The 1907 dated Double Eagles designed by Augustus Saint-Gaudens are considered to be amongst the most beautiful coins ever struck by the United States Mint. The series design is the direct result of President Theodore Roosevelt’s desire for American coins to be as grand and beautiful as those of Ancient Greece. It took a number of years for Roosevelt’s wish to materialize, but eventually it would usher in a new era of American gold coinage. While very few coins were struck when the designer, Augustus Saint-Gaudens was still alive, his design has endured and continues in use up through the current day for the United States Mint’s popular gold bullion coin program.
The 1907 Saint-Gaudens Double Eagles can be categorized into three distinctive groups. The first are the so called Ultra High Reliefs, the first coins struck, and only known from a very limited number of coins that have survived. Technically, these are considered to be patterns, or test pieces struck before regular production commenced. Next were the 1907 High Relief Double Eagles, the first pieces struck for circulation. Despite the beauty of these pieces, they were considered too difficult to strike and soon were replaced. The third version with lower relief would be produced in the greatest numbers and continue to be struck until all gold coin production was ceased in 1933.
The relief of the 1907 Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle has played an extremely important role in the history of the issue. Much correspondence is known between Augustus Saint-Gaudens, President Roosevelt, and various people of the Mint, during different stages of the design process which commenced in 1904. From this correspondence we know that President Roosevelt considered this project to be his “pet crime”, and he appears to have been very much involved in the process, more so than any of his predecessors or successors when new coinage was introduced. During the initial correspondence, when the design of the coin had not yet been determined, Roosevelt mentioned to Saint-Gaudens the relief of Ancient Greek coins, much higher than contemporary American coinage at the time. It was Roosevelt’s wish that such a high relief would be created for the new twenty dollar gold pieces as well.
The Mint, and in particular Chief Engraver Charles Barber, strongly opposed the idea for a High Relief. Rightfully, they noted that it was extremely difficult to strike, that every coin would require multiple strikes, and that the costs of production per coin would rise dramatically. Later, when the first High Relief pieces were released into circulation, banks would also complain that the coins did not stack properly. The reason for this was that the devices were struck higher than the rims. This is the opposite of coins usually produced by the United States Mint. All of this created long delays in finalizing the design, while its creator Saint-Gaudens had been struck by cancer. He had come to the United States from France at a young age, and was considered to be one of the foremost artists of his time. Samples of his work can be found in sculptures and monuments across the United States and are considered to be prime objects of art from around the turn of the century. While the Ultra High Relief patterns were the only double eagles of his design which would be struck when he was still alive, his assistant Hering would finish the work, and even Barber contributed to it.
Key Date Coin Mintage
As previously mentioned the first 1907 Saint-Gaudens Double Eagles were the Ultra High Relief patterns. Different varieties exist, usually listed by Judd number, from the major reference book on United States Patterns. As even the ownership of a single Ultra High Relief Grade is a major numismatic accomplishment, very few collectors have ever pursued the different varieties, and it appears unlikely that such a set will ever be completed. As such, most interest in the different varieties comes from numismatic researchers, who have determined the order of striking by studying the surviving examples.
It is believed that approximately eighteen, or a slightly higher number of Ultra High Reliefs were struck in 1907 as trail pieces, each receiving nine strikes from the Mint’s hydraulic press. Two coins of the first group (believed to have consisted of three coins struck in February) featured experimental edge lettering, first used on a 1906 Double Eagle Pattern by Barber, with stars between every letter of E PLURIBUS UNUM. The die soon broke while striking a third piece, which shows a plain edge, as the edge lettering was not completed until the final strike of the die. Those of group two and three have a different edge, with stars only between the words. The second (struck between March and July 1907) and third groups (struck in December 1907) are only differentiated by the way the edge lettering is read; obverse up on the second group, reverse up on the third group.
After the first Ultra High Reliefs (first and second group) were struck, Saint-Gaudens passed away on August 9th and Hering continued working on lowering the relief. Roosevelt now grew extremely impatient, and ordered the coins to be struck and released, within an extremely short time. Production commenced in November 1907, and a total of 12,367 pieces were struck for circulation. These required a minimum of three strikes, although five strikes have also been reported. As such, most are sharply struck, although details might still show striking weakness.
It must be noted that most sources traditionally quote a mintage of 11,250 pieces. Modern research, however, has revealed that this number is incorrect. It is also believed that approximately fifty proofs were produced, although facts are vague. PCGS does not recognize them as such, although NGC does, and various diagnostics are considered. These not only include the sharpness of strike and surfaces of the coin, but also spacing of the edge lettering. It is very well possible that these were only struck more often on exceptionally nice planchets.
The High Relief 1907 Saint-Gaudens Double Eagles come in two distinctive varieties. These are the so called Wire Rim and Flat Rim pieces. While the difference is small it is usually noted in auction descriptions. Most coins (approximately 2/3rd of all survivors) are of the wire rim variety, with the rim slightly raised, and are believed to have been struck first. The flat rim coins are much scarcer and are believed to have been part of the final deliveries made of the 1907 Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle.
Finest Known and Values
Thanks to the beauty and popularity of the design since its initial issue, a number of 1907 Saint-Gaudens Double Eagles have survived in high grades. This is the case for both the Ultra High Reliefs (which were not struck for circulation) as well as the High Reliefs (struck for circulation although many were saved soon after striking and a large part of the original mintage survives). Both PCGS and NGC have graded a single Ultra High Relief (with lettered edge, from the second group) in PR-69. While listed in both population reports this is actually the same coin that have been submitted to both grading services. This is a common occurrence and appears to have happened with various Ultra High Reliefs. For this reason the population reports of both PCGS and NGC should be read with care. In total, it is believed that a maximum of fifteen Ultra High Relief patterns are still in existence.
This PR-69 Ultra High Relief Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle is considered to be among the most beautiful coins that have ever been struck by the United States Mint and last sold at public auction for $2,990,000 in November 2005, when it was in PCGS holder. This coin is only surpassed by the 1933 double eagle as the most valuable coin of the series. Other Ultra High Reliefs have regularly brought over a million dollars at public auction. Even a circulated specimen in EF condition sold for almost a half million dollars in 2005. As can be expected of a coin issue of this rarity, offerings are very scarce and is always considered to be among the numismatic highlights of any given year.
The 1907 High Relief Saint-Gaudens Double Eagles are not as rare as the patterns that preceded them but remain extremely popular regardless of condition. Both PCGS as well as NGC designate the two rim varieties. Both major grading companies have certified a single wire rim examples as MS-69, although it is possible that this is again the same coin. That grade level is not reached for the flat rim variety, where PCGS has graded a single MS-68 as the finest known, with NGC’s population report showing two coins in that grade. Again, it is possible that these numbers include resubmissions. The highest price realized for a wire rim High Relief is $575,000, when the PCGS MS-69 sold in November 2005. At later auctions, the same coin sold for $546,250 and $517,500. The highest price for a flat rim example was achieved when a NGC MS-68 sold for $322,000 in July 2008.
The coins certified by NGC as Proofs have a slightly different story. The finest known is graded PR-69, which sold for $534,750 in November 2005. Various coins have also been graded in lower Proof grades. As PCGS does not certify any High Reliefs as Proofs the market is somewhat limited, although most specialized collectors have accepted these Proofs as such, making them very collectible pieces. As for the circulation strikes, most are in gem condition, or close to gem condition, and are relatively easily found. Due to the high demand, however, they remain expensive in any market. Circulated pieces are sometimes encountered, usually with only little wear on the highest points, as it appears that very few 1907 Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle gold coins circulated for very long.