$20 Saint-Gaudens Gold Double Eagle
The assassination of President William McKinley in 1901, allowed Teddy Roosevelt to become the next president. Roosevelt finished McKinley’s term and in 1904 he ran for President for the first time. Roosevelt, unlike McKinley, sought to leave his imprint on America. He had a long list of priorities. One of those priorities was to change America’s Gold coinage. Roosevelt believed that the impressive high-relief ancient gold coins of Greece and Rome were the pinnacle of numismatic beauty and style. The current American Liberty Head Gold Coin series, created by James B. Longacre, was dull, boring, and unimaginative. Although these coins were the “commerce of the day” they still should represent America and portray our nation’s beauty and majesty.
There were five coins whose designs could be changed without Congressional approval. These were the one cent coin, and the four currently minted gold coins: $2.50 Quarter Eagle, $5.00 Half Eagle, $10.00 Eagle, and the $20.00 Double Eagle.
Unlike all of his predecessors’ busts of Miss Liberty, Saint-Gaudens created a Miss Liberty with a sense of motion. A standing full-body Miss Liberty directly faced the viewer. In her right hand she held the torch of Liberty and in her left hand an olive branch. She is wearing a flowing gown, standing with one leg upon a rock. In the distance, the city of Washington DC can be seen as evidenced by the US Capitol Building. Rays emanate from the sun that is behind Miss Liberty and above her is the motto “LIBERTY.” There are 46 six-pointed stars around the periphery, representing each state in 1907. The date is represented in Roman Numerals.
The reverse had a majestic American eagle in flight. Above her were the legends “UNITED STATES IF ANERICA” and the denomination, “TWENTY DOLLARS.” As the eagle is in flight, she is illuminated by the rays of the sun.
Both the figure of Miss Liberty and the American eagle were designed and struck in Ultra High Relief. As majestic as it made those coins, they were imperfect for commerce. They could not stack or be struck easily due to the extremely high relief. The mintage numbers of these Ultra High Relief coins are extremely small and unknown. The few surviving coins that embody Saint-Gaudens’ actual vision are considered Patterns they are so rare. The motto “E PLURIBUS UNUM” and stars surround the edge.
The relief was lowered as a response to the complaints from merchants and from the Mint employees. Even these coins pleased Roosevelt and Saint-Gaudens, but they were truly impractical for business usage, so a significantly lower relief coin was finally designed.
The final version of the commercial product not only had the relief significantly lowered but also had the date changed to Arabic Numerals. Some 361,667 coins were minted in 1907. In 1908, coins were struck at both the Philadelphia and Denver Mints striking 4,271,551 coins and 663,750 coins, respectively.
In 1908 a debate arose as whether to add the motto “IN GOD WE TRUST” to the Double Eagle or not. President Roosevelt was steadfastly against it. Roosevelt had specifically requested Saint-Gaudens not to put the motto on the new coins as he felt it was a debasement of the Deity’s name. Saint-Gaudens happily omitted the motto as he felt the words detracted from the design elements.
The public, on the other hand, raised an enormous outcry about the omission of the motto, and it forced Congress to order the motto to appear. Charles E. Barber, the Chief Engraver of the US Mint did not like coin designs from outsiders, so he happily modified the coin to include the motto. The motto was added in one arc between the sun and its rays on the reverse of the coin. All subsequent coins would carry the motto until the end of the US Gold coinage series occurred in 1933.
Although the mintages of many of these dates were significantly high, many were not released to the public from the Mint and subsequently they were melted under President Franklin Roosevelt’s Executive Order to recall the majority of our gold coins and return them to the Mint for exchange and then melting. The obverse design was reused on the 1986 American Eagle Gold Bullion coin and subsequent years.
The 1933 coin holds a special allure. It was believed that all 445,500 coins were melted in 1933 and no coins were legally issued. The Secret Service has confiscated coins over the years. Two of the coins were sent directly to the Smithsonian before the rest were melted. But it is believed that some 10-20 coins were received from the Mint, legally or illegally. One coin was in the possession of King Farouk of Egypt. After the King’s death the coin remained underground until it surfaced in NY in the 1990s. After much legal wrangling, the proceeds of nearly $7.6 million dollars were split between the Treasury Department and the public owners. Ten specimens were submitted to the Mint by the heirs of a Philadelphia jeweler who claimed to have received them legally in 1933 before Roosevelt’s order. The Mint authenticated the coins but refused to return them. The case went as high as the US Supreme Court, who refused to hear the case. The Mint now owns those specimens as well.