The History of Saint-Gaudens’ “Double Eagle” Coins
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The History of Saint-Gaudens’ “Double Eagle” Coins

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Produced from 1907-1933, the St. Gaudens’ “Double Eagle” coins are held to be the most beautiful coins in US History. Their extraordinary quality and beauty have long made them a popular item among numismatists. The obverse of the Double Eagle features Lady Liberty, who clutches an olive branch and the Torch of Freedom. On the reverse, a majestic eagle soars before a rising sun.

St. Gaudens’ Ground-Breaking Design

Designed by Augustus St. Gaudens, these coins were originally commissioned by US President Theodore Roosevelt, who wanted to beautify American coinage. After receiving Roosevelt’s commission, St. Gaudens only lived long enough to create two complete designs: the Indian Eagle and the Double Eagle. The latter is still used on American gold bullion coinage.

St. Gaudens conceptualized the Double Eagle in ultra high relief. Their first mintage, in 1907, preserved this feature, but subsequent strikes used an adapted, lower relief design to make minting and stacking the coins easier. A few high-relief coins entered circulation, but the vast majority were destroyed.

The design of the Double Eagle is unique not only because it was the first to feature the mintmark on the obverse side, but also because it was the first US coin to use Roman numerals for the year. This feature was found only in the early 1907 coins; after that, traditional Arabic numerals were used.

Controversy Surrounds the Double Eagle

In 1907 and 1908 many Double Eagles went into circulation without the motto, “In God We Trust,” because Roosevelt believed that the motto profaned God’s name. During the sessions of 1908, however, Congress passed an act requiring all coinage that had once featured the motto to reintroduce it in future strikes. From that point on, the Double Eagle included the motto.

To mitigate financial woes after the Great Depression, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt ended the gold standard in the United States in 1933. At that time, almost all the Double Eagles from the past four years were melted down. Roughly twenty to thirty of the coins escaped, and one ended up in Egyptian King Farouk’s world-renowned collection. When his collection was auctioned off, the Double Eagle never made it to the block, most likely because it was illegal to own it. When the coin resurfaced in 2002, it was auctioned by Sotheby’s for $7,590,020, making the 1933 Double Eagle the most valuable coin in the world.

The Double Eagle’s Reemergence

In 1986, St. Gaudens’ obverse design was resurrected for use on US gold bullion coinage. The ultra-high relief design also saw rebirth this year, when the US mint began striking Double Eagles from .999 fine gold. The coins are struck for numismatic purposes; these ultra-high relief Double Eagles are uncirculated-only issue. Production of 2009 Double Eagles will be limited only by the availability of gold blanks.

The outstanding beauty and incredible details of the American Double Eagle have made it a long-time favorite among collectors. As its tradition continues, St. Gaudens’ design will undoubtedly remain one of the finest in American numismatics.

This information is provided for general reference purposes and does not constitute professional advice. For detailed coin collecting or investing information, please consult with a professional expert.

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