HomeUS CoinsSaint-Gaudens Double Eagle, With Motto (1908-1933) | CoinWeek

Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle, With Motto (1908-1933) | CoinWeek

1923 Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle. Image: Heritage Auctions / CoinWeek.
1923 Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle. Image: Heritage Auctions / CoinWeek.

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

The first Saint-Gaudens $20 gold double eagle, acclaimed as one of the most beautiful and artistic U.S. coin designs, did not display the national motto IN GOD WE TRUST anywhere on the coin. Even though the Coinage Act of 1890 did not include that motto in the list of required wording to be placed on U.S. coins, perhaps an unintended omission, Congress and the public nevertheless wanted it there. The motto was restored–as it was on the previous Liberty Head type–later in 1908 by Congressional action, which brought the double eagle denomination into compliance with the Act of March 3, 1865, the original mandate for the text’s placement on U.S. coinage.

Before President Franklin Delano Roosevelt ended circulating gold coinage in 1933, the double eagle underwent one more significant modification. In 1912, the number of stars encircling Liberty on the obverse increased from 46 to 48, marking the addition of New Mexico and Arizona to the Union. Most double eagles minted after 1928 were stored by the Treasury and not released into circulation.

An Executive Order Ends the Era of American Gold Coinage

Roosevelt’s Executive Order 6102 of April 5, 1933, stated:

“I, Franklin D. Roosevelt, President of the United States of America, do hereby prohibit the hoarding of gold coin, gold bullion, and gold certificates within the continental United States by individuals, partnerships, associations, and corporations.”

Individuals were ordered to deliver gold coins, bullion, and gold certificates to a Federal Reserve bank or branch by May 1 of that year. Exceptions were made for jewelers, artists, and collectors of “rare and unusual” gold coins, but the order also allowed “any one person” to keep “gold coin and gold certificates in an amount not exceeding in the aggregate $100.00.” Though not explicit in the wording, the order nonetheless effectively ended the legal tender status, thus circulation, of gold coins in this country.

Confiscation and subsequent melting destroyed most of the double eagles of the late 1920s and nearly all from the ’30s. Many of today’s survivors came from stockpiles held in foreign banks, which had no interest in returning gold coins to the U.S. for melting. These expatriate coins returned to the U.S. starting in the ’40s, following increased demand caused by the growing popularity of collecting double eagles. Today, certain issues, once considered scarce, are available in sufficient quantities to satisfy demand. For other dates, these rarity levels remain more or less intact.

How Much Are Saint-Gaudens Double Eagles Worth?

Hundreds of thousands of With Motto Saint-Gaudens business strike double eagles have been certified by CAC, NGC, and PCGS, most focusing on the more common dates. For the common date or generic Saints, prices are largely tied with the current spot price of gold up to about the grade of MS63; at this point, sellers usually add a modest numismatic premium to the coin. Registry-quality coins, even for common dates, can see dramatic price increases based on the conditional rarity of any given issue. Dates known for high-quality coins will sell for less in high grade than those not available in abundance in Gem grades. If speculating on conditional rarity common coins, staying abreast of the current market dynamics is important as high prices generally invite additional submissions and crossovers.

The more expensive coins of this type are the 1908-S (scarce finer than MS65); the 1909 9 Over 8 (in grades finer than MS63); the 1920-S (in grades finer than MS62); the 1921 (rare in Mint State); the 1926-D (finer than MS64), the 1927-D (rare in all grades); the 1929 (rare in Gem), the 1930-S (in grades finer than MS62); the 1931 (rare at MS64 or above); the 1931-D (rare finer than MS63); the 1932 (rare finer than MS64), and the 1933 (only one example is legal to own).

Proof Saint-Gaudens double eagles were minted for collectors from 1908 through 1915; those produced in 1908, and 1911 through 1915, had a Sand Blast finish, and the 1909 and 1910 pieces were struck with a Satin finish. Fewer than 100 Proof examples of each date have been certified. One Satin Finish 1921 Saint is also known. Proof Saint-Gaudens double eagles are prohibitively expensive to collect.

The 1933 Double Eagle: The Most Expensive U.S. Coin Ever Sold at Auction

Record Year For Million-Dollar Rare Coins, Reports Professional Numismatists Guild

Of the destroyed pieces, the 1933 Saint-Gaudens double eagle has had an especially storied history. Two examples were placed in the Smithsonian in 1934, but of the almost 500,000 double eagles minted starting in March 1933, nearly all were melted. The Mint has an established position that none of the coins were officially released into circulation, thus making illegal any private ownership of a 1933 double eagle. However, over two dozen examples of the issue left the Mint under dubious circumstances. Investigations into the matter implicated a Mint employee and Philadelphia jeweler Israel Switt.

Several coins sold privately for great sums in the 1940s. All of these coins were subsequently seized or turned over to federal agents once the government found out about their release. King Farouk of Egypt owned the most famous 1933 double eagle. He acquired his through an agent working with Fort Worth, Texas dealer B. Max Mehl. Farouk’s agent was able to secure an export license for the coin from the U.S. State Department. The issuance of this document proved essential in the Government’s settlement with dealer Steve Fenton, allowing this one coin to trade legally.

