1907 PR66 Wire Rim High Relief
1907 $20 High Relief PR66 NGC. Whether in proof format or as
high-grade "circulation strike" format, the MCMVII High Relief
coinage represents the pinnacle of Augustus Saint-Gaudens'
numismatic legacy for those collectors unable to obtain one of the
fabulously expensive Ultra High Relief proof coins.
The impetus for the creation of the Ultra High Relief and High Relief coinage was, according to the thrice-told tale, the dinner conversations of Saint-Gaudens and President Theodore Roosevelt where they expressed admiration for the high-relief coinage of the ancient Greeks. Saint-Gaudens, tasked with coinage redesign, turned to the Greeks for artistic inspiration (and re-creation), modeling the Liberty that ultimately ended up walking in full stride on the twenty dollar coin. (The same figure is seen in profile only on the ten dollar Saint-Gaudens, with the gratuitous Indian headdress that Roosevelt insisted upon.)
The artistic lineage for all of those Nike-Liberty-Victory figures of Saint-Gaudens traces back to the famous Winged Victory of Samothrace (or Nike of Samothrace), the second-century B.C. armless-headless statue now prominently ensconced in in the Louvre. (Earlier versions that Saint-Gaudens produced of the female figure for the twenty dollar coin are shown with prominently spread wings; see Cornelius Vermeule's Numismatic Art in America, second edition, pages 106-107.)
But for all of its deserved fame, the Winged Victory of Samothrace itself owes an artistic debt to the Nike of Paionios, an ancient Greek statue found at the Temple of Zeus in Olympia, Greece, designed by the artist Paionios and constructed in marble around 421 B.C. F.B. Tarbell, in his History of Greek Art, describes the statue in this way:
"The goddess is represented in descending flight. Poised upon a triangular pedestal about thirty feet high, she seems all but independent of support. Her draperies, blown by the wind, form a background for her figure. An eagle at her feet suggests the element through which she moves. Never was a more audacious figure executed in marble. Yet it does not impress us chiefly as a tour de force. The beholder forgets the triumph over material difficulties in the sense of buoyancy, speed, and grace which the figure inspires."
Saint-Gaudens' lasting legacy is that he nonetheless managed for his artistry, on the gold coins and elsewhere, to borrow from the past (his own designs and those of others) while looking steadfastly to the future. Vermeule sums up his gold coin designs this way:
"Almost overt in their dependence on Hellenistic antiquity, the $10 and $20 gold coins designed by Saint-Gaudens still managed to emerge as perhaps the greatest statements of Americanism in the official minor arts."
The present piece, certified as a PR66 by NGC, shows the characteristics of the proof strikes as enumerated in the Walter Breen Proof Encyclopedia (page 209 of the revised 1989 edition) and repeated in the Robert Loewinger reference on proof gold (pages 76-77).
This is a magnificent proof with glowing, satiny mint luster. Light reddish patina covers each side. The only mentionable flaw is what appears to be a looping strike-through at the end of the eagle's tail feathers. Census: 22 in 66 (3 in 66+), 14 finer (8/12). (NGC ID# BYCE, PCGS# 9132)
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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.
Each date and mintmark is reviewed with up-to-date information, much of which has never been previously published. The book is based on
two extraordinary collections: The Phillip H. Morse collection and the Dr. and Mrs. Steven L. Duckor collection.
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