United States Mint, Philadelphia. Production of gold coinage was halted early in 1933. All double eagles struck that years were not to be released to the public, but melted down and conveyed as bullion to Fort Knox. But all of the coins were not melted down: as seems inevitable under these circumstances, a handful was spirited away, kept in hiding for decades. One coin surfaced recently, and a complicated arrangement resulted in its being sold at auction for millions of dollars.
The two coins seen here are the only other 1933 double eagles legally held. They were transferred from the U.S. Mint to the Smithsonian Institution.
United States, 20 Dollars, 1907 (Ultra High Relief Pattern)
U.S. Mint. Philadelphia
gold (overall metal)
0 (overall die axis)
0 (overall die axis measurement)
struck (overall production method)
overall: .4 cm x 3.4 cm; 5/32 in x 1 11/32 in
In 1905, President Theodore Roosevelt asked sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens to redesign American coinage. As Saint-Gaudens began work on the project, there was never any possibility that he would restrict himself to well-traveled artistic paths. Playing it safe was against his nature and that of the president for whom he toiled.
As a result of Saint-Gaudens's vision and Roosevelt's persistence, Americans got their most beautiful double eagle, one of the most artistic pieces of money ever struck. Instead of a head or a static, seated goddess, Saint-Gaudens's Lady Liberty strides towards us, the dawn at her back. She represents the morning of the Republic, full of possibilities and hope.
She bears a torch in her right hand, an olive branch in her left: offerings of freedom and peace. The law said that Saint-Gaudens had to use an eagle for his reverse design, and so he did. But what an eagle! Nothing like it had ever been seen before. The naturalistic bird, in such high relief that it threatens to soar out of the circular space that seeks to enclose it, is all movement and grace.
Saint-Gaudens and his patron surely knew that this coin was impossible to make in mass quantities. The high relief came at a high price: it took nine blows from the hydraulic coining press to strike each one. Charles E. Barber, the Mint's chief engraver, strenuously objected out of jealousy, but he had a point.
This is no way to make money for mass circulation. But to Roosevelt and Saint-Gaudens, the chief engraver and other critics lacked vision. This ultra-high relief double eagle was intended to show what artistry and technology could do when afforded the chance. Fewer than two dozen of the ultra-high relief coins were minted, in February and March of 1907.
The California gold rush quickly gave the United States not one new gold coin, but two: a tiny gold dollar at the lower end of the monetary spectrum, and a large double eagle, or twenty-dollar coin, at the upper end. Why did Americans need more gold denominations?
So much gold was now coming out of California that it was actually lowering the value of that metal against silver. Bullion dealers began buying up silver dollars and half dollars for melting and export, for they were now worth more than face value as bullion. A Congressman from North Carolina had an idea: If gold dollars were struck, to pass at par with the silver ones, it might ease some of the pressure on silver coinage.
His bill was introduced late in January 1849. At the last minute, a provision was added for an entirely new coin, a double eagle. Thus amended, the bill became law on March 3, 1849. The production of gold dollars swung into action fairly quickly, and coinage had gotten under way by early May.
But the double eagles took longer. James B. Longacre, the artist selected to design the new large coin, encountered initial opposition from Mint officials, and it was late December before the first two pattern double eagles could be struck. One disappeared long ago, leaving this as the only surviving gold pattern from 1849.
This twenty dollar Liberty Head golden double eagle coin was minted in 1855 at the newly established U.S. Mint in San Francisco. James Marshall’s 1848 discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill kicked off the California gold rush and changed the wealth and reach of the nation as suddenly gold was in plentiful supply and the population was shifting westward. An Act of Congress on March 3, 1849, authorized the coinage of gold dollars and double eagles by the U.S. Mint, and in 1852 Congress authorized President Millard Fillmore’s plan to establish a mint in San Francisco to remove the need to send the gold back to Philadelphia for minting. The mint opened in 1854, and immediately began producing gold dollars and double eagles. The newly approved double eagle coin was designed by James B. Longacre in 1850 and produced at the mints in Philadelphia and New Orleans. On the obverse, or front, of the coin is the head of Liberty facing left wearing a coronet, inscribed "Liberty." She is surrounded by thirteen stars, representative of the original states, with the engraver’s initials “JBL” at the base of the neck. The date “1885” is below the head. The reverse features a design similar to the Great Seal of the United States. A heraldic eagle holds a scroll which reads "E Pluribus Unum." The eagle protects a shield, which represents the nation, and holds an olive branch and arrows in its talons. The letter “S” denoting the San Francisco mint is below the eagle. Above the eagle are thirteen stars in a halo, together with an arc of rays. The reverse rim reads “United States of America/Twenty D.”