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The $20 Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle (An "Eagle" being $10, and therefore a "Double Eagle" being worth $20), has a long and rich American History steeped in "Progress" which was at the forefront of ideas being brought to fruition by the politicians heading the young United States at the time. For instance, it was President Theodore Roosevelt who was the driving force to create this coin, in order to replace the $20 Liberty Double Eagle which he found unfitting in design and execution to represent the wealth of his great nation; he wanted a "Beautiful" coin that would better represent the power, technology, and artistic talents that were growing in the United States.
Less than three decades later, it would be then President Franklin Delano Roosevelt who would not only end the production of these amazingly beautiful coins, but he would also recall them through his Executive Order 6102 which required American Citizens to turn in the majority of their gold coins in exchange for paper Federal Reserve Notes, all again in the name of "Progress".
In order for Theodore Roosevelt to bring the coin into existence, he had to jump some political hurdles. Many of the coins in circulation at the time were solidified in design and other details by Acts of Congress, and were not able to be changed solely by Presidential wishes. Fortunately for the coin world, the design of the Double Eagle was not subject to Congressional approval. Theodore Roosevelt called upon his personal friend and sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens to design the replacement for the $20 Liberty coin, also known as the "Coronet". Augustus Saint-Gaudens was the first artist to design a legal tender coin for the U.S. Government who was not an employee of the U.S. Mint.
The politics surrounding his choosing led to another first; due to theopposition he expected to receive during the design process from the U.S. Mint and it's Chief Engraver, Charles E.Barber, among others, Saint-Gaudens had the initial molds and models created in France! Perhaps part of the reason for the French connection was to keep the meddling of the U.S. Mint to a minimum as Saint-Gaudens complied with the desire of President Theodore Roosevelt to create a "High relief" design, or a design where the artwork was significantly raised above the rest of the coin, again a first for U.S. coins. Also an unfortunate footnote in the history of this coin, is the fact that Saint-Gaudens died of cancer before this coin design could ever be minted.
As one might expect from government bureaucracy fueled opposition, his designs were altered after his death, and many of the unique design elements, including the "Ultra High Relief" design of Saint-Gaudens, were changed. One change that didn't last for long, was the deletion of the words "In God We Trust" from the coin, another "First". After public outcry, Congress restored the "In God We Trust" motto to the coin for it's next minting.
Though others modified the artwork of Saint-Gaudens in the name of "Progress", his original vision lives on through the "Striding Liberty" as her likeness dominates the front of the coin as she carries and olive branch in one hand and a flaming torch in the other, her hair and gown being blown gallantly behind her. The obverse of the coin is a strong depiction of a Bald Eagle majestically gliding over the rays of a brilliant sun. The front of the coin will display the mintmark, if there is one, as well as the year of the minting, and the back of the coin will denote the Twenty Dollar value, as well as the "In God We Trust Motto" on all mintings after Congress intervened in 1907.
The $20 Saint-Gaudens coin is composed of 90% gold and 10% copper. The copper was alloyed to the gold in order to provide the coin with an extra hardness required for use as a currency destined for circulation amongst the public. Even though the copper did add a specific hardness, the $20 Saint-Gaudens coins will dent and scratch somewhat easily, and these imperfections will detract from the numismatic value of the coin. Congressional legislation mandated that the gold and silver that comprise the coin be mined within the borders of the United States of America.
Ultimately, the Saint-Gaudens design was minted at only four of the eight U.S. Mints. Originally, the Saint-Gaudens designed $20 coin was struck only in Philadelphia for it’s first year of production, 1907. There were several styles of the coin minted this year, including the very desirable “High Relief”and “Wire Rimmed” variations. The coin was also produced with Arabic numbering and different size letterings at the Philadelphia Mint in 1907.
By 1908, the Denver Mint was producing the $20 Saint-Gaudens gold coin, both with and without the “In God We Trust” motto. The San Francisco Mint produced only 22,000 of the Saint-Gaudens Double Eagles in 1908, and these specimens bring a very high premium today. In 2009 the West Point Mint produced a commemorative $20 coin to celebrate the Saint-Gaudens design, thus being the fourth and final mint to produce the striking coin.