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Saint-Gaudens $20 Gold – 1907 – 1933

The History of the 1907-1933 Saint-Gaudens $20 Gold Coin

The origins of the Saint-Gaudens $20 Gold Double Eagle begin in Buffalo, NY. On September 6, 1901, President William McKinley was visiting the Pan-American Exposition, being held in Buffalo New York. McKinley was re-elected to a second term as President in 1900. Much like his Vice President, Teddy Roosevelt, McKinley fancied himself as a “man of the people.” He didn’t want his bodyguards to interfere with his meeting the voters of America. So he visited the Exposition with personal and political aides rather than with security.  

McKinley was inside one of the most popular attractions at the Exposition, the Temple of Music. As the President was shaking hands with visitors to the Exposition, he was approached by Leon Czolgsz, who was an unemployed glass-maker. Czolgsz was also a believer in the philosophy of anarchy and felt that McKinley was a symbol of oppression. Czolgsz had a .32 caliber revolver hidden in his handkerchief and as he approached McKinley who was trying to greet him, he fired two quick shots. One bullet grazed McKinley while the other lodged in his abdomen. Despite heroic efforts to save him, he died 8 days later and Vice President Teddy Roosevelt became the 26th President of the United States. Those fateful bullets had a direct impact on our gold coinage.

(The Assassination of President William Mc Kinley in 1901. Vice President Teddy Roosevelt ascended to the Presidency.)

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.

(President Theodore Roosevelt)

In a famous letter written by President Roosevelt, dated December 27, 1904, to L. M. Shaw, Secretary of the US Treasury, Roosevelt stated, “I think the state of our coinage is artistically of atrocious hideousness. Would it be possible, without asking permission of Congress, to employ a man like Saint-Gaudens to give us a coinage which would have some beauty?”

Roosevelt knew that changing circulating coin designs would require Congressional approval on some issues and that there would be an outcry from merchants and the public on others. But he was determined to elevate the status of America’s coinage.

There were, Shaw determined, 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.

(Augustus Saint-Gaudens)

Saint—Gaudens wanted to create something artistic and beautiful – a design that would be timeless and iconically American. 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 up on 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 AMERICA” 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 was 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 is 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 1907 Ultra High Relief $20 Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle – Pattern. Obverse [left] – Reverse [right])

The relief was lowered as a response to the complaints from merchants and from the Mint employees. While these coins are still in high relief, they are dramatically lower than the Ultra High Relief coins. There were 12,367 of these succeeding high-relief coins that were struck. From these dies, two High Relief varieties were created. The first one is a Roman Numeral High Relief Gold Double Eagle with a Wire Rim that is extremely sharp and knife-like. The second variety also is a Roman Numeral High Relief Gold Double Eagle with a Flat Rim. It is unknown how many of each there are but each variety is priced similarly even in Choice Uncirculated grade.

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 1907 High Relief Saint-Gaudens Gold Double Eagle – Obverse – [left] – Reverse [right].)

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.

(The 1907 Commercially-Approved Low Relief Saint-Gaudens $20 Gold Double Eagle – Obverse [right] – Reverse [left].)

In 1908 a debate arose as to 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.

(1908 $20 Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle, with Motto, Obverse [left] – Reverse [right])

In 1908 the Philadelphia Mint struck 156,258 examples with the Motto on the reverse of the coin. Denver struck 349,500 coins while San Francisco struck but 22,000 coins. In 1909, Philadelphia struck 161,282 coins but that includes an obvious overdate 1909/8 and a normal date.

Rarities include the following coins:

1920-S                                  558,000

                                               1921                                      528,500

                                               1926-D                                 481,000

                                               1927-D                                 180,000               

                                               1927-S                                  3,107,000

                                               1929                                      1,779,750

                                               1930-S                                  74,000

                                               1931                                      2,938,250

                                               1931-D                                 106,500

                                               1932                                      1,101,750

                                               1933                                      445,500

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 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, which refused to hear the case. The Mint now owns those specimens as well.

DateTypeMintageVF ValueUnc Value
1907Ultra High Relief, Plain EdgeUniquePricelessPriceless
1907Ultra High Relief, Lettered Edge2-5$1,000,000$2,500,000
1907High Relief, Wire Rim12,367$10,000$25,000
1907High Relief, Flat RimIncluded$10,000$25,000
1907No Motto361,667$1,500$3,000
1908No Motto4,271,551$1,400$1,800
1908-DNo Motto663,750$1,400$1,800
1908 to 1911-sMotto2,774,925 to 22,000$1,400$2,000
1912 to 1920Motto1,498,000 to 34,000$1,400$1,800
1922 to 1926Motto4,323,500 to 566,000$1,600$1,800
1927 & 1928Motto8,816,000 & 2,946,750$1,400$1,800

Expand your collection today and shop our assortment of $20 Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle Coins (1907-1933).

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