Twenty dollar Saint-Gaudens

The 20 St. Gardens Double Eagle is a US $20 gold coin minted from 1907 to 1933. Considered the most beautiful coins in circulation in the United States[1]. They have several varieties.

Theodore Roosevelt, in an effort to make American coins more beautiful and aesthetically attractive, in 1904 invited Saint-Gaudens to start preparing new coin types. Despite the negative experience of working with the US Mint and hostile relations with the chief engraver Charles Barber[eon],

Saint-Gaudens accepted the president’s proposal. Work on the creation and introduction into wide circulation of new coins was carried out with delays associated with Saint-Gaudens’ disease and the features of the relief of the image on the coin. Saint-Gaudens died in 1907 after designing the new $10 and $20 coins, but before they were released into circulation.

After the first small run, the mint engraver Barber modified the design to make it less embossed. Thanks to this change, the process of minting was facilitated. On coins issued in 1907 and early 1908, there was no motto “IN GOD WE TRUST” – a necessary attribute of American money. At the insistence of Congress, the motto was placed on the image, and coins that did not contain the word GOD were called “godless” (English godless).

The 20 Saint-Gaudens dollars were used primarily for international trade.

Despite the fact that more than 455 thousand copies were minted in 1933, only a few copies have survived today.  The 1933 Saint-Gaudens 20 dollar is by far the most expensive coin in the world, having been bought at auction for $7,590,020.

Prerequisites for creation

The $20 coin was introduced into circulation in 1850. The prerequisite for its creation was a sharp increase in gold reserves due to the California gold rush[2]. Created by engraver James Longacre, the Liberty $20 was minted, with minor design changes, for over 50 years until 1907. Since the purchasing power of these coins at that time was quite large (equivalent to several hundred dollars today),

they were rarely found in everyday life. They were mainly used for international trade or as a means of accumulation. In Western states and territories where gold and silver coins predominated over paper money (in California, for some time, paper money was even banned for use), 20-dollar coins more often fell into use than in the eastern states of the United States [3].

The first misunderstandings between the designer of the future $20 coin, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, and the US Mint arose in 1891 [4] [5].  For this purpose, Saint-Gaudens was invited, but the mint refused to pay the amount he requested for his work[6]. As a result, Saint-Gaudens refused to develop a new coin design. Instead, this work was done by the engraver Charles Barber[eon][7]. The coins designed by Barber caused a lot of criticism in American society[8].

In 1892, the organizers of the World Exhibition, dedicated to the 400th anniversary of the discovery of America by Columbus, invited Saint-Gaudens to prepare a medal design for the winners of the exhibition. The obverse of the medal, depicting Columbus stepping ashore, did not cause any complaints. The reverse, which featured a nude figure symbolizing youth with a wreath for the winner, was criticized. Postal service chief Anthony Comstock even called the image obscene. The organizers of the exhibition refused the services of Saint-Gaudens and entrusted the work to the mint engraver Barber, who, according to the historian Walter Breen, “was only capable of banality” [5].

Frustrated, Saint-Gaudens vowed to do work for the mint and for the next ten years refused all orders offered to him [5].

Design development

On December 27, 1904,[9] Saint-Gaudens’ friend President Theodore Roosevelt[5] in a letter to US Secretary of the Treasury Leslie Mortimer Shaw stated: “I think the state of our coins, from an artistic point of view, is disgusting and terrible. Would it be possible, without seeking permission from Congress, to engage Saint-Gaudens in the work of making our coins more aesthetically appealing?” At the urging of Roosevelt,

Mint Director George Roberts asked Saint-Gaudens to design new coins, and he gave his consent[10]. Roosevelt suggested that the Mint use Saint-Gaudens to design coins that would not require congressional approval to change the design. According to the laws of the United States, the Mint can independently change the design of only those coins that have been in circulation for more than 50 years [11].

During the presidency of Roosevelt, five coins were changed in denominations of 1 cent, 2.5, 5, 10 and 20 dollars. The images on the 10 and 20 dollars were designed by Saint-Gaudens. Before that, there was no case when the design of the coins was developed by someone not from the employees of the mint[12].

In a letter to Saint-Gaudens in November 1905, Roosevelt asked about the process of preparing the new coins. He also shared his thoughts that among the ancient Greek coins, the most beautiful are coins with high relief (high relief) images. Roosevelt proposed to create new coins with a high relief, as well as a high rim protecting the image. Saint-Gaudens agreed with the president’s proposals and described the proposed design for the $20 coin:

The forward figure of Liberty (perhaps with wings) holds in one hand a heraldic shield with 13 stripes, stars and the word LIBERTY going obliquely. The other contains a flaming torch. The clothes of Liberty flutter in the wind. My idea is to make Freedom alive[13].