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Astonishing 1907 Denver Mint Double Eagle ($20 gold coin) Sells for More Than a Half Million Dollars

Posted By Greg Reynolds On January 29, 2010 @ 10:12 am In Dealer News, Proof Coinage, US Coins, Unique Items | No Comments

by Greg Reynolds for CoinLink

I. The Sale of this 1907-D $20 Gold Coin

During the course of the January 2010 FUN Convention in Orlando, arrangements were finalized for the sale of a 1907-Denver Mint Double Eagle that is possibly unique in Proof format. It is NGC certified as “Proof-62” with a “Farouk” pedigree noted. It is thus indicated that it was formerly in the epic collection of King Farouk.

In November 2009, Carlos Cabrera, Executive Vice President of Park Avenue Numismatics, acquired it from a collector. This coin became the star of the FUN bourse floor. Cabrera then finalized the sale and handed it to a buyer of rare and important coins. Cabrera reports that the price “was well above a half million dollars.”

There is no evidence of another specially struck 1907-D Double Eagle ($20 gold) existing. It has been suggested that Proof 1906-D Double Eagles exist. I have seen the 1906-D that the PCGS has certified as “Specimen-66.” While that 1906-D Double Eagle is a wonderful coin with a very distinctive appearance, I find that this 1907-D Double Eagle fulfills the criteria for a Proof and that 1906-D does not.

The ‘Pacific Rim’ collection was formed by the collector who sold this 1907-D to Park Avenue Numismatics in November 2009. His Philadelphia Mint Proof Liberty Head $20 gold coins were auctioned by Superior in 2005 and his $50 gold pieces were offered by Heritage in the August 2007 ANA sale. Most of these $50 pieces were slugs, which are Humbert and/or U.S. Assay office octagonal coins from 1851 and ’52. Additionally, the ‘Pacific Rim’ consignment featured an 1855 Proof $50 Kellogg, an 1855 Wass Molitor $50 business strike, and a gold plated copper 1877 $50 pattern. This West Coast collector, who prefers to remain anonymous, really likes large coins that are neat and unusual.

II. The Rarity of Branch Mint Proofs

Prior to 1968, very few Proofs, in any metal, were struck at the Branch Mints. Please click here to see my article about the only known Proof 1876-CC dime, which includes some background information about Branch Mint Proofs. I have seen a substantial number of 19th century, Proof San Francisco Mint coins, all but one of which are silver. Further, I have seen several New Orleans Mint Proofs and a very small number of Carson City Mint Proof silver coins. I have seen only one New Orleans Mint gold coin that I would regard as a Proof, an 1844-O Eagle ($10 coin), and just two O-Mint gold coins that are (non-Proof) Specimen Strikings, an 1853-O Eagle and an 1856-O Double Eagle.

Kris Oyster, managing director of numismatics at DGSE (parent of Superior Galleries and other entities), declares that this 1907-D Double Eagle is “gorgeous, with highly reflective fields and sharp detail on the devices. It is a showstopper.” Oyster adds that “it was fascinating to to see a Denver Mint $20 Liberty in Proof — I have never seen anything else like it. It is in the same category of importance as the 1856-O that sold in 2009. ” Kris is referring to the 1856-O Double Eagle that Heritage sold for $1,437,500 in the May 2009 Long Beach auction. It has been certified as “Specimen-63” by both the PCGS and the NGC. It is definitely a special striking, though it is not a Proof.

I (this writer) am not aware of the existence of any Proof Carson City Mint gold coins. Moreover, I have never seen a, pre-1965, Denver Mint copper, nickel or silver coin that I would regard as either a Proof or a Specimen Striking. There are 1906-D dimes that are purported to be special Specimen Strikings or Proofs. I have not seen them and I am a skeptical. I have been putting forth an effort to view, or at least obtain suitable expert opinions about, any specially struck Branch Mint coins that are offered.

The 1906-D Double Eagle that the PCGS has certified as Specimen-66 realized $172,500 in an October 2007 Stack’s auction. Though an extremely attractive coin that is of high quality in terms of grade and striking characteristics, it just barely qualifies as a Specimen striking. This coin has a special finish, and it is very cool.

