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.