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At the turn of the 20th century, President Theodore Roosevelt endeavored to “beautify” American coinage after concluding that it had come to be “artistically of atrocious hideousness.” Read more about Saint-Gaudens Gold Double Eagle Coins by clicking here.
As such, Roosevelt called for the gold Double Eagle coin to be redesigned. He commissioned American sculptor and personal friend, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, to carry out the task, much to the chagrin of top U.S. Mint officials. While the Saint-Gaudens Gold Double Eagle has lived on to present day as what many consider to be one of the most beautiful U.S. coins in history, the story of its inception is peppered with production roadblocks, fervent infighting and other inhibitive obstacles.
The Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle was minted for nearly 30 years, beginning in 1907. Production ultimately ended in 1933 after another member of the Roosevelt legacy, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, issued Executive Order 6102 forbidding the “hoarding of gold coin, gold bullion, and gold certificates within the continental United States,” and effectively ending the country’s gold standard.
The Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle has a face value of $20 USD, weighs 33.431 grams and measures 34.1 millimeters in diameter. It is composed of 90% gold and 10% copper, and contains .96750 troy ounces of gold. The coins were struck at the Philadelphia, Denver and San Francisco mints, with Denver and San Francisco pieces bearing “D” and “S” mintmarks respectively. Coins minted in Philadelphia were struck with no mintmarks.
Coins remaining in bank vaults in the United States were melted after 1933; coins in bank vaults overseas were not. Millions of Double Eagles, of both the Liberty Head and Saint-Gaudens designs, were repatriated for numismatic and investment purposes. The 1924 Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle was once thought to be rare although 4,323,500 were struck. Large quantities of 1924 Double Eagles were found in European bank vaults, and today the 1924 is one of the most common of the series. On the other hand, the 1925-S had 3,776,500 struck, but few were released, most remained at the Treasury and bank vaults but available from the Treasury at face value in 1932. Fewer than a thousand are known to have survived; one, in almost-perfect condition (graded MS-67) sold in 2005 for $287,500.
While numismatic experts and precious metals investors laud the Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle today, its journey to fruition was fraught with challenges. Internal squabbling concerning the redesign took place as early as the coin’s conceptualization, with both President Roosevelt and Saint-Gaudens continually ignoring advice from seasoned Mint leaders. Of particular note, the President and sculptor opted to design the new coin in high relief, a decision that would later prove to be most damning, resulting in production delays and heightened tensions.
From the beginning, leadership at the U.S. Mint viewed Saint-Gaudens’s high relief proposals as “experiments” that weren’t worth the institution’s time. These doubts were validated after the designer’s first-round “Extra High Relief” and second-round “High Relief” dies proved to be unsuitable for practical production. After these failed attempts, Saint-Gaudens and his assistant set out to create a third version of the dies, further lowering the design’s relief. In the midst of this rework, Saint-Gaudens passed away from cancer, leaving the President and Mint leadership unaware of where the redesign process stood and at a loss of how best to proceed. After a bout of frustrating back-and-forth with President Roosevelt, the Mint’s Chief Engraver forged ahead on his own to create entirely new “Low Relief” dies that would finally and feasibly bring Saint-Gaudens’s design to life.
In December 1907, this third “Low Relief” version was complete, and the newly designed coins were finally struck on a large-scale basis. While a mere 24 pieces of the “Extra High Relief” first-round coins, and 12,000 pieces of the “High Relief” second-round coins were produced, a whopping 362,000 of the Chief Engraver’s third-round “Low Relief” version were minted. Outside of a few tweaks – some minor, others notable – the Chief Engraver left Saint-Gaudens’s design largely intact.
Production of Double Eagles was paused in 1916, but resumed four years later in 1920 after WWI had ended and demand for the coin returned.
The Saint-Gaudens gold Double Eagle would continue to be struck for another 13 years, until 1933, when the gold standard in the U.S. – and across the globe – was effectively ended. While most gold coins were melted down in the years following, the U.S. Mint sent two 1933 Double Eagles to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Coin Collection, where they remain to this day.
Saint-Gaudens’s obverse design depicts Lady Liberty regally walking forward, holding a torch, representing enlightenment, in her right hand, and an olive branch, representing peace, in her left hand. A set of sunrays shines brilliantly behind her, and the stately U.S. Capitol building can be seen in the bottom left distance. The coin’s mint year sits to the bottom right, while the word “LIBERTY” traces the coin’s top edge.
Forty-six single stars originally lined the obverse’s rounded edge. In 1912, two new stars were added, symbolizing the joining of Arizona and New Mexico with the Union. The original placement of the pre-1912 stars was not adjusted, but rather, the two new stars were added on the outcropping at the lower right of the design.
The coin’s reverse portrays a glorious flying eagle traversing its own set of shining sun rays, with the words “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” lining the top edge of the coin and its face value, “TWENTY DOLLARS,” sitting just below. In 1908, the reverse design was adjusted to include the motto, “IN GOD WE TRUST,” after intense public outcry moved President Roosevelt to change his mind about omitting the phrase originally.