1915 $20 Simpson NGC PR67

JD-1, High R.5. Ex: Simpson. The Philadelphia Mint struck a small mintage of 50 proof Saint-Gaudens double eagles for collectors in 1915, to accompany a smallish business-strike production of 152,000 pieces. Circulation strike coinage did not begin until September, due to the economic uncertainties of World War I, and the proofs were all delivered in a single batch on October 25. A single pair of dies was used to strike all the proofs.

Despite the best efforts of the Mint, and several attempted adjustments to the finish, contemporary coin collectors never appreciated the delicate, almost medallic appearance of the matte proof coins produced after 1907. They much preferred the brilliant-finish proofs of earlier years. Unfortunately, the brilliant finish was not suitable for the new designs used on gold coinage after 1907. The eagles and double eagles both had basined fields and raised devices that made it difficult to polish the dies, in order to achieve the popular reflective finish of the older proofs. The quarter eagle and half eagle designs, with their incuse design elements, were even more unsuited to the old finish. Collector demand for proofs diminished steadily over the years, and the Mint reduced production accordingly. The 50-piece mintage of proof double eagles in 1915 was the smallest production total since 1894, and the Mint discontinued its commercial proof offerings of most denominations after that year. Only base-metal coins were produced in proof format in 1916, and the program was shut down after that.

As might be expected, the tepid collector demand resulted in low retention for the issue. That coupled with the small mintage, makes the 1915 Saint-Gaudens double eagle an elusive issue in proof format. Outside of some extremely rare experimental issues, the 1915 is the rarest of the matte proof double eagles struck from 1908-1915. Roger W. Burdette estimates only about 25 examples are extant. PCGS CoinFacts provides a more generous estimate of 35-40 survivors, but the population data from both services has been inflated by resubmissions and crossovers.

An early auction appearance of a 1915 proof double eagle was lot 1310 of the William Cutler Atwater Collection (B. Max Mehl, 6/1946), "1915 Rather light sandblast proof. Very rare. Record $140.00." Apparently, the coin in this lot was not a typical example of the 1915 proof issue, as John Dannreuther notes, "Proof 1915 double eagles are found with a dull surface caused by sandblasting with a heavier sand grain." Mehl was prophetic about the price, however, as the lot realized $140. The record price realized for this issue is $150,000, brought by the MS65+ PCGS example in lot 4127 of the FUN Signature (Heritage, 1/2021).

The present coin is the single-finest certified example at either of the leading grading services. The design elements are sharply detailed throughout, with fine definition on Liberty's facial features and the torch flame. The impeccably preserved orange-gold surfaces radiate unbroken matte luster from both sides, with terrific eye appeal. We expect intense competition from series specialists and Registry Set enthusiasts when this lot is called. Census: 1 in 67, 0 finer (11/22).