Gold: Good News and Bad News

If you are a “gold bug,” which I have never been, then you may have a tear in your eye as the price of bullion today in December 2013 is less than it has been in recent times. It was not unusual a year ago to have certain dealers and others sell gold in quantity, predicting a price of $5,000 per ounce in the near future. Indeed, at a gathering at a major convention, a program of this type was given, and the audience was asked to show their hands as to believed such a prediction would come true. The majority did.

That said, for a long time gold has remained an excellent store of value on an international basis, a hedge against inflated or weak currencies, and a commodity that finds ready sale. In my own mind I treat gold bullion as one subject and numismatic gold as another. The two do not necessarily move in parallel. As to bullion gold, with inflation being what it is, with international uncertainty not getting any better and the like, the future is probably bright. Whether it will go to $5,000 per ounce in the next few years is a matter of debate. However, it will still remain popular with a large number of people.

On a numismatic plane, the subject of today’s discussion, gold has always been one of the most popular pursuits. Gold dollars, $2.50 quarter eagles, $3 gold coins, $5 half eagles, $10 eagles and $20 double eagles all have a large following. Double eagles in particular are popular, the largest regular American gold denomination and the coin used to convert more than 75% of incoming gold deposits to coin form. It was much easier and more efficient to coin a single double eagle than two $10 pieces, four $5 pieces or eight $2.50 coins.

Today the attractive (in comparison to recent times) gold price prompts a consideration of the double eagle series. Certainly it is a more favorable time than it was a year ago to put together a collection of twenties.

There are several ways to do this. One of the most interesting is to form a type set. There are only six designs:

Liberty Head without motto — 1850 to 1866. Because of certain treasure finds such as the S.S. Brother Jonathan, S.S. Central America (in particular), and S.S. Republic, beautiful Mint State double eagles of this type are available — a situation that would not have been dreamed of in the 20th century. The 1857-S in particular, of which there were over 5,500 found on the S.S. Central America is a prime object of desire — combining high grade and rich history.

Liberty Head with motto, TWENTY D. — 1866 to 1876. This design, made only for 11 years, adds the motto IN GOD WE TRUST on the reverse, while the denomination remains as TWENTY D. There were no significant treasure finds of double eagles in this date range, and overseas bank hoards yielded relatively little in the way of high grade Mint State examples. Accordingly, most opportunities involve double eagles graded from EF to lower Mint State ranges, with such grades as MS-62 and MS-63 satisfying most desires.

Liberty Head with motto, TWENTY DOLLARS — 1877 to 1907. Design as preceding, but with the denomination spelled out in full. Double eagles of this design were exported in quantity in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. When Franklin Roosevelt demanded that citizens surrender gold coins in 1933 and 1934, foreign governments and banks held onto their double eagles more tightly than ever before! Beginning in the late 1940s, many of these were repatriated, as detailed in my Whitman book, A Guide Book of Double Eagle Gold Coins. Today, Mint State coins are very common, including such ranges as MS-64 and MS-65. The price now, in December 2013, is considerably more attractive than it was last year at this time.

MCMVII (1907) High Relief. This is the masterpiece of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, a triumph of coinage art. Slightly over 12,000 were made. When they were released there was so much publicity and so much desire to own them that many were saved. Today I estimate that perhaps 6,000 or so exist, many of which are impaired or in low grades. However, there are enough Mint State pieces that examples can be easily found, although the price does cross the five-figure line. Many people feel this is the most beautiful motif ever made for a circulating American coin. It would be hard to disagree.

Saint-Gaudens without motto — 1907 to 1908. Revised style in lower relief, with Arabic date and without motto. These were made for a very short time, only in December of 1907 and the first part of 1908. However, the marvelous Wells Fargo Hoard brought to market by Ron Gillio, nearly 20,000 beautiful Mint State pieces, has made this type quite available and at a reasonable price. How lucky we all are.

Saint-Gaudens with motto — 1908 to 1933. IN GOD WE TRUST was added to the reverse of the double eagle in the summer of 1908, a type continued through 1933. While certain issues of the 1920s and all of the 1930s range from scarce to rare, there are many common dates and mintmarks, affording the opportunity to acquire a beautiful example at reasonable cost.

Apart from building a type set as preceding, another pursuit for those enjoying gold is to acquire one of each date and mint of double eagle that is affordable. Believe it or not, this involves over 90% of the issues! Early examples from the 1850s through the 1880s can be acquired in grades such as EF, AU and MS-60 for prices that are quite low, after which Mint State coins are available, many times at a modest premium over bullion value.

That’s it for now. Enjoy your week.

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