The 1908 No Motto double eagle is one of the most common issues of the Saint Gaudens series. Prior to the 1990s, they were one of the lowest value coins in the set. Dealers’ sight-unseen bids would specifically exclude the 1908 No Motto. This was not only due to their wide availability, but also their quality; most had low eye appeal and weren’t appealing to customers.
The entire landscape of the issue changed in the 1990s. Unbeknownst to numismatists, a massive hoard of 9,900 1908 No Motto double eagles had been traded as part of an international payment in 1917. They escaped the Gold Surrender of 1933 and remained untouched until the 1960s. At that point the original Mint bags had deteriorated, so they were put into new bags, sealed, and left alone yet again. In 1996, dealer Ron Gillio had the opportunity to purchase the hoard and was astounded by the quality of the pieces. The coins were stored briefly in a Wells Fargo bank in Las Vegas after being purchased by Gillio, then sent for grading in 1997. As a result of this brief stay, they have been dubbed the Wells Fargo hoard.
While some have certainly found their way into NGC holders, the entire group was originally graded by PCGS. However, these were no ordinary pieces; in contrast to the typical unattractive pieces, these were incredibly high quality.
Out of almost 10,000 uncirculated pieces, thousands graded MS66. There are currently approximately 9,000 coins graded MS66 by PCGS, so a decent percentage of these came from the Wells Fargo hoard. Almost 1,000 pieces graded MS67, which make up most, if not all, of the 896 pieces of the grade at PCGS.
However, these weren’t the highlight of the hoard. One hundred and one pieces graded MS68, of which there are currently 102 graded – only one found outside the hoard. The stars of the find were ten pieces which graded MS69. No other Saint Gaudens double eagles of any date had been found in MS69, making them truly shocking finds.
According to David Hall, graders of the time at PCGS pulled out the top three and “tried real hard to find one… that we could call MS70.” They narrowed it down to three, and while none of them made the cut, one was deemed the best. The label reads, “Wells Fargo–The Best One!”
This particular piece became part of the Phillip H. Morse Collection of Saint-Gaudens Coinage which is memorialized in the book The Coinage of Augustus Saint-Gaudens: as Illustrated by the Phillip H. Morse Collection, published in 2006. A year earlier, in 2005, the collection was auctioned. This “best” piece realized $94,875, which was the auction record for over a decade. Only four others have been offered at public auction, three of which sold for less than the Morse specimen.
The current record holder is the Fox specimen which sold in January of 2020 for $96,000 at Heritage’s FUN sale. It was part of the Rollo Fox Collection of $20 Saint-Gaudens Gold which included other record-setting pieces as well, including a 1927 D double eagle in MS65+ that sold for $2.16 million.
Only time will tell when the other five MS69s will come to the market, or how much they will bring when they do. Regardless, any MS69 is highly prized in a registry set and a sure sign of a truly remarkable collection.
With the first MS69 Saint Gaudens double eagles ever found, the Wells Fargo hoard forever changed the landscape of the series. Even more so, the 1908 No Motto went from an unattractive and undesirable date to including some of the finest examples ever seen.