1907 Ultra High Relief Twenty, PR58
1907 $20 Ultra High Relief, Sans Serif Edge, Judd-1907,
Pollock-2001, R.8 PR58 PCGS Secure. "I think it would be best
to know at once if there are not some inflexible modern
requirements that necessitate extreme flatness."
Judd-1907, Sans Serif Font on Edge
One of Only Two Such Coins Known
Augustus Saint-Gaudens to Treasury Secretary Leslie Mortier Shaw, January 2, 1906
This excerpt from Augustus Saint-Gaudens' letter establishes the tension that would carry forth for the next two years through the design and striking phases of the new twenty dollar gold coin. This tension would persist even after the sculptor's death in early August 1907. "Extreme flatness" is certainly not what Saint-Gaudens or the president wanted. From their first discussions in December 1904, it was understood that Saint-Gaudens would seek to imitate the extreme high relief of the coins from Ancient Greece. But he also understood that there were certain "practical limits to the relief of circulating coins" as Roger Burdette stated in his trilogy on his Renaissance of American Coinage. In Roosevelt's return letter to Saint-Gaudens, it is obvious he had spoken to Secretary Shaw about his desire to have a redesigned coinage in high relief:
"Shaw was really very nice about it. Of course he thinks I am a mere crack-brained lunatic on the subject, but he said with great kindness that there was always a certain number of gold coins that had to be stored up in vaults, and that there was no earthly objection to having those coins as artistic as the Greeks could desire. (I am paraphrasing his words, of course.) I think it will seriously increase the mortality among the employees of the mint at seeing such a desecration, but they will perish in a good cause!"
The tension continued when Mint Director George Roberts replied to Secretary Shaw, giving him a point-by-point reasoned response why modern coinage must be in low relief and suitable for a single strike by the press. He concluded by urging Saint-Gaudens to visit the Mint and "carefully examine the practical details of coinage operations before proceeding with his design." Both the president and Saint-Gaudens ignored Director Roberts' suggestions, and the designs continued along the lines of the three-dimensionality seen in the Shaw Memorial. Director Roberts softened his stance about the coinability of the proposed high-relief gold pieces, and by the end of 1906 he alone among senior Mint officials was ready and willing to at least try to strike a coin in high relief.
Casts and reductions were made, and in January 1907 Charles Barber, with considerable help from Henri Weil on the Janvier Reducing Lathe, began to cut a hub of the double eagle that had been prepared by Saint-Gaudens' assistant, Henry Hering, of the Ultra High Relief models. Barber knew striking a coin from the new dies would fail, but he was obliged to make an attempt.
Barber actually did complete the working dies for the twenty dollar, and on February 15, 1907 delivered the first Ultra High Relief twenties to Mint Director Roberts. To strike the coins, however, required seven blows and 150 tons of pressure from a hydraulic press that was normally used to produce medals. After the first three twenties were struck, the reverse die broke and Charles Barber had to make a new working die from the hub. New models were produced by Saint-Gaudens and sent to the Mint in the belief that the coins struck from these dies would only require one blow from the press. These were the coins we know today as High Reliefs, and the reality was it required three blows from the same medal press to fully bring up all the detail in the dies.
The Sans Serif font used on the tripartite collar on the edge of the earliest Ultra High Reliefs distinguishes this coin as one of the first struck. It is also known as the Type of 1906, and only one other example is known with this edge feature. This distinctive Sans Serif font on the edge was first discovered in 1992 by Paul Song, and three years later the second example turned up. Another distinctive feature of the edge lettering is that the collar impressed the lettering upside-down, meaning when the obverse is up the edge lettering is inverted, relative to the obverse. There are four different edge lettering formats known on Ultra High Relief twenties:
1. Plain Edge. Judd-1914, Pollock-2000. Believed unique.
2. 1906 Style Lettering. E*P*L*U*R*I*B*U*S*U*N*U*M*. Judd-1907 (formerly Judd-1778), Pollock-2001. Two known.
3. 1907 Style Lettering. *E*PLURIBUS*UNUM* Edge lettering read with reverse up. Judd-1909, Pollock-2002. R.6.
4. 1907 Style Lettering. *E*PLURIBUS*UNUM*. Edge lettering read with obverse up. Judd-1909, Pollock-2003, High R.7.
The significance of the edge lettering helps determine when an individual coin was struck. These magnificent pieces were struck in three groups, as set out by Roger Burdette on the USPatterns.com website:
Group 1, February 7-14, 1907 - 3 complete coins, 1 plain edge from cracked die.
