A particularly lovely example of what many collectors consider to be the most beautiful of all regular-issue U.S. coin designs -- one glance at the present specimen may convince a "doubting Thomas" that such is the case. Deep yellow surfaces exhibit bold luster and soft orange highlights. Mark-free to the unassisted eye, and able to withstand magnified scrutiny as well. The high relief details are extraordinarily sharp in this incarnation, exactly as envisioned by sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, who kept his studio in Cornish, New Hampshire in his later years. Saint-Gaudens, whose work also includes the Indian eagle design of 1907 to 1933, was commissioned by Teddy Roosevelt to redesign the entire spectrum of U.S. coinage from the cent through the double eagle. Saint-Gaudens set upon this challenge with alacrity, and soon had working models for both the eagle and the double eagle. His work was cut short by cancer, however, and he passed away in Cornish on August 3, 1907, before seeing his classic double eagle design become circulating coin of the realm. Choice for the grade and impressive in nature, the present Gem will attract plenty of bidding activity.
Numismatic Reflections by Q. David Bowers
With a nod to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Twice Told Tales, and acknowledging that the story of this coin is well known, I take a minute or two of your time to give a reiteration:
In 1904 President Theodore Roosevelt had occasion to visit the Smithsonian Institution in the “Castle” building a short walk from the White House. On display were coins of ancient Greece, this in an era before the Mint Collection was moved there (in the 1920s). He contemplated the array of beautiful designs before him. Upon consideration, he reflected that current United States silver and gold coinage was rather unappealing from an artistic viewpoint (never mind that we all dearly love Liberty gold coins, Morgan dollars, and Barber silver today!). On his own he contacted Augustus Saint-Gaudens, America’s best-known sculptor, who had his studio in Cornish, New Hampshire, and was working on various commissions. Today his home, studio and grounds comprise a National Historical Site well worth visiting in the warmer months. Roosevelt suggested that the entire United States coin spectrum be redesigned from the cent to the double eagle. Saint-Gaudens took up the commission, valued at $5,000, and set about making sketches and models. As fate would have it, the sculptor was in declining health, his condition worsened, and by early 1907 had created detailed motifs for only the $10 and $20 pieces. He passed away on August 3 of that year.
Charles E. Barber, the chief engraver of the Philadelphia Mint, vigorously protested Roosevelt’s interference in the Mint’s normal prerogative of creating whatever designs it pleased. Taking up the challenge, Roosevelt called the project his “pet crime.” As models were finessed and dies in high relief were completed, Barber stated that the coins would be virtually impossible to strike in quantity. The riposte from Roosevelt was that he didn’t care if only one coin per day could be struck, that is how it would be! A compromise was effected, and slightly over 12,000 MCMVII High Relief $20 pieces were struck in 1907 and from the same dies early in 1908. Afterward, the design was modified by flattening the motifs, eliminating the Roman numerals and making certain other changes.
Over a long period of years various surveys in the numismatic field have ranked this as the most beautiful of all circulating coinage designs. I estimate that perhaps 6,000 are known, or about half the mintage, as these were appreciated in their own time and many were saved. However, relatively few can match the quality of the coin offered here.