US Coins

1907 Ultra High Relief double eagle realizes $4.75 million

This 1907 Saint-Gaudens, Ultra High Relief gold $20 double eagle sold for $4.75 million in a private transaction, improving on the $1.84 million it realized at a 2007 auction and confirming the market’s appetite for top-quality rarities.

Coin images courtesy of Heritage Auctions, Victory model courtesy of Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Great rarities in American numismatics continue to be traded privately rather than being subjected to the whims of buyers at auction, as seen on Dec. 13 when Heritage Auctions announced that it had brokered one of the finest of just 13 to 15 known 1907 Saint-Gaudens, Ultra High Relief $20 double eagle for $4.75 million in a private transaction.

The anonymous buyer was represented by GreatCollections Coin Auctions, which provided documentation of the transaction.

The coin, graded Proof 68 by Professional Coin Grading Service and carrying a green Certified Acceptance Corp. sticker, last sold publicly more than a decade ago at a 2007 Heritage auction where it brought $1.84 million.

GreatCollections president Ian Russell said, “After our display of the legendary 1933 Saint-Gaudens [$20 double eagle] at the American Numismatic Association in August, we had been searching for a superb Ultra High Relief for the same owner as the 1933 Saint. Twenty years ago, he set his goal to own both of these coins and today he realized his dream.”

The buyer remains anonymous.

The prize came from the collection of Bob R. Simpson, founder of XTO Energy and an owner of the Texas Rangers.

The 2007 auction catalog entry featured research by Roger Burdette, and Heritage explained its allure, stating, “There are other great rarities of outstanding reputation, but no other combines the beauty, rarity, and the story of collaboration between President Theodore Roosevelt and Augustus Saint-Gaudens.”

President Roosevelt took a direct interest in making American coins more beautiful after his election in 1904, writing to Secretary of the Treasury Leslie Mortier Shaw on Dec. 27, 1904, “I think our coinage is artistically of atrocious hideousness. Would it be possible, without asking permission of Congress, to employ a man like Saint-Gaudens to give us a coinage that would have some beauty?”

Saint-Gaudens, among the most prominent of America’s sculptors, would accept the challenge, and the result was the first 1907 Saint-Gaudens, Ultra High Relief gold double eagles, where the artist revisited a standing liberty figure that he explored on a previous monumental sculpture.

Creating the Ultra High Relief coins proved challenging and impractical for mass production. Heritage explained in 2007, “Each complete experimental Extremely High Relief coin required seven blows at 150 tons pressure from the hydraulic press: six in a plain edge collar to bring up the design and a seventh in a three-part collar to impart edge lettering. Between each strike, the planchet was annealed to compensate for work hardening produced in the press. After heating to a deep red, the planchet was dipped into a weak nitric acid solution, which removed any oxidized copper from the surface. Repetition of this treatment left the coin’s surface depleted of copper. All known Mint State specimens have the color of nearly pure gold rather than .900 fine alloy color.”

Saint-Gaudens would die later that year, largely sparing the artist the indignity of seeing his high relief concept lowered to meet the needs of daily coin production.

The total mintage of these first Ultra High Relief strikes is unknown, with perhaps 20 being struck. These are distinguished from later issues by some attributes listed by Burdette: “When compared to later versions, the EHR design has a very small Capitol building to Liberty’s lower right (left as one views the coin), and the berries on the olive branch are few and indistinct. One star sits above each of the arms of the Y in LIBERTY.”

Heritage offered another example of this famed rarity at its 2021 Florida United Numismatists auction, graded Proof 68 by Numismatic Guaranty Co. that brought $3.6 million. That catalog entry recognized their special status in American numismatics beyond the aesthetic, explaining, “The majestic Ultra High Reliefs were actually experimental coins that taught their designers important facts they could use to adjust the design to suit the Mint’s requirements. The Ultra High Reliefs are listed in the standard pattern reference, but they have always been collected as an integral part of the Saint-Gaudens double eagle series, as well.”

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