U.S. Mint to Strike Ultra High Relief Saint-Gaudens for Collectors in 2009

Posted on 3/18/2008

The U.S. Mint will strike a 24-karat version of the 1907 Ultra High Relief Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle for sale to the public in 2009.

Click images to enlarge. Photograph courtesy of Tom Mulvaney for the Smithsonian Institution.

According to a March 13, 2008 press release, the U.S. Mint will strike a 24-karat version of the 1907 Ultra High Relief Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle for sale to the public in 2009. The coin will be 27-millimeters in diameter, or the diameter of a $10 gold piece from the period 1838 to 1933. Few other details have been released.

“We want to spur the highest level of artistic excellence in American coin design,” said Mint Director Ed Moy in the US Mint’s press release. “Recreating thousands of Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ ultra-high relief Double Eagles will be a defining moment in American coinage.” Few other details have been released thus far.

A Very Brief History of the 1907 Ultra High Relief Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle

Theodore Roosevelt was a U.S. president whose ardent pursuit of excellence encompassed the nation’s coinage. He personally selected Augustus Saint-Gaudens, the most famous American sculptor at the turn of the 20th century, to create a series of U.S. coin designs based on their mutual admiration of the high-relief coinage of ancient Greece.

The first coin slated for redesign was the Double Eagle, or $20 gold piece. Prior to the start of regular production in 1907, the Mint made about two dozen breathtaking proof specimens with extremely high — or “ultra-high” relief, acting under direct orders from President Roosevelt. The edges are roughly twice as thick as those on the standard specimens eventually produced for circulation, and the fields are unusually concave, connecting directly with the edges without a border. The coins possess astonishing detail — the consequence of receiving seven blows apiece from the dies at a pressure of 150 to 170 tons. The late Walter Breen, a renowned numismatic scholar, observed that “only these faithfully represent Saint-Gaudens’ conception, cherished as the stunning climax of American coin design.” While Breen likely never saw Saint-Gaudens’ final concepts, he presumably makes this statement because of the strong and expressive sculptural qualities of the Ultra High Relief, which is lacking in subsequent lower relief versions.

Encapsulated Coin
Both extant experimental Ultra High Relief $20 gold pieces with $10 diameter are housed in NGC re-closeable museum holder developed for the Smithsonian. Click image to enlarge.

A second experimental trial of this most beautiful American coin had the diameter of the $10 gold piece. By reducing the diameter, coiners attempted to produce a version that would be much easier to strike. No Congressional authorization allowed for coins of this size to be issued for circulation. This would have presented an additional barrier to its production, and all but two were melted. They both reside in the National Numismatic Collection.

See the Mint’s full release on their Web site.