Background and History
Within American numismatics, the mintage of a particular issue typically provides a strong indication of its rarity. The 1927-D Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle represents an exception to this rule. Despite a mintage of 180,000 pieces, it has come to be recognized as one of the major rarities of the 20th century as well as for the entire Double Eagle denomination. The rarity results from a unique set of circumstances, which led to an extremely low survival rate, with only about a dozen pieces still known to exist.
The Double Eagle denomination had been authorized in direct response to the California Gold Rush. With a value of twenty-dollars, the denomination could be used to efficiently convert the massive amounts of newly mined gold bullion into coinage. The Double Eagle would initially feature a design by James B. Longacre, which was struck as a pattern in 1849, followed by regular production until 1907. Towards the end of the year, the denomination would take on a new design created by celebrated sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens. After striking a limited number of patterns in Ultra High Relief and a small mintage for circulation in High Relief, a low relief version of the design was adopted for mass production.
The regular low relief version of the Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle would be struck variously at the Philadelphia, Denver, and San Francisco Mint facilities. Production would take place for most years between 1907 and 1933, with mintage levels ranging from a low of 22,000 to highs well within the millions. Particularly for the issues of the 1920’s, the initial mintage levels are often meaningless when determining the rarity for an individual issue. Rather, the circumstances related to the original distribution of the coins, the amount held back in storage, and the number eventually melted play a far more important role.
Key Date Coin Mintage
The 1927-D Double Eagle had a mintage of 180,000 pieces, which was comparatively low for the time frame. During the same year, the Philadelphia Mint and San Francisco Mint had produced 2,946,750 and 3,107,000 pieces for the denomination, respectively. The Denver Mint would not strike Double Eagles in 1928, 1929, or 1930. The denomination would be struck in Denver for the final time in 1931, when 106,500 pieces were produced.
By the late 1920’s, the United States economy was slowing and few of the Double Eagles produced at the branch mints were needed for circulation. The output from the Philadelphia Mint was more than sufficient for the needs of commerce and export for foreign trade. As a result, the Double Eagles produced at Denver and San Francisco were simply held in storage for years to come. In 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt would issue Executive Order 6102 in an effort to combat the Great Depression. The order severely limited private gold ownership and recalled of all but a small amount of gold coinage owned by the public. During the 1930’s, the recalled gold coins as well as all gold coins still held in government storage were melted, forever resetting the scale in terms of rarity for many issues.
In the case of the 1927-D Double Eagle, nearly the entire original mintage was melted. Those few pieces that did leave the mint and eventually end up in collector’s hands did so by a matter of diligence and fortuitousness. Up until the issuance of the Executive Order, although the coins were held in storage, they were openly available to collectors or anyone else who requested them and paid face value. With a relatively small number of active collectors at the time and the high cost of the denomination, very few pieces managed to escape the mint’s vault in this manner. Even those that did leave the mint might have been turned in following the issuance of the gold recall and melted with all the rest. Although it would not be fully recognized for many years, these circumstances combined to create one of the great rarities of American numismatics.
Finest Known and Values
Since the 1927-D Saint-Gaudens Double Eagles were never released into circulation in the typical manner, nearly all known examples have survived in uncirculated grades. The current roster of known specimens includes 13 coins, four of which are held in museum collections and not expected to return to the market. The Smithsonian Institution holds three pieces, including two pieces which were sent directly from the Denver Mint and a third which was donated as part of the Lilly Collection. The Museum of Connecticut History discovered two pieces in their collection in 1995. One of the pieces was sold at auction while the other remains within their collection.
Among all known examples, the absolute finest known is the Morse specimen graded PCGS MS-67. This piece was sold in 1991 for a price of $522,500. When it was later offered at auction in 2005, it realized $1,897,500. The piece has remained off the market since this sale. Recent auction results indicate that if this piece were offered again today, it would no doubt command an even higher price.
Over the past decade, there have been four auction appearances for the 1927-D Double Eagle. In 2010, an example graded PCGS MS-66 realized a price of $1,495,000. This was followed by the sale of an NGC MS-66 coin, which sold for $1,997,500 in 2014. Later that same year, one of the lower graded pieces at PCGS MS-63 reached a price of $1,292,500. The most recent sale occurred in 2020 for an example graded PCGS MS-65+, which was actually the same coin as the NGC MS-66 sold in 2014. This time around, the coin reached a price of $2,160,000, representing a new record auction price for the issue.