A fabulous Superb Gem example of this scarce first-year type. The satiny surfaces display rich orange-gold coloration and are virtually pristine, even when examined carefully under magnification. The striking definition on both sides is as sharp as we have ever seen on any specimen of this early version of Augustus Saint-Gaudens' beautiful coin design. A remarkable High Relief double eagle, and one that will draw considerable attention from serious collectors and savvy coin dealers alike.
In 1905, President Teddy Roosevelt, arguably the president who took the most active and personal interest in our coinage designs, was sadly disappointed with the mediocre appearance of America's coinage designs of the era. The president had only recently taken an interest in ancient Greek coins, having just seen some on display, and he vocally lamented the fact that the coinage of his "bully pulpit" era was mainly plain and uninspired in comparison to those ancient works of numismatic art. Accordingly, Roosevelt contracted with his long time acquaintance, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, paying the sum of $5,000 to him to redesign the entire U.S. coinage spectrum, from the small bronze cent all the way up the denominational ladder to the large gold double eagle. Saint-Gaudens, America's most admired sculptor, kept his studio and family home in Cornish, New Hampshire (just a couple of hours from our office in downtown Wolfeboro), where he prepared the many sketches and working models for his ideas.
By the summer of 1907, Saint-Gaudens had nearly completed the work on the Indian $10 design as well as the new $20 design (which was based on his statue of Victory, part of the Sherman Victory Monument which stands proudly today in New York City's Central Park). On August 3, 1907, Saint-Gaudens succumbed to cancer without having seen an example of his work in its legal tender form; his stunning design was finished by his assistant, Henry Hering. Meanwhile, a great "war" of words and bombast (Roosevelt called it his "pet crime") had broken out between the Mint and Charles Barber on one side, and the "Ol' Rough Rider," President Roosevelt, on the other. Barber was gravely upset that Roosevelt had unkind words for his dime, quarter, and half dollar designs (which had circulated as current coin of the realm since 1892), and he was also incensed over the fact that an outside artist had been chosen to redesign our country's coinage. Further, Barber protested that the high relief of the dies would prevent the coins from striking, stacking at banks, and on and on, causing Roosevelt to state that the MCMVII $20 coins would be produced if it took all day to strike just one coin!
Despite the outright audacity of Barber's shenanigans, the MCMVII High Relief double eagles were eventually produced to the tune of several hundred pieces a day, though not without difficulties -- each coin needed three blows from the dies to be rendered to its full design advantage. In time, however, some 12,367 High Relief MCMVII double eagles were produced to the "Ol' Rough Rider's" satisfaction. Barber then redesigned the dies, making them flatter in depth and considerably less dynamic in appearance, a style that continued through the demise of the series in 1933.
PCGS Population: 19; 4 finer.