Long ago, Walter Breen stated that other 1906-D Double Eagles may (or at least did) exist that are similar to the one that is now certified as SP-66. Breen, though, knew of only one specially struck 1907-D, the coin that is the focus here. It seems that these 1906-D Double Eagles and this 1907-D Double Eagle are the only specially struck Denver Mint gold coins, and may be the only Denver Mint coins that are specially struck in any metal, during the classic (pre-1934) era of U.S. coinage. Indeed, I wonder if this 1907-D Double Eagle is the only Denver Mint Proof, of any metal, from the classic era.

The Denver Mint did not produce coins until 1906 and Liberty Head Double Eagles were last minted in 1907. So, special strikings may relate to the opening of the Mint and the ending of the design type.

In total, pre-1934, Proof or Specimen Branch Mint gold coins are dramatically rarer than their silver counterparts. The Parmelee1844-O Eagle, which I mentioned above, is widely believed to have a little sister, the Parmelee 1844-O Half Eagle, which is thought to also clearly be a Proof. Both were in the epic Parmelee collection that was auctioned in 1890, and both were later owned by legendary collector William Woodin. I do not know of any other New Orleans Mint Proof gold coins.

The only, pre-1934, Proof San Francisco Mint gold coin that I have ever seen is an 1855-S Three Dollar Gold coin. It was auctioned by Stack’s in 2004, and was earlier in Auction ’90. It is, unquestionably, a Proof. Breen stated that there is a Proof 1854-S Double Eagle in the Smithsonian.

III. The Pedigree of this 1907-D

Experts at the NGC clearly regard this coin as the 1907-D Double Eagle that was in the collection of King Farouk of Egypt and auctioned by Sotheby’s, in Cairo, in 1954. The “Farouk” name is on the insert in the NGC holder. In his 1988 encyclopedia, Walter Breen mentions one Proof 1907-D and lists the Farouk auction sale as its pedigree. In 1988, he cited his 1977 encyclopedia as a source for this information. In his 1977 book, however, Breen does not mention a Farouk pedigree. He states that “only one” Proof 1907-D Double Eagle has been “reported” and indicates that it was in two different auctions conducted by the firm of Abner Kreisberg and Hans Schulman, the first in 1959 and the second in 1960.

Circa 2000, Bob Green sold this specific 1907-D to Paul Nugget, who, in turn, sold it to the consignor of this coin to a Stack’s auction that was conducted in Oct. 2001. A New Jersey dealer bought it at the Stack’s Oct. 2001 sale and he submitted it to the NGC. He may have been the consignor when Heritage auctioned it in Jan. 2004, probably on ‘Platinum Night.’ The Stack’s cataloguer cites David Akers as tying the Farouk 1907-D to the first of the two Kreisberg-Schulman sales that Breen mentioned in 1977. Further, Akers is cited as referring to this coin as a “Proof.” When I saw this coin at the Jan. 2010 FUN Convention, and concluded it was a Proof, I was not aware of its history. It is fair to theorize that all five of these auction appearances, in 1954, 1959, 1960, 2001 and 2004, are of the same coin. It is certain, though, that neither Breen nor Akers knew of another 1907-D Liberty Double Eagle that had a strong claim to Proof status. Further, Jeff Garrett has never heard of another. As far as I know, this coin is unique.

IV. Is this 1907-D Double Eagle A Proof?

There is no doubt that this 1907-D Double Eagle is specially struck. It has fully mirrored fields and it looks dramatically different from 1907-D business strikes. In my view, there is a tremendous difference between a true Proof and a Specimen striking. Also, a coin that is struck from heavily polished dies, like many deeply prooflike Morgan silver dollars, is much different from either a Proof or a Specimen striking.

Unfortunately, the fact that this 1907-D Double Eagle has been certified as a Proof is not conclusive. The same grading service may decline to certify a coin a Proof in one year and then certify the same coin as a Proof in another year. Moreover, in a recent auction, there was a Capped Bust half dollar that a leading grading service had certified as a Proof, yet no expert, whom I know, regarded it as a Proof. In my view, that Capped Bust half is clearly not a Proof. I find it hard to believe that many experts would honestly regard that Capped Bust half as such.

