United States Mint Director Ed Moy announced plans to bring back the Saint-Gaudens’ original ultra-high relief Liberty $20 Gold Piece. (An excellent photo of the front and back of such a coin may be seen in the recent Heritage Auction press release, Proof Gold Stars at Heritage’s $10 Million Phoenix ANA Signature Auction.)
The Saint-Gaudens’ designed coins are thought by many to be the most beautiful ever minted in the U.S. The collector coin will be made in 24-karat gold and launched in 2009.
“We want to spur the highest level of artistic excellence in American coin design,” said Director Moy. “Recreating thousands of Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ ultra-high relief Double Eagles will be a defining moment in American coinage.”
The historical facts of the Saint-Gaudens design and resulting minted coins are intriguing. According to the United States Mint to Recreate a Masterpiece press release statement:
Maintaining the full artistic integrity of the Saint-Gaudens design was an arduous undertaking in 1907. The United States Mint’s first attempt-a 34-millimeter ultra-high relief coin with Roman numerals-required the coins to be ‘squeezed’ into a press and annealed numerous times. The coining process was impractical for mass production, and approximately 19 coins of this variety are known to exist. These coins are now mostly in private ownership.
The United States Mint’s second attempt to produce Saint-Gaudens’ design-a 27 millimeter, ultra-high relief coin with Roman numerals-was in fact two $10 Gold Eagle planchets melded together. The resulting coins were twice as thick. The United States Mint had no authority to strike coins of this specification in 1907, so it melted all but two or perhaps three of these coins.
The United States Mint’s third attempt-a high-relief, 34-millimeter coin with Roman numerals-produced a coin with reduced relief that required less metal flow to fill the design and was more practical for mass production. Approximately 12,000 coins were made for collection. Later, in 1907, an additional 361,000 coins with Arabic numerals and a lower relief were produced for circulation.
None of the 1907 variants bore the inscription, “In God We Trust.” The inscription, added in 1908, appears on the coin’s reverse directly above the sun. Production of the Saint-Gaudens $20 Gold Double Eagle continued until 1932. Production of the 1933 $20 Gold Double Eagle ceased, and only one was ever lawfully issued – some 70 years later. The new coin will have the inscription “In God We Trust” in the same position as 1908, when the inscription first appeared with this design.
Collectors of modern American Eagle Gold coins, like the recently released 2008 proof eagles, are very familiar with the front face of the original Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ design, as a rendition of it is used on the obverse or heads of all American Eagle Gold coins.