The classic Gold American Eagle is one of the most recognizable coins in the United States and around the world. This iconic part of American coinage has a vibrant history and will change designs later in 2021.
The coin's obverse boasts a design initially created by Augustus Saint-Gaudens for the pre-1933 U.S. gold double eagle coin. Born in 1848 in Dublin, Ireland, and raised in New York City, Saint-Gaudens would grow up to be a celebrated American sculptor known for the towering monuments, ornamental statues and numismatic designs created throughout his life. Following his artistic studies in America as a budding designer, Saint-Gaudens traveled to Europe to further his education and training, attending the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, followed by a stint in Rome, where he completed the first commissions of his career.
Later, Saint-Gaudens would be commissioned by one of America’s most legendary presidents, Theodore Roosevelt, to redesign, or “beautify,” our nation's coinage. Arguably the most iconic coin image he created, the Saint-Gaudens double eagle motif depicts Lady Liberty wielding the torch of enlightenment in her right hand and an olive branch of peace in her left while striding into the wind. This design represents America’s coming of age and shows the world the ideals and values the United States stands for and represents. The pre-1933 Saint-Gaudens coin image, which has been widely touted as one of the most beautiful coin designs in U.S. history, was struck on the nation’s $20 double eagle gold coin from 1907 until 1933. Saint-Gaudens’s double eagle Liberty scene was originally surrounded by 46 stars, representing the 46 states of the Union at the time of design. In 1912, upon the admission of two new states to the Union, Arizona and New Mexico, two additional stars were added to the double eagle obverse design. Today’s Gold American Eagle obverse features 50 stars lining the coin’s outer edge, symbolizing the 50 states that now make up the United States of America.
It could scarcely be more fitting that the figure to commission this iconic work of art would be one of our most famous presidents. Theodore Roosevelt wasn’t just another leader. As a child, he proved to be extremely sick and weak, and most people in his early life believed he wouldn’t survive to adulthood, let alone to become the bull moose we all know today. Roosevelt would go on to found the United States’ national park system, take up the mantle of the everyman, and would work to dismantle the trusts and monopolies that plagued our nation at the beginning of the 20th century. He would also go on to build up the United States navy, giving it the solid foundation needed to become the titan it is today.
Since the launch of the program in 1986, through the release of its March 2021 installment, the reverse of the Gold American Eagle coin has featured a scene in which a bald eagle presents an olive branch to its mate, who is shown wrapping her wing around the two birds’ offspring. In the latter half of 2021, the Gold American Eagle will be released for a second time within the same year and will feature a new reverse design.
Few probably could have foreseen that one of the most recognized symbols of America, the bald eagle, would one day become endangered, with populations that inhabit the North American continent experiencing severe threat to the species’ longevity thanks to the human use of the pesticide DDT. However, through the unwavering work of environmental conservation, one of Theodore Roosevelt’s greatest passions, the bald eagle was saved from the threat of extinction in North America and would eventually be taken off the endangered species list.
On the left side of the coin's reverse image, we have the words "E PLURIBUS UNUM," our nation's original motto, which means "Out of many, one." On the right side of the reverse design, the words "IN GOD WE TRUST," our nation's second and modern-day motto, are inscribed. This new motto was adopted in 1956 with the Congressional joint resolution Public Law 84-851, Chapter 795, and signed into law by President Dwight D. Eisenhower the same year.
This coin doesn't just represent America. It symbolizes the values and possibilities that we, as a nation, are constantly striving to achieve. While we progress ever nearer to these ideals, we realize the journey never ends, and we, as the people of the United States of America, will always be striving for that "more perfect Union."