HomeGold BullionGold CoinsPre-1933 US Gold Coins$20 Saint Gaudens Gold Double Eagles
Once a circulation coin valued at twenty dollars, the Saint-Gaudens Double Eagles’ circulation numbers were greatly affected by a 1933 executive order requiring the return of gold coins to the government, making this particular coin a relatively rare artifact. This gold coin’s combination of an intriguing history, eye-catching design, and the uniqueness afforded by rarity ensures that it will be a piece of note for many years to come.
The Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle first entered circulation in 1907 after President Theodore Roosevelt decided that the country’s existing coinage lacked artistic merit. Wishing to avoid a lengthy legal process, Roosevelt and his Treasury Secretary, Leslie Shaw, retained renowned sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens to redesign only those coins that would not require Congressional approval to chang, among them were the country’s gold coins. This was the first time in US history that an outside contractor had designed a US Mint coin. The coin would replace the Liberty Gold Double Eagle, which was first designed in 1849.
Despite his fame, Augustus Saint-Gaudens was a somewhat controversial choice for designer. He previously had been retained by the Mint to design a medal for the World Columbian Exhibition; his design’s reverse, featuring a naked youth carrying a torch and laurels on a hillside, was removed and replaced with a less objectionable image, leading to Saint-Gaudens refusing to work with the Mint for more than a decade. His personal friendship with Roosevelt brought him back for the Double Eagle project, although the elderly Saint-Gaudens would pass away in 1907, a mere three months before the first of his coins officially would be pressed.
The face of the Saint-Gaudens coin features a robed Lady Liberty. She holds aloft a torch, representing the light of freedom and liberty, and she clutches an olive branch, symbolizing peace and goodwill. The rays of a sunburst ascend behind her. The coin is rimmed with 46 stars, representing the number of US states at the time; a 1912 revision, following the admission of New Mexico and Arizona to the Union, would feature 48 instead. The face also is inscribed with the word “Liberty” and the date of issue.
The reverse features an image of an eagle aloft, rising above the sun, representing American strength and ascendency. The design also features the words “United States of America” and the face value of the coin, twenty dollars. The initial run of the coins lacked the “In God We Trust” motto by special request of President Roosevelt (who reportedly felt the use of the term “God” on currency that might be used for illicit or illegal purposes was sacrilegious), but a Congressional act later added it to pieces struck in 1908 and onward.
During the Great Depression of the late 20s and 30s, another President Roosevelt, Franklin Delano, implemented many measures to combat the country’s economic woes. Among them was a requirement that all non-collector gold currency in circulation be returned to the government as of 1933; this regulation was intended to prevent the hoarding of gold by private interests. As a result, gold coinage in the United States ceased almost entirely, beginning a protracted movement away from the precious metal that resulted in the ending of the gold standard in 1971. During this time, the US Mint would generally only strike gold coins for the collector’s market.
Notably, when the Mint began issuing gold bullion coins again in 1986, it would return to the obverse design of the Saint-Gaudens coin; however, these new Double-Eagles featured a different reverse and are referred to as the American Gold Eagle.
The Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle is, today, a relatively rare coin, in that the bulk of its run was returned to the government and melted down, per President Franklin Roosevelt’s executive order. Thus, it tends to carry a higher premium over the current market value of gold. Many sellers in the modern coin marketplace will offer these coins as graded collector’s items, carefully preserved or cleaned, although some sources may offer ungraded versions. As always, higher grades will necessarily result in a higher price tag due to their better condition.
The rarity of the coin can vary greatly by the year of issuance; for instance, the motto-less 1907 version and the abbreviated 1933 run (which was never intended to enter circulation and of which only about twenty examples exist) can fetch a much higher price than the rest of the coin’s run. No matter which iteration of the coin, though, collectors and investors looking for a foundation for a higher-value coin collection will often turn to the Saint-Gaudens as a compromise between rarity and affordability.