August 4, 2008

The 1920 Wilson Dollar Gold

1920 Wilson Dollar Gold (Image Courtesy of Heritage Auction Galleries)

A Wilson Dollar Gold commemorating the opening of Manila Mint was again sold by Heritage Auction Galleries last July 31st of this year. Matching the price realized by the 1830 MANILA Counterstamp of $65, 000.00.

1920 Manila Mint Opening/Wilson Dollar in Gold, HK-1031, MS62 NGC. Gold, 38 mm. This incredibly rare so-called Wilson dollar in gold represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the many aficionados of this popular series. The long-awaited second edition of the standard Hibler-Kappen reference, released in 2008, contains a helpful note in the Appendix at the back, directing readers to the proper publication page for issues in the first edition "of which, at the time, less than five specimens were known. These issues were numbered from 1000 to 1033." Of course this Wilson dollar in gold, HK-1031, is among them. Dutifully turning to the proper page, one discovers that the second edition lists the Wilson dollar in gold as R-9, which it defines as "2-4 known." Our research leads us to believe that the survivors total perhaps three pieces in all.
On July 16, 1920, the only overseas branch mint ever opened by the United States began operations in Manila, the Philippines. The Wilson dollar commemorates that event. As background (from Hibler-Kappen), the Philippines were ruled by Spain for more than 300 years, but were ceded to the United States in 1898, following the conclusion of the Spanish-American War. Some Filipinos began a resistance movement in 1899 that was crushed in 1901 with the capture of its leader.

In a conciliatory gesture, the United States began producing Philippine Islands coins to replace the circulating Spanish colonial issues. Those coins include 1903-1908 Philadelphia and 1903-1920 San Francisco issues, which have become the only colonial coinage ever struck under U.S. authority. Coins were struck at the Manila Mint between 1920 and 1942, when the Islands were occupied by the Japanese during World War II. The Philippines gained independence from the United States in 1946, following the end of World War II, via the Treaty of Manila.
The Wilson dollar was designed by Clifford Hewitt and executed by George Morgan, the Mint's chief engraver in 1920 who is also responsible for the design of one of America's most beloved coins, the silver Morgan dollar. The obverse of the Wilson dollar depicts a vibrant left-facing bust of President Wilson, who at the time was devastated by a stroke. The reverse design features Justice kneeling, with scales in her raised right hand. Her left hand rests on the shoulder of a nude youth who is pouring planchets from a cornucopia into a coin press. Morgan's initial M is on the truncation of Wilson's bust and on the reverse above Justice's foot. The design features elements borrowed from the reverse of the 1915-S Panama-Pacific commemorative half dollar, which also features a child bearing a cornucopia. As befits its special presentation status, this gold piece was struck at least three times--the evidence of the additional strikes is faintly visible on the date and other legends. According to Hibler-Kappen (2008), only five gold pieces were reportedly struck, with one presented to President Wilson and one to U.S. Secretary of War David F. Houston; three others were kept in the Philippines and lost during World War II. Heritage offered a different gold Wilson dollar in the February 2008 Medals and Tokens Signature auction (lot 81185), but that piece had a mount removed from its edge. This example is unimpaired and may be the only such pristine remaining gold example, although we have not seen the MS61 piece mentioned below. Silver (HK-449) and copper (HK-450) specimens of the Wilson dollar are also scarce, although not nearly so rare as this phenomenal piece. The current online NGC Census Report lists two certified Mint State examples, this piece as finest, and another in MS61.

A price supplement to the 2008 HK edition suggests a price range of $50,000-$75,000 for Mint State examples, noting that the top prices would be reserved for NGC- or PCGS-certified pieces.
The surfaces are bright orange-gold with uniform color throughout. Strong magnification will be required to see the faint hairlines that account for the MS62 grade. There are no contact marks on either side of this lovely piece--most likely because the coin was used as a presentation piece and never came into contact with other coins. In rarity, this piece is perhaps on par with the HK-1001, Erie Canal Completion, in gold, although less well known. As the finest known of the Wilson dollar gold pieces, the finest certified, and likely to remain so, this example should see record market enthusiasm. Prospective bidders should plan accordingly. (Courtesy of Heritage Auction Galleries)

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