Group 2, March to July, 1907 - 12 (or more) complete coins.
Group 3, December 31, 1907 - 3 complete coins.
The Group 1 coins with the edge of 1906 were struck with the same edge collar that Charles Barber used on his unique 1906 pattern twenty (that resides in the Smithsonian). Burdette states that there are a total of 19 individual pieces known, including the plain edge example from the Captain North set.
The rarity and desirability of the Ultra High Relief twenties was immediately recognized by collectors. Apparently the first auction appearance was in a 1920 Thomas Elder auction. Elder took great pains to describe the coin in an era when coin descriptions were notably brief. He also included his personal involvement in the production of these coins.
"This is the exceedingly rare one with the edge of double thickness and the 'deep dished center.' It is a perfectly finished coin in every respect, no ragged edges, a beautifully struck example with lettered edge. It is perfection. This is the coin which Theodore Roosevelt praised so highly to me in a letter making the first mention made of the new issues of $10 and $20 in 1905, when I was secretary of the Coinage Committee of the American Numismatic Society, which drew up the set of resolutions and submitted them to Mr. Roosevelt with a view to improving our coinage artistically."
Twenty-four years later, the Bell coin was offered and sold. Again, extended verbiage was accorded that coin. The cataloger in the Bell catalog included the design elements that make these coins immediately recognizable as something different from a regular High Relief.
"The deep concave reaches to the very edges thus eliminating a border around the coin and creates an exceedingly high wire edge making the coin thicker on the edge by one full millimeter (4 mm.) than the designs that followed (3 mm.) and 1 ½ mm. thicker than the issues which bear the Arabic Numerals (2 ½ mm.). The high relief makes both the standing figure of Liberty, the Eagle and Rays more pronounced. The capitol in the background is somewhat smaller."
The Bell coin realized $2,800 in a time when a regular High Relief could be regularly purchased at auction in the $100 range.
Listed below is the most complete roster of Ultra High Relief twenties we have been able to compile. This roster builds on the one listed in USPatterns.com.
Roster of MCMVII Ultra High Relief Double Eagles
1. PR58 NGC. New York Sale (Sotheby's, 12/1992), lot 837; Morrison/Licht Collection (Stack's, 3/2005), lot 1538; Southern Collection; Samuel Berngard/S.S. New York Collection (Stack's, 7/2008), lot 4242; 74th Anniversary Sale (Stack's, 11/2009), lot 1983; the present coin. Inverted edge lettering, discovery coin with Sans Serif style of 1906.
2. Impaired Proof, AU Uncertified. United States and Foreign Coins (Sotheby's, 6/1995), lot 485. Inverted edge lettering, Sans Serif style of 1906.
3. Chief Engraver Charles Barber; Arthur J. Fecht; American Numismatic Society. Normal edge lettering.
4. PR67 (Uncertified). Mint Cabinet in 1907; National Numismatic Collection, Smithsonian Institution. Normal edge lettering.
5. PR66 (Uncertified). Theodore Roosevelt, Cornelius Van Schaak Roosevelt; National Numismatic Collection, Smithsonian Institution in 1962. Normal edge lettering.
6. PR65 (Uncertified). Robert Schermerhorn; Stack's; Josiah K. Lilly; Lilly estate; National Numismatic Collection, Smithsonian Institution in 1968. Normal edge lettering.
7. Joseph Mitchelson; Connecticut State Library in 1913. Normal edge lettering.
8. Gem Brilliant Proof 67, uncertified. Mathieu, Townsend, et al. Collections (Thomas Elder, 11/1920), lot 1755b; John H. Clapp; Clapp estate; Louis Eliasberg, Sr. in 1942, via Stack's; Eliasberg estate; United States Gold Coin Collection (Bowers and Ruddy, 10/1982), lot 1021; Mike Brownlee; Harry Bass, Jr.; Harry Bass, Jr. Research Foundation. Normal edge lettering.
9. Gem Roman Finish Proof, Uncertified. Yale University; Empire Coin Company in 1960; Abner Kreisberg; Lichtenfels/Linder Collections (Kreisberg/Schulman, 2/1961), lot 1417; Primary Bartle Collection (Stack's, 10/1985), lot 822. Normal edge lettering.
10. PR69 PCGS. ANA Convention Auction (Jim Kelly, 8/1956), lot 1773; Dr. John E. Wilkison; Paramount; A-Mark; Auction '80 (Paramount, 8/1980), lot 977; Ed Trompeter; Trompeter estate; Heritage Auctions private sale in 1999; Phillip Morse Collection (Heritage, 11/2005), lot 6522, realized $2,990,000; Baltimore Sale (Stack's Bowers, 6/2012), lot 4438. Normal edge lettering; Joint Venture -- Don Kagin and Rare Coin Wholesalers.
