By the late 19th century, Augustus Saint-Gaudens was widely recognized as one of America’s finest sculptors. Such was his reputation that President Theodore Roosevelt personally commissioned him to design his 1905 Inaugural medal.(1)
Roosevelt was quite pleased with the result, and enlisted Saint-Gaudens as an accomplice in his “pet crime” of fashioning a new look for United States coinage.(2)
The president had a specific concept in mind: to mint high relief coins in the style of ancient Greece. “High relief” is a numismatic term to indicate the distance between the highest and lowest points of the coin is greater than usual: that is, the principal design elements have greater depth.(3)
Saint-Gaudens agreed, and thus began an extraordinary collaboration between the two men. While balancing matters of high importance to the nation, the president always devoted the time necessary to upgrade America’s image through her coinage.
The Saint-Gaudens $20 double eagle gold coin features a full length image of Miss Liberty walking forward, as if she is ready to step out of the coin. She holds aloft in her right hand a torch of enlightenment and her left hand presents an olive branch symbolic of peace. To the lower left, nearly concealed by her flowing gown, the dome of the U.S. Capitol Building is visible. The reverse is dominated by a majestic eagle in flight, bathed in sunlight.
The first trial samples of the Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle were struck in early 1907 and were notable for their ultra high relief and the Roman numerals MCMVII (for the 1907 date). These patterns were quite stunning in beauty and detail, but required nine hits on the coining press to achieve the desired effect.
The extra time required to raise the ultra high impression proved the need to rework the models to lower the relief. Before the necessary revisions were completed, Saint-Gaudens died in August 1907. The task of getting the new double eagle design into production fell wholly to his assistant, Henry Hering.
On September 28, Hering delivered the reworked pair of double eagle models to the Mint. The ultra high relief was lowered compared to the first models, but still considered high relief.
A total of 11,500 high relief double eagles were struck. Each coin received three to five blows to properly form up the relief. A very small “wire rim” was formed along the obverse and reverse perimeter of many of the 1907 high relief pieces, caused by metal being forced up between the dies and the restraining collar during repeated strikings. Not all collars were as loose fitting and struck pieces lacking the wire rim -- these are called “flat rim” examples.(4)
Although the “Wire Rim” and “Flat Rim” double eagles have been defined as separate varieties, their differences were not made intentionally. The “Wire Rim” is more abundant, but both varieties are worth about the same in the numismatic marketplace.
Unfortunately, the high relief of the standing figure of Liberty and the eagle rendered the coin impossible to stack well, making it unpopular with financial institutions. Moreover, as beautiful as the coin was, it was not practical for mass production. More design revisions were necessary.
The Mint fabricated dies of lower relief and substituted the Roman date with the more familiar Arabic numerals. Some of the high relief detail was lost, but the overall beauty of the coin remained mostly intact. Before the close of 1907, nearly 362,000 of these low relief double eagles were issued. Low relief was employed from that point onward until the series ended in 1933.(5)
High relief double eagles of MCMVII (i.e., 1907) are not especially rare, but because of their devoted following, prices are much higher than their bullion content.(6)
As a final tribute, the Saint-Gaudens design was so widely admired that it was resurrected for gold bullion coinage issued by the U.S. Mint starting in 1986.(7)
|Estimated survivors in all grades: 10,500
? The survivor estimate from PCGS represents an average of one or more experts' opinions as to how many examples survive of a particular coin in all grades. Survival estimates include coins that are raw, certified by PCGS, and certified by other grading services.
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|PCGS Rarity Scale: 2.9
? The 'PCGS CoinFacts Rarity Scale' assesses the relative rarity of all U.S. coins, based on estimated surviving examples. The scale runs from 1.0 to 10.0. The higher the number, the rarer the coin.
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