David Stone of Heritage Auctions published an article in the Winter 2019-2020 issue of the firm's Intelligent Collector magazine about the "Lima" 1927-D
double eagle. With permission, we're republishing it here. Thanks. -Editor
The 1927-D Saint-Gaudens double eagle is a landmark rarity in the series, the rarest collectible United States gold coin of the 20th century. Only 13 examples have been
reliably reported over the years and four of those coins are forever sequestered in institutional collections at the Smithsonian Institution and the Connecticut State Library.
Another two specimens appeared in auctions long ago, but have not been seen in more than 45 years, leaving only seven 1927-D double eagles available to present-day collectors.
Heritage Auctions is pleased to offer one of the most famous examples of this sought-after rarity in our January 2020 FUN Signature Auction.
The coin in the Heritage auction is from the Fox Collection, currently the second ranked Saint-Gaudens $20 Gold With Major Varieties, Circulation Strikes (1907-1933) PCGS
Registry Set. In earlier times, this MS65+ PCGS, CAC example was a highlight of some equally fine numismatic gatherings, including the magnificent set of Saint-Gaudens double
eagles compiled by legendary collector Dr. Steven Duckor. We can trace the history of this coin back to the 1940s, a time when the coin was less than 20 years old, but one of the
earliest owners of this celebrated coin has remained a baffling mystery to curious collectors, until now.
The enigmatic “Mr. Lima” purchased this coin from prominent Dayton, Ohio coin dealer James Kelly for $2,000 in a private transaction in 1947. Called “Mr. Lima” because of his
Ohio hometown, he chose to keep his collecting activities under the radar, buying from dealers like Kelly, Stack’s, and B. Max Mehl in private transactions throughout the 1940s
and ‘50s. He never attended auctions or joined numismatic organizations, so he remained largely unknown to the numismatic community of those times, outside of his few dealer
contacts. He quietly assembled remarkable collections of the four U.S. gold denominations issued in the 20th century, as he was born in 1899 and wanted to acquire an example of
each gold coin issued during his lifetime. He retained his ultra-rare 1927-D double eagle for almost 40 years, before consigning it to the Paramount segment of Auction ’84.
Jim Kelly, who sold the coin to “Mr. Lima” in 1947, was one of the founders of the Paramount International Coin Corporation. Kelly died in 1968, but his history with “Mr.
Lima”, and the firm’s convenient Ohio location, may have influenced his decision to sell the coin through them. When the auction was held in Dearborn, Michigan on July 25, 1984,
“Mr. Lima” attended his first coin auction to see his celebrated 1927-D cross the auction block. The coin realized $198,000, bettering the price brought by the famous Eliasberg
specimen, sold two years before, by $22,000. “Mr. Lima” congratulated the new owner, Dr. Steven Duckor, on his purchase, and sent him a letter detailing the history of the coin up
to that time a few months later.
Dr. Duckor, who remains active in the numismatic community today, was a consummate collector who valued his coins for their beauty and historical importance, as well as their
value. He carefully preserved the letter from “Mr. Lima”, along with the original flip from Jim Kelly and the flip from Auction ’84, and arranged them in a custom 15x13 inch
Capital Plastics frame to ensure the early history of the coin was not lost. Although the information in the frame has never been published, it has followed the coin from one
owner to the next, down to the present day.
Dr. Duckor retained the main body of his double eagle collection until he sold it through Heritage in a blockbuster auction in January 2012. However, unbeknownst to the
numismatic community at large, he consigned his 1927-D double eagle to David Akers’ sale of the Thaine B. Price Collection in May 1998. Akers, who had also been a principal of the
Paramount firm, and knew the history of the coin, gave the anonymous early owner his famous “Mr. Lima” sobriquet in his lot description for the Price catalog, but declined to
identify him by name, even though he had been deceased for seven years by then. Students of the series have puzzled over his identity ever since.
“Mr. Lima’s” 1927-D has been offered publicly a few more times in the intervening years, including its appearance in the January 2014 FUN Signature Auction, where it realized a
record price of $1,997,500. Thankfully, the present consignor, Mr. Rollo Fox, preserved the important frame with the historical information, making it possible for us to finally
reveal the identity of “Mr. Lima”.
As revealed in his letter to Dr. Duckor, “Mr. Lima” was actually James (Jim) Alfred MacDonell. A diligent search of internet records reveals he was a prominent citizen
of Lima, a philanthropist, humanitarian, and oil company executive who served as the president of the Allen County Historical Society from 1938 through 1989. Among his many
charities, he bequeathed his family home to the Allen County Museum and gave a tree to every first grader in the Lima and area public schools, to be used by the Lima Planning
Commission to beautify the town. The proceeds of the sale of his 1927-D double eagle were donated to the Allen County Museum, which was closely affiliated with the Historical
Society. He died on June 23, 1991 at the ripe old age of 91. Thanks to all the owners who preserved this remarkable piece of numismatic history, we can finally solve this
long-standing numismatic mystery. Be sure to look for “Mr. Lima’s” 1927-D in the upcoming FUN sale.
David Stone writes:
After the article was published, Heritage Executive Vice President Todd Imhof received the following e-mail from Donald Slouffman, the Paramount numismatist who actually
handled the 1927-D transaction with Mr. Lima
"I appreciated the article on the 1927-D twenty that appeared in the "Intelligent Collector". In my later years at Paramount I was the representative who worked
with Mr. Lima, Jim MacDonell. It was always interesting to go to Lima, have lunch with Mr. MacDonell, and proceed to the bank to pick up coins. For the most part you did not know
what you would get as he would bring a box out for me to go through and pick what coins I wanted to take. Paramount had already moved its headquarters to the Bahamas and had an
office in Florida. I remained in the Ohio office until it's closing.
"On the trip to Lima in which I received the 1927-D, I was going to pick up a 1933 Ten and several additional important coins. No mention was ever made about consigning a
1927-D Twenty! After receiving those coins Mr. MacDonell handed me the 1927-D without referencing it and asked if I thought Dave would like to have this particular coin for
auction. Well, of course I said he would. When I returned to the office I called Dave in Florida to tell him the trip was successful. I then proceeded to tell him I picked up an
additional coin the 1927-D. Naturally he was surprised and elated. I will never forget the words out of his mouth: Are you sure it is real? I indicated that it had all the
characteristics and he would like it. The rest is history. Mr. MacDonell was a great guy and I always enjoyed my trips to Lima to meet with him. Thought you might enjoy this
"Donald L. Slouffman”
Remarkably, Mr. Lima’s nephew, George MacDonell, became aware of the auction through a friend who read the lot description online. He sent Mark Borckardt the following message
and a picture of his uncle, which we had tried and failed to secure for the article.
"Oddly enough, a friend from Tucson sent me the coin listing for this auction yesterday, I just found this message today. If you still need one, I have many photos of
Uncle Jim MacDonell. This is going to be quite an exciting auction. I remember when he sold this coin in 1984. This is quite exciting for some of us in the family. Uncle Jim was
an amazing man. I grew up next door to him in Líma, Ohio, he had 3 daughters so I was like a son to him. Please let me know if I can help.
"George D MacDonell”
Wayne Homren, Editor
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