, which was a comparatively low level for the time frame. The prior year 1926-D Double Eagle saw 481,000 pieces produced, while the 1927-S Double Eagle had 3,107,000 coins struck (both which are formidable rarities themselves, despite these relatively “generous” mintages). No double eagles were produced at the Denver Mint in 1928, 1929 or 1930, and the last year they were struck at Denver in 1931, only 106,500 pieces were made for circulation.
The primary reason for the rarity of this and many other mintmarked double eagles of the 1920s was the great gold recall of the 1930s. In addition to the recalled pieces, all gold coins still held in government vaults were melted. This included huge supplies of freshly minted double eagles from both Denver and San Francisco Mints, as well as a select number of Philadelphia issues. For the majority of these issues that meant that more than 99% of all coins struck during any given year were melted.
Those that did leave the mint and eventually ended up in collectors hands did so by a matter of diligence and fortuitousness. The double eagle rarities that are so coveted these days were openly available to collectors and anyone else who requested them for a number of years after their mintage (into the early 1930s for the 1927-D Double Eagle, as an example). With a relatively small number of active collectors at the time and the high cost of the double eagle denomination, only a small number of pieces escaped the mint vaults in this manner. Even those that did leave the mint might have been turned in during the great gold recall of the 1930s (the rarity of the 1927-D double eagle and many other similar issues was not fully understood until the 1950s). These factors all led to the creation of what is now considered to be the rarest regular issue double eagle of the 20th century, and one of the greatest rarities of American numismatics.
Finest Known and Values
Because there are so few surviving examples of the 1927-D Double Eagle, it is not too difficult to come up with a full roster of the known specimens. Two specimens were sent by the Denver Mint directly to the Smithsonian Institution, where they remain to this day. A third example was donated to the Smithsonian Institution as part of the Lilly collection. The Connecticut State Library also has a 1927-D Double Eagle in their holdings, which results in a total of four specimens permanently impounded in museum collections. The Connecticut State Library had another example of this rarity but this duplicate was sold 1995.
Of the nine examples which are believed to be available to collectors, the absolute finest known is the Morse specimen graded MS-67 by PCGS. It was last sold at public auction in 2005 for the record price of $1,897,500. Because of the infrequency of offerings that come with the rarity of this issue, it is difficult to give price indications other than auction results. The last public auction of a 1927-D Double Eagle was back in January 2010 (also an indications of how infrequent these offerings really are) when a PCGS graded MS-66 sold for $1,495,000.
It is extremely unlikely that any significant number of 1927-D Double Eagles will ever turn up. To the best of our knowledge the Denver Mint did not export any quantity of double eagles in 1927 or shortly thereafter, which would mean that the only ones that are and will be available are those which were requested by experienced collectors. With the rarity of this issue well documented since the 1950s there is only a very small chance that additional examples might turn up in some closed bank vault, as happens very occasionally. But even those finds may not have a significant influence on the value and desirability of this classic American numismatic rarity.