11. Public Auction Sale (Stack's, 6/1979), lot 781; Kagin's. Normal edge lettering.
12. Roman Finish Proof. Theodore Roosevelt; Daniel J. Terra; Theodore Ulmer Collection (Stack's, 5/1974), lot 546; Manfra, Tordella and Brookes. Normal edge lettering.
13. PR68 PCGS. Mint Cabinet in 1907; Saint-Gaudens family; Albert Holden circa 1907; Emery May Holden Norweb; R. Henry Norweb, Jr.; Rarities Sale (Bowers and Merena, 1/1997), lot 353; Dwight Manley; (Ira and Larry Goldberg, 5/1999), lot 885; Tangible Assets, Inc.; Benson Collection, Part III (Goldberg's, 2/2003), lot 2178. Normal edge lettering.
14. Gem Roman Finish Proof, Uncertified. H. Jeff Browning; Dallas Bank Collection (Sotheby's/Stack's, 10/2001), lot 50. Normal edge lettering. Possibly the same as number 12.
15. PR68 PCGS. Frank J. Hein; Hein Family Collection, offered at the 2000 ANA convention by sealed bid, unsold; FUN Signature (Heritage, 1/2007), lot 3258, realized $1,840,000; Simpson Collection. Normal edge lettering. Possibly the same as one of the specimens listed above.
16. A-Mark (Steve Markoff); Bowers and Ruddy Galleries; Abe Kosoff; Sam Bloomfield; Sam and Rie Bloomfield Foundation (Sotheby's, 12/1996), lot 60, Southern Collection. Inverted edge lettering.
17. Choice Proof 65 (Uncertified). Colonel E.H.R. Green; Stack's; King Farouk; Palace Collections of Egypt (Sotheby's, 2/1954), lot 296; Abe Kosoff; Abe Kosoff Collection (Bowers and Merena, 11/1985), lot 848. Inverted edge lettering.
18. Roman Finish Proof 65+ (Uncertified). Chief Engraver Charles Barber; Captain Andrew North cased set; exhibited by Stack's at 1956 ANA Convention; private collection; Stack's in 1980; set purchased by NERCG for $1 million; Boston Jubilee (New England Rare Coin Galleries, 7/1980), lot 323; Auction '85 (Superior, 7/1985), lot 983. Inverted edge lettering.
19. Chief Engraver Charles Barber; Captain Andrew North cased set; Stack's exhibited the case at the 1956 ANA convention; private collection; Stack's again offered the set in 1980; purchased by NERCG for $1,000,000; John Dannreuther; private collection; Swiss Banking Corporation, per Goldberg's 5/1999 catalog. Unique specimen with no edge lettering.
A. A specimen in the possession of Mint Director Frank Leach in December 1907.
B. A specimen in the possession of Secretary of the Treasury George Courtelyou in December 1907.
C. Jerome Kern Collection (B. Max Mehl, 5/1950), lot 626.
D. Colonel E.H.R. Green; Stack's; J.F. Bell Collection (Stack's, 12/1944), lot 867A; C.T. Weihman.
E. Colonel E.H.R. Green owned at least two more specimens, aside from the coins specifically attributed to him above.
F. Chief Engraver Charles Barber reportedly owned five specimens in addition to the three coins specifically attributed to him above.
To anyone who has seen a regular High Relief, this piece will be immediately recognized as something different. The "deep dished center" described by Thomas Elder more than 90 years ago is pronounced. The thicker edge is apparent even in a PCGS holder, and of course, the smaller Capitol building is a design feature that was enlarged on the regular High Relief twenties and all the reduced relief issues that followed. Each side displays the bright yellow-gold finish seen on all Ultras, a result of repeatedly annealing the coin between each of the seven blows from the press. The result was a thin layer of pure gold over each side that gives these pieces their unique finish. Housed in a new PCGS holder with clear tabs, it is easy with the aid of a magnifier to see the Sans Serif font used on the edge, thus dating this as one of the first three Ultra High Reliefs struck between February 7 and February 14, 1907. Undoubtedly carried as a pocket piece by some early recipient, we can only wonder who that person was. The slight evidence of handling has surprisingly little effect on the overall presentation of this extraordinary coin, and we see no contact marks worthy of singular mention. (NGC ID# 4ZP8, PCGS# 81954)
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