from the November 4th, 1997 edition of Numismatic News
“An exciting, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” is how Greg Roberts, president of Spectrum Numismatics, characterized the purchase of more than 15,000 1908 No Motto Saint-Gaudens gold $20 pieces by his firm earlier this year.
Rumors of such a hoard had surfaced in numismatic circles during August. Several details surrounding the double eagles were released by Spectrum last week, although neither the previous owner nor the purchase price were revealed.
Speaking from his office in Irvine, Calif., on Oct. 20, Roberts told the News how he became involved with the purchase.
“Several months ago, we were approached by our customer. As a result of that meeting, we were shown a few hundred coins,” he explained.
“I was amazed – I had never seen such incredible high quality. I thought they had to have been the first few hundred coins off the presses. They had almost a matte proof finish. There were two or three different die varieties, and one in particular was unbelievable. The gold dust was still there when I held the coins and sorted through them.
That was my first introduction to the coins.
About a month later, discussions reconvened between Roberts and the customer. during their meeting, it was revealed that significantly more coins existed than the few hundred that he had already seen. Even then, however, he had no idea of the magnitude of the hoard or of how deeply involved he would become with the coins over the next several months.
“I thought that we were talking about 6,000 to 7,000 coins, ” Roberts recounted. “I did some research and ascertained that we could handle a large group of double eagles. I was then told that I needed to go to a bank in Nevada, which turned out to be a Wells Fargo bank.
“When I arrived, I was taken into this huge walk-in vault that must have measured 1,000 to 1,500 square feet – it used to be a Federal Reserve Bank, where silver dollars were stored back in the 1960s and 1970s. On the very back counter, there was a cage set up and filled with old-time, screw-top boxes.
“At that time, it was disclosed that over 15,000 double eagles had been invoiced. I had never seen anything like it! I spent four or five days going through the coins, every day from 8 to 5, verifying what was there.
“I had always assumed that the first 300 I had seen to be the best coins, and I kept waiting for a batch of circulated coins to show up. But there weren’t any bad ones! They were consistently high quality. They had been stored in canvas bags, and the owner had kept them rolled in paper tubes.
“It was obvious that they had been stored that way for quite some time. The gold dust kept coming off the coins – I had a whole little pile of it!”
Although he became closely acquainted with the individual pieces, Roberts said that the origin of the coins is a mystery to him.
“These coins have consumed a huge part of my life, so I’m curious – but I don’t even know!” he said. He was asked to sign a “strict confidentiality agreement” before he even looked at the hoard in the bank vault, and very few details have been passed on to him.
“The owners were very secretive,” Roberts said. “I was told that the coins were acquired around 1917, and I can tell by looking at them that they did not move around a lot. My guess is that they were struck off the very first dies in 1908 and put away, then transferred to the Wells Fargo bank sometime later.
“The 1908 Saint-Gaudens $20 is generally weakly struck, and they usually show bag marks,” he continued. “However, these are boldly struck and have no bag marks. They had to be struck from early dies.”
After Roberts concluded his initial examination of the more than 15,000 pieces, two days of negotiations commenced with the owner. After a price was settled upon, the decision was made to send the coins to the major third-party grading services.
“After the point of negotiating the sale, Spectrum’s chief buyer, Thad Olson and I went back to Nevada to sort the coins,” Roberts explained. “We had worked out a deal where we were able to store the coins at the bank for a while. They were then moved out a little at a time, as they were being graded by both the Professional Coin Grading Service and the Numismatic Guaranty Corporation.”
Of the entire group, Roberts said, several thousand were graded MS-66. In fact, only five percent of the group came back lower than MS-64.
“Of all the Saint-Gaudens that have ever been graded, those at MS-64 or better comprise probably 30 percent. But for this hoard, 95 percent were graded MS-64 or better!”
According to Roberts, none of the 1908 Saint-Gaudens $20s have been sold wholesale. A group of five retail firms – Bowers and Merena Galleries, Inc.; David Hall’s North American Trading; California Numismatic Investments, Inc.; Don McAlvany’s ICA; and Goldline International, Inc. – is selling the coins to the public on behalf of Spectrum Numismatics.
Asked to rate the magnitude of the 1908 No Motto Saint Gaudens $20 hoard on a scale of one to 10, Roberts responded that he views the find as “off the scale.”
“Never in my wildest dreams did I expect to see such a quantity of coins of this date, much less of such amazing quality,” he reflected.
“The timing is also amazing, that at this point in my life Spectrum could put the deal together,” he concluded. “Five years ago, who knows if we would have been in a position to do so; even five years from now, that might not be the case.”
Retail prices being asked for MS-66 examples vary depending upon the firm offering them, but they are in the neighborhood of $2,900.