Joe O

Money Bytes

Joe O'Donnell

Joe O’Donnell, digital content producer, joined the Coin World editorial staff in 2014. Joe writes web content, manages Coin World’s social media accounts, compiles content for daily digital eNewsletters, and contributes on occasion to the print magazine. He has enjoyed interacting with Coin World readers while covering the sale of coins from the Saddle Ridge Hoard and the 50th anniversary Kennedy half dollar releases.

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The Ultra High Relief MCMVII (1907) Saint-Gaudens double eagle, explained

As of May 7, the opening bid of $2.7 million for the Ultra High Relief MCMVII (1907) Saint-Gaudens double eagle being offered by Stack’s Bowers as part of its Rarities Night auction on May 20 has not been topped by a potential buyer.

You may be wondering what’s behind that staggering opening bid, and what would be behind anyone bidding beyond that. 

Here’s a quick explainer:

First things first: What does Ultra High Relief mean?

Ultra High Relief means the coin’s obverse and reverse designs have a three-dimensional physical depth and feel —a level of relief — not seen on the High Relief versions that were eventually approved for circulation production in 1907, and much higher than the lower relief coins that became standard later in the same year.

Editor-at-Large Steve Roach, citing research published by various experts on the coin, wrote about the Ultra High Relief 1907 double eagles in the Oct. 7, 2013, issue of Coin World:

"To achieve the desired effect, they were struck as many as nine times and were annealed between strikings (the annealing process heated the coin to a cherry-red color, and then the coin was cooled in a weak solution of nitric acid). The process gave the coins an otherworldly appearance with a surface of nearly pure gold, but this involved process was not suited to mass-production."

So these Ultra High Relief coins must be rare, right?

Right. Records indicate that only two dozen were produced, about 20 of which have known whereabouts today. 

But why did Stack’s Bowers make the opening bid $2.7 million?

That opening bid is based on past performance. In 2012, the exact same double eagle, which is rated Proof 69 by Professional Coin Grading Service, was sold at a Stack’s Bowers auction for $2.76 million. 

A Proof 68 example sold in January 2015 by Heritage Auctions for $2.115 million.

PCGS CoinFacts lists a value of $2.2 million for Proof 67 examples, $2.5 million for Proof 68 examples, and $2.7 million (the same as the opening bid) for the Proof 69 example being sold. 

Can I get one without spending millions?

Well, you can get a modern reinterpretation. But it’ll still cost you a nice chunk of change. 

Steve explains in the same article:

"In 2009 the U.S. Mint revisited a classic and produced a new Ultra High Relief $20 coin for collectors. It was made in a reduced diameter and was struck of pure .999 fine gold, rather than the 90 percent gold and 10 percent copper composition of normal double eagles. The design differed from the 1907 High Relief version in that the motto IN GOD WE TRUST was added to the reverse above the sun, consistent with $20 double eagles of 1908 to 1933. The 2009 issues contain an ounce of gold. Today examples sell at the $2,600 level in original Mint packaging."