As for this 1907-D Double Eagle, Matt Kleinsteuber declares that “it definitely is a Proof.” Kleinsteuber is lead grader and trader for NFCcoins and he is an instructor at ANA grading seminars.

Jeff Garrett asserts that this coin is “special.” He regards it, though, as a “Specimen Striking or a presentation piece” rather than as “a true Proof.” He explains that it does not have the “fabric of [Philadelphia Mint] Proof Double Eagles of the era.” Garrett is the co-author of a comprehensive encyclopedia on U.S. gold coins. He has been recognized as an expert in gold coins for decades. Even so, I find that Garrett’s criteria for Proofs is too narrow.

It is unfair and illogical, in my view, to expect Branch Mint Proofs to have the same characteristics and be of the same striking quality, as corresponding Philadelphia Mint Proofs. The Branch Mints may have had less advanced tools and/or less of a selection of tools and supplies. Further, since the founding of Branch Mints in 1838, the Philadelphia Mint had presses that were more powerful, more adjustable, and/or superior in some other way. From 1838 to the end of the classic era of coins in 1933, Philadelphia Mint products, both business strikes and Proofs, are of higher striking quality, on average, than corresponding coins of the Branch Mints.

Why is the certified SP-66 1906-D not a Proof and this 1907-D a Proof? A Specimen was (usually) struck only once while a Proof was struck at least twice. Specimens were intended to look aesthetically distinct from business strikes, but not meant to possess the refined technical characteristics of Proofs. Proofs will usually have more complete and fuller reflective fields that are more integrated into the metal of the coin, rather than seen as polish resting on the surfaces. Moreover, the relationships between the devices (design elements) and the fields (flat areas) are much more developed on Proofs than on Specimens, and are qualitatively different rather than being just differences of degree. Generally, Specimen strikings and Proofs have different overall looks and textures, fabrics.

How can it be proved that this 1907-D Double Eagle is a Proof, not just a Specimen Striking? There are several factors, seven in my view, that define whether a coin is a Proof. It is not necessary for a coin to meet all Proof criteria to be a Proof, and most Proof coins will probably meet only some of the criteria. Further, some criteria are much more important than others. A coin that meets more criteria is not necessarily more of a Proof than a coin that meets fewer Proof criteria

(1) This 1907-D Double Eagle was struck at least twice. The crispness and detail found are consistent with double-striking. Additionally, doubling on some devices (design elements) and shadowing of others constitute important evidence of double striking. Plus, the rims and dentils show some evidence of double striking, particularly in terms of how they are separated from each other. Usually though not always, multiple blows from the dies are needed to separate elements that would otherwise at least partly blend together.

(2) This 1907-D was deliberately given a finish that was intended to and does distinguish the resulting coins from business strikes of the same design type. The whole coin has a smoothness and a glossiness that distinguishes it. (3) It has incredibly strong mirrors that are distinct from the reflective fields that are found on prooflike business strikes or on the Specimen 1906-D Double Eagle mentioned above. (4) It would be unreasonable to expect it to pass the frosting test, as Philadelphia Mint Proof Liberty Head Double Eagles struck in 1907 or even in 1906 or 1905 do not tend to have cameo contrasts, or even any frosted devices. (5) It does not meet the ‘rims and edges’ criteria. But, Philadelphia Mint Proof Liberty Head Double Eagles do not tend to have broad rims that are squared with the edges. This criterion is more important for authenticating Proofs of other design types. It is not especially pertinent to Liberty Double Eagles. Besides, there are many Proofs of several types that do not meet the ‘rims and edges’ criterion. Wide rims and relatively squared edges are not present on numerous 19th century Proofs.

The sixth factor in identifying a Proof is one of the most important and is the hardest to explain. Proofs are characterized by qualitatively different relationships between the devices (raised design elements) and the adjacent fields (flat areas). Ideally, every numeral and letter would be high and perpendicular to the fields; every dentil would be perfectly struck, squared and distinct from the rim; all devices (design elements) would be crisp, of higher relief than on business strikes, and markedly distinct from the fields almost as if they are separate units; there would be no mushiness or evidence of die flow. No early 20th century Proof, especially not a Branch Mint Proof, comes anywhere close to being a perfect Proof.

