Sensational 1907 High Relief Double Eagle, MS67+
1907 $20 High Relief, Flat Rim MS67+ NGC. This
sensational coin has a provenance tracing back directly to Frank
Leach, Mint Director in 1907 who oversaw the striking of the High
Relief double eagles.
The Frank A. Leach Specimen
When Leach assumed the office of Director of the Mint in Washington, D.C., in October 1907, he was quickly faced with a difficult challenge. His involvement in the gold design project had been relatively ignored in past references until Roger Burdette provided substantial details in Renaissance of American Coinage 1905-1908. In his autobiography, Recollections of a Newspaperman, Leach wrote (p. 373):
"Another very important matter was in hand in the bureau when I arrived at Washington, which was soon to cause me some anxiety, and that was the perfection of President Roosevelt's scheme for new designs for all the gold coins of our country."
The new designs that Leach mentions, are of course, the Indian Head eagle and the Striding Liberty double eagle, known today as the Saint-Gaudens double eagle after its designer. Augustus Saint-Gaudens prepared both designs at the encouragement of President Roosevelt, who first proposed the project in 1905. Leach continued:
"There were a number of prominent people in the East, especially in New York and Boston, who some time before began an agitation for an improvement in appearance of all our coinage. The President quickly became the leading spirit of the movement. The prevalent idea in this undertaking was that the design and execution of our coinage were inferior and inartistic when compared with those of ancient Greece; and as the coins used by a nation are one of the most enduring records of the art and mechanical skill of its age, our government should make an issue of coinage that would leave to future generations and ages something that would more truthfully and correctly reflect the artistic taste and mechanical ability of our day than the coinage then in use, unchanged for so many years."
The high relief concept from ancient Greek coins that President Roosevelt urged was impractical for modern coinage. The concept was that the designs would have a medallic effect much like those of ancient Greek coins. Leach provided a brief accounting of the history (p. 374), talking about the first model of the double eagle that is now known as the Ultra High Relief:
"It was early in the year 1905 that President Roosevelt authorized the Director of the Mint [George Roberts] to conclude a contract with the famous sculptor, Saint-Gaudens, to supply designs in high relief for the $20 and $10 gold coins. This was accomplished in July, but no designs were finally perfected that met the approval of the President until the early part of 1907. The first model was a design for the double eagle, or $20 piece. Dies from the model were made at the Philadelphia mint. On trial, the dies gave such a high relief to the figures on the design that all efforts to produce a perfect or satisfactory coin on the regular coining presses were ineffectual. A medal press was then resorted to, that the beauty of the design might be studied and be preserved in the shape of a coin, but even by this process it required about twelve blows or impressions in the press for each piece."
The Ultra High Reliefs were struck while George Roberts was Director of the Mint. Roberts left the Mint service in July 1907, and Leach began his service in October of that year. Former Mint Director Robert Preston handled the duties on a temporary basis between Roberts' departure and Leach's arrival. Meanwhile, Augustus Saint-Gaudens passed away from cancer in early August 1907, further complicating the process. In his 2006 reference, Roger Burdette describes an intermediate double eagle that he calls the "Very High Relief" coin, illustrated from models of the design. He notes that coins were struck but none are known today. Leach discussed that piece (p. 375):
"Saint-Gaudens then attempted to facilitate the work of coinage by supplying another or second set of models with the relief reduced to some extent, but satisfactory results were not obtained on the regular coinage presses. He then made a third model with still further and greater reduction of the high relief. The failure gave rise to considerable friction between the artist and the mint authorities. The President had become impatient and began to think that the mint officials were not showing a zeal in the work that promised results. It was at this stage of the undertaking that I came into the office of Director."
Today we understand that the friction Leach describes began long before the double eagle project, and dates back to the medals that Saint-Gaudens designed for the World's Columbian Exposition, a commission that Charles Barber felt he should have received as the Mint Engraver. The 1905 inaugural medal also contributed to that friction. The double eagle and eagle redesign project undoubtedly brought Barber's jealousy back into play, having festered for over a decade.
Leach recalls that President Roosevelt called for him even before he became familiar with his new surroundings. The president provided specific direction regarding production of the Saint-Gaudens design, and Leach was able to accomplish those goals. After Leach successfully accomplished the initial coinage of High Relief double eagles, the president requested that he have "enough of these coins within thirty days to make a distribution throughout the country, that the people may see what they are like." Leach continues (p. 376):
"I replied that we would be able to meet with his desire, although I explained that this issue would have to be struck on medal presses from the second design model, but that in a few weeks later we would have dies completed from model No. 3 with lower relief, so that the coins, when made, would meet the requirements of the bankers and business men in 'stacking,' etc., and these could be struck on the regular coin presses in the usual way."
While the third model was the standard Arabic Numerals coin in low relief, Leach followed his meeting with Roosevelt by ordering full-time production of High Relief double eagles on the medal press:
"I had every medal press in the Philadelphia mint put into operation on these coins with an extra force of workmen, so that the presses were run night and day. The officers of the Mint entered into the spirit of the work cut out for them, putting a zest into the operations which assured me that the issue of the new double eagles, so greatly desired by the President, would be made on time."
Obviously pleased, Roosevelt introduced Director Leach to several of his cabinet members as a "man who got results."
This incredible specimen has satiny obverse and reverse luster, exquisite detail, and brilliant light yellow surfaces. Both sides are essentially pristine, with only a few minuscule surface marks, and they can almost literally be counted on one hand. The obverse has a small splash of violet toning inside the lower border at 5 o'clock. It exhibits bold, swirling die polish lines on both sides with a complete absence of die erosion. The tripartite edge has incredible sharpness of all stars, letters, and horizontal striations between letters. Even the joints from the collar are boldly evident. The satin surfaces are uniform and radiant, without any radial flowlines. Both sides have incredibly sharp details. The obverse has full, unmarred facial features, completely separated and detailed fingers on both hands, and sharp pillars in the Capitol building. Even the microscopic skirt detail over both of Liberty's legs is clearly visible. Every feather on the reverse is sharply evident, including complete feather details to the very end of the eagle's tail.
The present example of the High Relief Saint-Gaudens double eagle has a provenance directly to Frank Leach, being the specimen owned for many years by his second son, Abraham Powell Leach. His widow from his second marriage, Florence (Plant) Leach inherited the coin upon his death in 1962, and she gave it in September 2000 as a gift to her nephew, Col. George Monroe, the consignor to this sale.
Ex: Frank Aleamon Leach; Abraham Powell Leach; Florence Gertrude Leach; Col. George Monroe.
From The Colonel George M. Monroe Collection.
See lots 5221, 5222, 5223, and 5238 for additional gold coins with the Leach provenance.(Registry values: N10218) (NGC ID# 26F2, PCGS# 9136)
View all of [The Colonel George M. Monroe Collection ]
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Revised Edition by James L. Halperin, Mark R. Borckardt, Mark Van Winkle, Jon Amato, and Gregory J. Rohan, with special contributor David W. Akers
The Coinage of Augustus Saint-Gaudens is an issue-by-issue examination of these two artistically inspired series of gold coins.
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