The Appeal of Double Eagles

Double eagles have always been one of my favorite series. The first one I ever owned was an 1855-S when I was a teenager in the early 1950s. Graded perhaps EF-40, it was fascinating to hold. Where had it been in the past hundred years? How did it get from San Francisco to the East Coast? At the time I was learning as much as possibly by reading books, auction catalogs, and back issues of the American Journal of Numismatics, The Numismatist, and The Numismatic Scrapbook Magazine. Then, as now, the yearly Guide Book of United States Coins gave annual updates on prices.

My dealership started part-time in 1953 when I was in high school. My objective was to share my enthusiasm with my clients. In those days business was by mail order with nearly all of my transactions by letter. Telephone calls were complicated and involved contacting a long-distance operator at my end, who contacted another in Cincinnati, Los Angeles, or elsewhere. Also, calls were expensive. My dealership grew. In August 1955 I attended my first ANA convention, and in September of that year I published my first illustrated catalog.

In time, double eagles became a steady part of my business. Clients were of three turns of mind:

1: Those who wanted one of each of the two major design types and subtypes, or six coins totally.

2: Those who were building collections by date and mintmark—an impressive challenge then as it is today.

3: Those who wanted to “hold gold” for the comfort it provided, a hedge against inflation and monetary uncertainty.

It is the third aspect that I discuss today. A double eagle contains about one ounce of gold. As I write this on January 29 the spot price for an ounce of gold is $1,305.77, this being the net price used in figuring transactions. If melted, a double eagle would yield that much gold and could be sold for that, less an exchange or handling fee. Looking on eBay I see a 1924 $20 MS-63 PCGS offered for $1,350 plus $25 shipping. I see a 1923 $10 MS-63 (NGC) for $1,395 with free shipping.

There are many other offers of double eagles in MS-63 grade—brilliant and lustrous—that cost less than $100 or $150 over melt value.

One of my first customers on the third type was the president (CEO was not a term used then) of one of America’s largest utilities. He wanted to hold gold and also had numismatic inclinations. He was not a candidate for a rare 1856-O, 1885, 1920-S, or other rarity, but wanted one of each date and mintmark that that was common and inexpensive. I suggested that he add the requirement of Mint State to that request. I hand-selected coins that today would grade about MS-63 (back then numbers were not used) for common issues and AU for some of the Liberty Heads. Over a period of time he built a very large collection with the vast majority of dates and mintmarks in the series.

Today in 2018 (Happy New Year!) doing this can also be a pleasant exercise. To me, having many dozens of double eagles of numismatic interest is far more fascinating than to have a bunch of modern gold ingots or one-ounce bullion coins.

With this in mind, I found that we have in storage a small number of copies of my book, U.S. Liberty Head Double Eagles: The Golden Age of Coinage, that I wrote a few years ago. It is hardbound, has 376 pages, and is fully color illustrated. I wrote this in coordination with Robert Galiette, whose magnificent collection we sold at auction. Each double eagle, year by year, is discussed in detail, accompanied by an expanded panorama of life in America at the time. You’ll read about the Gold Rush in California, the “Pikes Peak or Bust” excitement of the late 1850s, the financial turmoil of the Civil War, the gold strikes in Cripple Creek and the Klondike, and more, plus social and political events of the time. I guarantee it will be a “good read” or, as the New York Times likes to day, a “page turner” (not quite sure what that means, but it is favorable).

The list price of this book $49.95. I offer you one (limit: just one) for $25 plus $5 shipping to U.S. addresses. This offer is subject to availability, for once all are gone, that will be it.

To order: Call our Wolfeboro office at 866-811-1804 to purchase using your credit card. Or, you can send a check for $30 made out to Stack’s Bowers Galleries to SBG/Book Department, PO Box 1804, Wolfeboro, NH 03894.

Again, Happy New Year to you and your family. May 2018 be one of health, happiness, and prosperity—and, course, enjoyment of numismatics.

Dave Bowers

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