Following Farouk’s 1952 overthrow, the Egyptian government brokered the sale of his many collections. The 1933 double eagle was not included in the Sotheby’s sale of Farouk’s coins but supposedly turned up decades later. The first legal auction of the coin took place in July 2002, when an anonymous bidder paid a record $7,590,020 for the coin. The $20 was required to monetize the coin, which makes the coin officially legal tender. That bidder’s identity was revealed in 2021 to be fashion shoe designer Stuart Weitzman. Weitzman consigned the coin, along with two rare stamps, to Sotheby’s for auction, where the 1933 double eagle smashed all records and sold for $18.9 million dollars.

Additional coins surfaced in the 2010s when the descendants of Israel Switt notified the Government that they had 10 pieces that had been kept in a safe deposit box. The United States seized these coins. The Switt heirs sued, but the Government prevailed after a lengthy court process. There is speculation that more 1933 double eagles exist, but if so, then they are unlikely to be publicly announced unless the courts legitimize private ownership. Some speculation persists that the record-setting coin isn’t the Farouk coin but a contraband pretender that used the Farouk coin as a cover. No concrete evidence exists to support this theory.

Although production of circulating double eagles ended in early 1933, the Saint-Gaudens obverse design was reused by the U.S. Mint for the American Gold Eagle, authorized by the Gold Bullion Coin Act of 1985 and first issued in 1986. Saint-Gaudens’ original double eagle concept in ultra-high relief was issued as a tribute coin in 2009.

Varieties

Very few have been identified, including 1909 9 Over 8, the 1925 Doubled Die Reverse, and other, minor die variations.

CoinWeek Date-by-Date Coverage

Design

Obverse:

The obverse features a full-length image of Liberty facing forward with an olive branch in her left hand and a raised torch in her right hand. Draped in a long, flowing gown (a chiton), her hair is swept to the left. Some describe her as striding forward, but she appears instead to be in a pose; the foot of her left leg rests on a large rock (in front of which are oak leaves), difficult terrain through which to be walking. To Liberty’s right, the sun is visible behind a depiction of the U.S. Capitol building at the bottom of the coin. Rays from the sun extend upward from behind the Capitol and Liberty to about the level of Liberty’s waist. At the top of the coin is the word LIBERTY, the torch separating I and B. Forty-six tiny six-point stars (48 stars from 1912 forward) are arrayed inside the flat rim, forming a circle broken only at the bottom.

In ‘Arabic’ numerals, the date is at the bottom right, above the rock, and a monogram of the designer’s initials, ASG, is below the date. “With Motto” Saints were minted in Philadelphia, Denver, and San Francisco; D and S mint marks are above the date.

Reverse:

The crest of the sun appears again on the reverse, at the bottom, with rays extending upward nearly to the top of the coin behind a majestic left-facing eagle, wings uplifted in flight. In an arc above the sun is the motto IN GOD WE TRUST, the words separated by centered triangular dots. At the top is the legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA in a concentric arc next to the flat rim, with the denomination TWENTY DOLLARS just below in another arc. Centered triangular dots separate the words of both phrases, and the text is also in front of the sun’s rays.

Edge:

E PLURIBUS UNUM in raised letters, with 13 separating raised stars, is on the coin’s edge.

Designer

Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848-1907) was a European-educated American sculptor, notable for numerous public monuments and other works in the Beaux Arts style. Working with President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt, he is responsible for some of the most beautiful numismatic designs in American history, such as the gold $10 eagle and the gold $20 double eagle.

Coin Specifications

Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle
Years Of Issue: 1908-33
Mintage (Circulation): High: 8,816,000 (1928); Low: 22,000 (1908-S)
Mintage (Proof): High: 167 (1910); Low: 50 (1915)
Alloy: 90% gold, 10% copper
Weight: 33.436 g
Diameter: 34.00 mm
Edge: Lettered: E * PLURIBUS * UNUM * * * * * * * * * * *
OBV Designer: Augustus Saint-Gaudens, modified by Henry Hering and Charles E. Barber
REV Designer: Augustus Saint-Gaudens, , modified by Henry Hering and Charles E. Barber

 

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Additional Resources

Bowers, Q. David. The Experts Guide to Collecting & Investing in Rare Coins. Whitman Publishing.

–. A Guide Book of Double Eagle Gold Coins.. Whitman Publishing.

–. A Guide Book of United States Type Coins. Whitman Publishing.

Breen, Walter. Walter Breen’s Encyclopedia of U.S. Coins. Doubleday.

Frankel, Alison. Double Eagle: The Epic Story of the World’s Most Valuable Coin. W.W. Norton & Co.

Garrett, Jeff, and Ron Guth. Encyclopedia of U.S. Gold Coins, 1795-1933. Whitman Publishing.

Guth, Ron, and Jeff Garrett. United States Coinage: A Study by Type. Whitman Publishing.

Halperin, James L., Mark Van Winkle, Jon Amato, Gregory J. Rohan. The Coinage of Augustus Saint-Gaudens as Illustrated by the Phillip H. Morse Collection. Heritage Auctions.

Taxay, Don. The U.S. Mint and Coinage. Arco Publishing.

Tripp, David. Illegal Tender: Gold, Greed, and the Mystery of the Lost 1933 Double Eagle. Free Press.

Yeoman, R.S. and Jeff Garrett (editor). The Official Red Book: A Guide Book of United States Coins. Whitman Publishing.

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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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