Born in Ireland, Augustus Saint-Gaudens moved to New York City with his family before the age of one. From this beginning, he went on to become not only one of the greatest American sculptors of all time but also perhaps the most influential coin designer in American history.
Raised in New York City, Saint-Gaudens left the United States at the age of 19 and settled in Paris to study architecture before leaving for Rome three years later. Upon returning the US, Saint-Gaudens received numerous commissions, ranging from Civil War heroes to multiple sculptures of President Abraham Lincoln.
From Sculptures to Coins
Though he was most well known for his sculptures, Saint-Gaudens had a deep interest in coinage and numismatics. Near the beginning of the twentieth century, many American gold coins had not been changed significantly since the middle of the 1800’s and others even kept a similar design from the end of the eighteenth century. Because of this, President Theodore Roosevelt desired a renaissance in American coinage and turned to Saint-Gaudens.
The resulting coins are considered by many to be the most beautiful ever created in the United States, though that isn’t to say there weren’t some initial difficulties. Saint-Gaudens’ initial design for the $20 gold coin—now known as the Double Eagle—was so intricate that it took nearly a dozen strikes to create. The first run in 1907 was deemed too difficult for a large production and now only nineteen of these coins are in existence.
The 1908 run was also difficult. Although minted, the US Mint wasn’t authorized to create a coin of that size and only a couple remained after the rest were melted down. The third attempt was more successful, although only 12,000 of these were created.
The 1933 Double Eagle
Saint-Gaudens not only changed the way American coinage was designed, but he also created the most valuable American coin ever minted — The Double Eagle of 1933.
Due to the confiscation of gold that was ordered in 1933, nearly all the Double Eagle coins of that year were melted. Only a few dozens escaped and one ended up in the hands of King Farouk of Egypt.
Although other 1933 Double Eagles had been confiscated over the years, the United State Mint came to an agreement to allow this coin to remain in private hands and it was sold in 2002 for over seven and a half million dollars.
Even when he wasn’t designing coins himself, Saint-Gaudens had a large influence. His pupil Bela Lyon Pratt, for example, designed the $2.50 “Incuse” Indian Head coin, considered by many to be one of the most unique designs for an American coin.
Contact the US Gold Bureau today to inquire about our gold coins, including those designed by Saint-Gaudens.