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1907 Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle High Relief Wire Rim

1907 Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle, Wire Rim. Image: Stack's Bowers / CoinWeek.
1907 Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle, Wire Rim. Image: Stack’s Bowers / CoinWeek.

By Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker for CoinWeek Notes …..

Mint Director Leach Key to Development of Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle

Frank A. Leach was superintendent of the United States Mint in San Francisco, California from 1897 to 1907. He assumed the title of Mint Director in Washington in 1907, after the resignation of George E. Roberts from the post, and moved there in time to assume his new duties by October 1, 1907.

As the following excerpt shows, Leach was a crucial figure in the production of the Saint-Gaudens coinage. Leach wrote his memoirs titled Recollections of a Newspaper Man–A Record of Life and Events in California, published in 1917 by Samuel Levinson of San Francisco. Bowers and Merena Galleries republished a portion of that work in 1987 as Recollections of a Mint Director. Some excerpts from that text follow, dealing with the circumstances surrounding production of the 1907 Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle, High Relief issues:

“Another very important matter was in hand in the bureau when I arrived at Washington, which was soon to cause me some anxiety, and that was the perfection of President Roosevelt’s scheme for new designs for all the gold coins of our country. There were a number of prominent people in the East, especially in New York and Boston, who some time before began an agitation for an improvement in appearance of all our coinage.

“The President quickly became the leading spirit of the movement.

“The prevalent idea in this undertaking was that the design and execution of our coinage were inferior and inartistic when compared with those of ancient Greece; and as the coins used by a nation are one of the most enduring records of the art and mechanical skill of its age, our government should make an issue of coinage that would leave to future generations and ages something that would more truthfully and correctly reflect the artistic taste and mechanical ability of our day than the coinage then in use, unchanged for so many years.”

Leach then makes a surprising comment concerning what he considers to be the derivative nature of the Saint-Gaudens coinage–at least in their relief, if not in their design–and expresses his concerns with the practicability issues involved in producing the Ultra High Relief and High Relief designs:

“The admiration for the ancient Greek coins unwittingly influenced those gentlemen to suggestions that were imitative rather than original. They wanted the designs for the proposed coinage to be brought out in high relief, or with medallic effect, like the designs on the ancient coins. The commercial use and requirements seemed to have been lost sight of in the enthusiasm of producing a highly artistic coin; but in all probability, none of the leading spirits in the movement was familiar with the use of metallic money, and did not understand that the proposed high relief would make the face of the coins so uneven that the pieces would not ‘stack,’ which was a condition fatal to the practicability of the idea.

“It was early in the year 1905 that President Roosevelt authorized the Director of the Mint to conclude a contract with the famous sculptor, Saint-Gaudens, to supply designs in high relief for the $20 and $10 gold coins. This was accomplished in July, but no designs were finally perfected that met the approval of the President until the early part of 1907.”

The High Relief dies were impractical for mass production on the Philadelphia Mint’s coin presses. To appease the president and prove how bad Augustus Saint-Gauden’s idea was, the Mint resorted to striking patterns on a medal press. Even using equipment suitable for striking high relief medallic art, it took about 12 impressions from the press for each piece, with an annealing process undertaken between each impression. Only 19 pieces were made using this process.

Leach continues:

“There were some who thought that by reducing the diameter of the piece to about the size of a ‘checker,’ with a corresponding increase in the thickness, the much desired high relief might be struck on the ordinary coin press; accordingly dies were made and several pieces struck, when it was discovered that the coinage act, passed in 1890, prohibited the change of the diameter of any coin. Thirteen pieces were struck from this small die for the thick or checker pieces, but with the exception of two coins placed in the cabinet or collection of coins at the Philadelphia mint, all of these pieces were melted and destroyed on account of the improper or illegal dimensions.”

Saint-Gaudens, although severely weakened by his advanced caner, continued to work with the Mint in an attempt to create satisfactory models. Adjustments were made by his assistant Henry Hering. After a second model failed to yield a satisfactory result, a third model was submitted. Chief Engraver Charles Barber continued to work through the production issues, but he did so under duress. President Roosevelt grew increasingly impatient and hammered home to Leach his displeasure that the Saint-Gaudens coins were not ready.

In his book, Leach recounts the conversation:

” ‘All you want, Mr. President,’ I said, ‘is the production of the coin with the new design, is it not?’

” ‘Yes,’ said he.

” ‘Well, that I promise you.’ “

A few days later, Leach presented Roosevelt samples struck with the Ultra High Relief dies. Roosevelt was delighted and wanted widespread distribution of the coins to take place within the next 30 days. Leach informed him that the Mint was hard at work on a lower-relief die for mass production, that the present examples were painstakingly produced on the Mint’s medal presses. Within that 30-day window, the Mint delivered to the Treasurer of the United States 12,153 double eagles, according to Leach.

As Leach’s first-hand account makes clear, the MCMVII Ultra High Relief coins were an instant rarity, and those coins today are all but unobtainable, as only 19 or 20 pieces were struck. In this way, the Ultra High Relief coin is in the same class as other Great Rarities, such as the 1894-S Barber dime or the 1804 Draped Bust silver dollar.

