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Whenever that question arises, one of the first and most frequent answers is sure to be the Saint-Gaudens double eagle, or twenty-dollar gold piece. And those who know the subject well are almost certain to specify the “Saint” with high relief.

It's been hailed as a numismatic treasure, a miniature sculpture created in solid gold.
In many ways, the high relief Saints are works of art and not just coins. 

No other coin in American history has been designed with these unique high relief features. 
For this reason alone, the 1907 dated $20 Saint Gaudens are clearly
the most fascinating and beautiful creations ever struck by the U.S. Mint.

This stunning coin resulted from a truly unique relationship between two towering figures of their day: Augustus Saint-Gaudens, the most famous American sculptor at the turn of the 20th century, and Theodore Roosevelt, a U.S. president whose ardent pursuit of excellence encompassed the nation’s coinage.

In 1905, Roosevelt personally prevailed upon Saint-Gaudens to design his official inaugural medal, which proved to be exceptionally handsome. In a subsequent conversation at a Washington dinner party, they discussed their mutual admiration for the high- relief coins of ancient Greece, and the president urged the artist to create a series of U.S. coin designs based on those classic models. With customary vigor, Roosevelt proclaimed this plan to be his “pet crime.” 

Saint-Gaudens accepted the challenge eagerly and began preparing dramatic new designs to replace the long-running Liberty double eagle and Coronet eagle, the two largest U.S. gold coins, both of which had carried the same basic portraits for more than half a century. He also fashioned a new one-cent design. The cent never reached production, but the gold coins emerged as masterworks of numismatic art.

The double eagle’s obverse features a full-length portrait of Liberty grasping a torch in her right hand and an olive branch in her left. She is shown in full stride with rays of sunlight behind her, the word LIBERTY above her and the U. S. Capitol Building to the left of her flowing gown. Encircling her are 46 stars—one for each state in the Union at that time. The designer’s monogram (ASG) appears below the date. The coin’s reverse depicts a breathtaking eagle in flight—perhaps the most spectacular likeness of the nation’s official emblem ever to grace a U. S. coin or medal. Below this magnificent bird is the sun with its rays extending upward; above it, in two semicircular tiers, are the inscriptions UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and TWENTY DOLLARS. 

The normal clutter was further reduced when Roosevelt and Saint-Gaudens conspired to omit the motto IN GOD WE TRUST on the first of the new double eagles. Roosevelt, a devout man, believed using the name of God on our currency was blasphemy, for there was no way of knowing for what unworthy purpose it might be used. He thought the name of God belonged in houses of worship, not in saloons, casinos and bordellos. But God-fearing members of Congress with a different viewpoint soon noticed this and mandated addition of the motto too later issues. 

Roosevelt and Saint-Gaudens intended the double eagle to be struck in high relief—though clearly not as high as the very first strikes—so each exquisite detail would be shown to full advantage. They encountered resistance, however, from the U. S. Mint’s chief engraver, Charles E. Barber, who considered this impractical and sought to abort the project. Saint-Gaudens died in August 1907, before production began, leaving his able assistant, Henry Hering, to carry on the running battle with Barber.

The chief engraver succeeded in stalling the double eagle until late November, when the exasperated Roosevelt finally stepped in and forced his hand. The orders from the White House were clear and to the point: “Begin the new issue even if it takes you all day to strike one piece!”

Mint Director Frank Leach later recounted the production of these marvelous coins in his memoir, Recollections of an Old Newspaperman: “I had every medal press in the Philadelphia Mint put into operation on these coins with an extra force of workmen, so that the presses would run night and day. The officers of the Mint entered into the spirit of the work cut out for them, putting a zest into the operations which assured me that the issue of the new double eagles, so greatly desired by the President, would be made on time.”

The earliest production strikes were indeed made with high relief; according to Breen, they received five blows apiece from the Mint’s hydraulic press. In addition to the business strikes, there also are “probably at least eight or nine proofs,” he reported, with these having received six or seven blows apiece. Some production strikes had a wire rim, others a flat one, and all displayed the date in Roman numerals. But after turning out just 11,250 pieces, Mint technicians substituted new dies with modified, lower relief. Barber’s objections based on practicality had prevailed. In yet another concession to commercial expediency and public unfamiliarity, the Mint replaced the Roman numerals with Arabic ones on all further coinage.

The high-relief edition of Saint-Gaudens’ double eagle became an instant collectible, pieces bringing as much as $30 within weeks of their issue. Philadelphia coin dealer Henry Chapman seems to have been the principal supplier to numismatists, as he was with so many desirable products of the Philadelphia Mint.

Breen pronounced the high-relief double eagle to have been “the finest American coin design ever to reach circulation.” Collectors certainly agree, for today the high-relief is one of the most sought-after coins in numismatics. The actor Adolphe Menjou had a particular penchant for the coin; he accumulated 250 pieces before his hoard was dispersed in the 1970s. Thanks to the high-relief and ultra-high- relief examples, the full realization of Saint-Gaudens’ numismatic artistry lives on for all to admire.

Due to their unique place in history, the 1907 High Relief is one of the most beloved gold coins of all times. Clearly, it's reserved for the astute rare coin collector who insists on owning the very finest.


PCGS No: 9136

(wire & flat rim combined)

Designer: Augustus Saint-Gaudens

Diameter: ±34 millimeters

Metal content:
Gold - 90%
Other - 10% 

Weight: ±516 grains (±33.4 grams)

Edge: Flat Rim and Knife (or Wire) Rim variants

bestcoin Guide: 
Circulation Strikes

Collectors Universe Price Guide:
Circulation Strikes

The 1907 High Relief $20 Gold Piece was designed by the noted American sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens at the request of President Theodore Roosevelt.  "High Relief" refers to the depth of the details which, on this coin, are much deeper than usual, giving the coin an impressive medallic appearance.  "High Reliefs" come in several varieties: the extremely rare Ultra-High Relief and the more common Flat Rim and Knife (or Wire) Rim variants.  Saint-Gaudens' obverse design was considered so beautiful and so popular that it was re-used on the gold bullion coins struck by the U.S. Mint beginning in 1986.

Recent appearances:
NGC MS-65.  Ex- Heritage Numismatic Auctions, Inc.'s "October 2000 Long Beach Sale" October 5-7, 2000, Lot 7982, illustrated, sold for $24,725.00  From the Violet Bancroft Collection

Choice Brilliant Uncirculated.  Ex - Stack's "The University of Notre Dame Sale", March 20-21, 2001, Lot 1407, plated, sold for $16,100.00

PCGS MS-62.  Ex - Bowers & Merena Galleries' "The Cabinet of Lucien M. LaRiviere, Part III", May 21, 2001, Lot 407, illustrated, sold for $8,625.00

AU-58.  Ex - Bowers & Merena Galleries' "The Rarities Sale", January 3, 2001, Lot 588, illustrated, sold for $10,350.00

AU-58.  Ex - Bowers & Merena Galleries' "The Cabinet of Lucien M. LaRiviere, Part III", May 21, 2001, Lot 409, illustrated, sold for $7,590.00

AU-58.  Ex - Bowers & Merena Galleries' "The Lake Geneva Sale", June 28-29, 2001, Lot 1460, illustrated, sold for $6,900.00

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