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Press Release - March 4, 2004

Most Beautiful American Gold Coin Rarity Is Now Available for Sale by Heritage

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Dallas, Texas: Heritage Rare Coin Galleries has been selected to sell what numismatists generally agree is America's most beautiful gold coin: the Ultra High Relief Double Eagle gold rarity struck in 1907. Regular business strike examples of the $20 gold coin ("Double Eagle") designed by Augustus Saint-Gaudens (at the behest of President Teddy Roosevelt) are highly prized by coin collectors - in fact, the design is still being used by the U.S. Mint today. As first crafted by Saint-Gaudens, the coin displayed extraordinary high relief, so much so that the Mint encountered striking problems, and bankers encountered stacking problems. The design was changed slightly and the relief lowered later in 1907, and only the initial High Relief coins bear the 1907 date in Roman numerals.

Theodore Roosevelt did not have any traditional numismatic interests that would classify him as a collector of coins. He did, however, have a passionate interest in the then-current appearance of the nation's coinage, and he had a considerable interest in the history of American coinage. In 1888, he published a short essay entitled "Gouvernour Morris and Our Coinage." More than a century later, it still stands as the most readable explanation of the evolution of our country's coinage and the units of coinage peculiar to the American monetary system.

Although he had no training as an artist or as a numismatist, Roosevelt knew what he liked and didn't like. What he didn't like were the coinage designs by Charles Barber, one of the last proponents of Neoclassicism with his rigid and unimaginative so-called "Barber" design for the dime, quarter, and half dollar in 1892. Barber was following in the Neoclassicism traditions of the Mint that started in the 1830s with Mint Engraver Christian Gobrecht, and continued with James Longacre, Anthony Paquet, and William Barber (Charles' father). Teddy Roosevelt found Barber's shallow relief images and designs unimaginative.

One thing that Teddy Roosevelt liked was the sculptures done by Augustus Saint-Gaudens. He also approved of the artistic merit of ancient Greek coinage, with the high relief of their designs. After Roosevelt was elected "in his own right" in 1904, sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens was commissioned to design TR's inaugural medal in 1905, through connections he had made in the nation's capital. One of those connections was Henry Adams, the well-connected and well-traveled grandson and great-grandson of two American Presidents. It was through Adams that Saint-Gaudens met Secretary of State John Hay and President Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt was very pleased with the work done on his medal.

It was over dinner at the White House in the winter of 1905, that the President and Saint-Gaudens discovered they both believed that the execution and high relief of coins from the era of Alexander the Great had not been equaled in the 2,000 years since their minting. Roosevelt wanted to change the nation's coinage designs, and he wanted them to compare in beauty and relief with ancient Greek coins. In Augustus Saint-Gaudens he found a like-minded individual with the artistic abilities to give form to his ideas. It was at this dinner that Roosevelt offered Saint-Gaudens the commission to redesign the cent, ten dollar, and twenty dollar coins.

Saint-Gaudens expressed his willingness to accommodate the President, the Mint, and the country's commercial interests to produce an aesthetically pleasing coin worthy of the great Alexander:

    "I think that something between the high relief of the Greek coins and the extreme low relief of the modern is possible and as you suggest I will make a model with that in mind."
Over the next year and a half, the new gold coins passed from the design phase into production. But not without considerable difficulties along the way.

Two prototypes were required for both the ten and twenty dollar coins. Rim designs and relief that was too high caused delays in the release of the coins to the public. Both coins were modified from what Saint-Gaudens originally created. The rims on the ten dollar pieces were too high, and on the twenty the relief of the central image of Liberty was so high that the Ultra High Relief and the regular High Relief coins required multiple blows from a hydraulic press to produce a single, fully struck coin. His idea of compromise between his ideal coin and the relief required by the Mint for commercial needs was what we now know as the Ultra High Relief.

On May 11, 1907 Saint-Gaudens conveyed his disappointment to the President.

    "I am grieved that the striking of the die did not bring better results. Evidently it is no trifling matter to make Greek art conform with modern numismatics."
In order to bring up the full detail in the die, the Ultra High Reliefs required between nine and twelve blows from a hydraulic press, a press normally used for striking medals. The hydraulic press used 172 tons of pressure, and between each blow the coin was annealed - obviously a very time-consuming process. Only a trifling number of Ultra High Relief twenties were produced, with estimates ranging between 16 and 22 pieces.

The Ultra High Reliefs are the ultimate representation in coin form of the design by Saint-Gaudens that he envisioned for the country's largest denomination coin. It is reliably estimated today that survivors number in the high teens at best. This is one of the finest examples known of the most artistic coin ever produced by the U.S. Mint. Almost all of the known examples can trace their pedigrees back to President Roosevelt or Chief Engraver Charles Barber.

This piece represents a very rare opportunity to acquire what is unquestionably the most beautiful coin ever made. Price and inspection information is available upon request. For more information about the purchase of this singular numismatic treasure, please contact Greg Rohan, 1-800-872-6467 Ext. 300; or e-Mail him at

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Heritage handled the entire matter very professionally, as usual.
John Walzer,
Philadelphia, PA
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