However, the High Relief coins are of quite a different class. While retaining much of the original relief desired, the MCMVII High Relief coins are not particularly rare as a type and nice specimens are within the means of many collectors. And while the Ultra High Reliefs are pattern pieces, the High Reliefs are regular-issue coinage. Mint Director Leach had the pieces struck to satisfy President Roosevelt’s desires for high-relief coinage that would emulate Classical Greek coins, all the while fully realizing that the design was still impractical for modern, one-blow circulation coinage.

Circulating coinage of the era was produced on high-speed steam-powered coin presses, not the hydraulic medal presses used for the Ultra High Relief and High Relief coinage. The High Relief coins required only three blows of the medal press, not the seven or more blows required to fully articulate the Ultra High Relief design. Although the estimates for the number of pieces coined vary (and estimates for the number of blows required), Leach’s documentation of more than 12,000 pieces appears essentially correct, according to modern research.

What Exactly Is a Wire Rim?

Wire Rim vs. Flat Rim. A thin fin of metal is raised at the edge of the Wire Rim examples. Image: CoinWeek / Stack's Bowers.
Wire Rim vs. Flat Rim. A thin fin of metal is raised at the edge of the Wire Rim examples. Image: CoinWeek / Stack’s Bowers.

A so-called “Wire Rim” protruded around the outer extremity of the coins, which resulted from excessive metal flow between the die face and collar during the striking process. Unlike today’s collectors who consider the Wire Rim to be a highly collectible variety, Mint officials considered it to be a striking deficiency. This “flaw” in the striking process was corrected around mid-December, and subsequent High Relief double eagles possessed what became known as a Flat Rim.

After being struck, the coins were available for a significant premium over face, reaching $30 shortly after release. This price dropped to just over $20 as the Great Depression ravaged the economy in the late 1920s. Took three to five strikes and inspection after each strike to produce. Wire rim occurred when the collar was not sufficiently tightened, and a metal fin formed after metal was pushed into the gap. The Mint developed a different collar to remediate this issue. But ultimately, the relief had to be lowered to facilitate commercial coinage.

It is estimated that about 6,000 examples survive.

Beware of Fakes

Omega counterfeits of this issue began to circulate at the 1971 ANA Convention, held in Washington, D.C. This crop of fakes was not fully examined until 1973, when F. Michael “Skip” Fazzari, working as an authenticator at ANACS, was able to study several pieces. The fakes exhibit tooling marks on the ray above the first M in the Roman numeral date as well as in Liberty’s hair on the right side of her head. More tool marks are located between M and E in AMERICA. Brazenly, an omega symbol (the counterfeiter’s “mark”) can be found at the bottom space between the eagle’s talon and tail feathers.

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Market Data and Noteworthy Specimens

One example of the 1907 “Wire Rim” Saint-Gaudens double eagle sold in 1973 for a then-record price of $125,000.

Top Population: PCGS MS-69 (1, 2/2024). NGC MS-69 (1, 2/2024). CAC MS-69 (1:0 stickered:graded, 2/2024)

  • PCGS MS67 #16365205: Stack’s Bowers, August 16, 2023, Lot 5204 – $288,000.
  • PCGS MS66 CMQ #48894503: Stack’s Bowers, March 26, 2024, Lot 4385 – View.
  • PCGS MS66 #37567072: Stack’s Bowers, November 14, 2019, Lot 3202 – $72,000.
  • PCGS MS65+ CAC: Stack’s Bowers, August 7, 2012, Lot 11786 – $49,937.50.
  • NGC MS65 #2706099-001: Heritage Auctions, July 20, 2023, Lot 3324 – $39,600.
  • PCGS MS65 #46940092: Stack’s Bowers, June 13, 2023, Lot 2093 – $42,000.
  • PCGS MS65: Stack’s Bowers, August 7, 2012, Lot 11787 – $38,000 Reserve Not Met.
  • NGC MS65: Stack’s Bowers, August 7, 2012, Lot 11788 – $37,000 Reserve Not Met.
  • PCGS MS64+ CAC #3528963: Stack’s, September 2006, Lot 1696, “The John Whitney Walter Collection”, Stack’s Bowers, August 15, 2018, Lot 1383 – $31,200.
  • PCGS MS64+ #35623486: Stack’s Bowers, August 15, 2018, Lot 1384 – $25,200.
  • PCGS MS64 CMQ #48845288: Roman Lester to George Carlin, May 6, 1966, for $825; As PCGS MS64 CMQ #48845288. Stack’s Bowers, March 26, 2024, Lot 4387 – View. Offered with an original canceled check.
  • PCGS MS64: Stack’s Bowers, August 7, 2012, Lot 11789 – $34,075.
  • PCGS MS63 #5501482: Stack’s Bowers, March 26, 2024, Lot 4388 – View.
  • PCGS MS63 CAC #06585196: David Lawrence Rare Coins, March 28, 2024, Lot 665 – View.

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Coin Specifications

Country: United States of America
Year Of Issue: 1907 (Romanized as MCMVII)
Denomination: Double Eagle ($20 USD)
Mint Mark: None (Philadelphia)
Mintage: 12,367
Alloy: .900 gold, .100 copper
Weight: 33.4 g
Diameter: ±34.0 mm
Edge: Lettered: E * PLURIBUS * UNUM
OBV Designer: Augustus Saint-Gaudens
REV Designer: Augustus Saint-Gaudens
Quality: Business Strike


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CoinWeek Notes
CoinWeek Notes
CoinWeek Notes presents expert analysis and insights from Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker, the award-winning editors of CoinWeek.com.

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