This Proof, however, scores fairly high in this category. On business strikes, the devices tend to slope into or flow into the fields. Sometimes, it looks like the devices popped from the metal fields, which they did in a sense. Ideally on a Proof, however, the devices look more like they are resting on the fields. While ideally, the differences between a Proof and a business strike, in this respect, would be stark. In reality, such differences tend to be subtle and require an experienced expert to analyze.

On this 1907-D Double Eagle, many (though not all) letters are relatively squared; many obverse dentils are extremely well defined; the stars are crisp and suitably distinct from the fields; other elements (or parts thereof) are relatively high and relatively squared from the fields. Ten to twenty times magnification is often required to see the relationships between the devices and the fields. In my view, many of the devices on this coin have the special relationships with the respective adjacent areas of the fields that are indicative of a Proof rather than a business strike or a Specimen striking. There are, however, some weak letters and dentils. On the whole, though, the devices on this coin meets the ‘devices & fields relationship’ criterion for a Proof.

While I was viewing this coin at the Park Avenue Numismatics table, I placed it ‘side by side’ with a Proof 1899 Double Eagle. This 1907-D had stars that are just as well defined and relatively more perpendicular to the fields than the stars on a Proof 1899 Double Eagle.

The overall look and texture of a coin, the fabric, is the seventh factor in the determination of a Proof. Although I understand why some experts believe that this coin fails the fabric test, I assert that it easily passes. It has incredible mirrors, crisp devices, a stunning glossy look, and other features. It is just illogical to expect it to look exactly like a Philadelphia Mint Proof Liberty Head Double Eagle. Moreover, it looks a lot more exciting than some 1905, 1906 and 1907 Philadelphia Mint Proofs. It has the fabric of a Proof.

V. The Quality of this 1907-D Double Eagle

The main reason why the quality of this 1907-D is an issue is because it has been ‘shined’ since it left the Mint. I am not here referring to the extensive moderate cleaning, which left hairlines almost everywhere; this coin has been subject to more than just a cleaning. Someone made it shinier than it already was before. The individual who did so is (or was) NOT a rational and knowledgeable coin enthusiast. This coin has amazing mirrors and is very brilliant. There was nothing to be gained by tampering with it. Though Jeff Garrett remarks that it “was lightly polished,” I believe that this term makes the problem sound more severe than it is and, in my view, the problem is different from a polishing. Someone lightly wiped a small amount of some gunk on the coin to make it shine more and sparkle. The effects are not terribly noticeable, though the rims twinkle oddly, at some angles.

If this issue is ignored, it is a very attractive coin. The greenish-orange-gold devices and greenish inner fields are pleasant and appealing. The numerous hairlines everywhere are only bothersome when a magnifying glass is employed. A few faint, horizontal scratches on the cheek probably come from the shining, though perhaps from the cleaning. Maybe both activities were simultaneous.

It is my strong belief that the deep, thick, smooth mirrors that completely cover the fields are natural. The hairlines come from a cleaning and there are some natural die-polishing lines as well. The mirrors themselves have not been, puttied, buffed or otherwise strengthened, as have reflective surfaces on many pre-1934 coins that coin surgeons aim to ‘get into holders’ with Proof or Specimen designations from the leading grading services. This coin is an honest Proof.

As it is attractive, very much so when tilted under a lamp, and of tremendous importance, it definitely deserves, in my view, to be in a NGC or PCGS holder with a numerical grade. It has not been severely modified. It would make sense to me, though, if it were certified as Proof-60 rather than as Proof-62.

It would be harmful to the coin collecting community if coins that are not extremely rare and have been treated in the same manner as this 1907-D, regularly receive a 62 grade from the NGC or the PCGS. This coin is a wonderful Proof-60. The new owner should feel proud that he has a Proof Denver Mint gold coin, possibly the only one, of any pre-1984 date. It is truly an astonishing coin that I will never forget.

©2010 Greg Reynolds

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