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Ultra High Relief $20 Saint to be Sold in Bonhams Coins and Medals Auction.

An extremely rare 1907 Saint-Gaudens Ultra High Relief $20 coin, featuring an early-production Sans Serif lettered edge, will go under the hammer on 16 December 2014 at the Coins and Medals auction.

The extraordinary coin carries a pre-sale estiamte of $1,250,000-$1,500,000.

The collar’s Sans Serif font, which was used on the edge of the earliest Ultra High Reliefs, marks this coin as one of the first struck. It is also known as the ‘Type of 1906’, and only one other example is known with this edge feature.

MCMVII (1907) Ultra High Relief $20, Sans Serif (Inverted) Lettered Edge, Judd-1907, Proof 58 PCGS
MCMVII (1907) Ultra High Relief $20, Sans Serif (Inverted) Lettered Edge, Judd-1907, Proof 58 PCGS

Between 7 February and Valentine’s Day of 1907, the first four experimental Ultra High Relief $20 coins, including this coin, were struck at the Mint in Philadelphia.

Paul Song, Director of the Los Angeles-based Department, said: ‘This coin is an old friend of sorts. Earlier in my career, back in 1992, I came across this variety of coin for the first time at an East Coast estate, and sold it at auction for $143,000.

‘Almost 25 years later, I am pleased to offer it at auction again. Close examination of the edge revealed lettering without serifs — the same style which was used in 1906 to create the Judd-1992 $20 gold pattern.

‘No one had ever thought to look at the edge or the collar of an Ultra High Relief before.’

It is almost certain that this is the first Ultra High Relief ever struck. The light rubbing on the surfaces could easily be the result of this coin being personally examined by Mint officials, or even by Theodore Roosevelt himself, just after striking.

The design and inspiration of the 1907 Ultra High Relief are legendary, and this particular coin design has been widely touted as the most beautiful coin ever produced by the United States Mint — a testament reinforced by the fact that the basic design is still in use by the United States Mint for its coinage today.

MCMVII (1907) Ultra High Relief $20, Sans Serif (Inverted) Lettered Edge, Judd-1907, Proof 58 PCGS
 US$ 1.25 million – 1.5 million

Auction Catalog Footnotes

  • Secure Holder. Augustus Saint-Gaudens was one of the premier sculptors in America. His statuary works graced many parks and buildings of note, and his reputation was known the world over. In 1892, Saint-Gaudens designed the official medal for the Columbian Exposition that began that year. His design depicted Columbus “transfigured as he set foot in the New World” and the reverse bore a “Grecian youth, unashamedly naked, holding a torch and wreaths to crown the victors” (Breen). The design was submitted and quickly approved by the Columbian Exposition committee. Nevertheless, the medal came within the site of Anthony Comstock, head of his own Society for the Suppression of Vice. Subsequently, a torrent of letters flooded the power brokers of Congress and the Columbian Exposition Committee, denouncing the naked youth as obscene. Rather than stand firm against the storm, the committee asked Charles E. Barber to redesign the reverse of the medal, which was done to Comstock’s approval. Saint-Gaudens was furious, and swore never to have anything to do with Mint Bureau again.It is widely known that Theodore Roosevelt had long wanted a drastic redesign for all U.S. coins and had personally assigned Augustus Saint-Gaudens to that task. Although Saint-Gaudens preferred the Indian head obverse with the standing eagle reverse, he was overruled by Roosevelt, who ordered up the full figure of Liberty with the flying eagle reverse combination. When his completed models for the double eagle arrived at the Executive Mansion on December 15, 1906, President Roosevelt thought they were “simply immense” and ordered Mint Director George Roberts to have them reduced and coins struck “just as they are.” The models went to the Philadelphia Mint where engraver Charles Barber had been waiting for them since September. The Mint had recently purchased a modern Janvier reducing lathe in November 1906 after more than two years’ delay. The Janvier machine could make reductions directly to a coin-sized hub from large plaster models including Saint-Gaudens’ 13-inch double eagle models – something the Mint’s old equipment could not do. The Philadelphia Mint had no difficulty with the relief of the design: they had been making high relief medals for 75 years. Only the diameter of the models and the degree of reduction were potential problems.

    Engraver Barber recognized that he did not fully understand how to operate the complicated new Janvier machine, so he had Henri Weil, who had trained with the Janvier et Duval firm in Paris, come to the Mint for a week to help cut the reductions and hubs from Saint-Gaudens’ models. Hering had convinced Barber that further experimentation was necessary and Barber finally agreed to make the dies. Hering returned to the Mint on February 7, 1907 to see how the experimental model of the first die would work out. Quoting from The Numismatist, 1949, P. 455, “…so a circular disc of gold was placed in the die and by hydraulic pressure of 172 tons, I think it was, we had our first stamping, and the impression showed little more than one half of the modeling. I had them make a cast of this for my guidance. The coin was again placed in the die for another strike and again it showed a little more of the modeling, and so it went, on and on, until the ninth strike, when the coin showed up in every detail.”

    During the week of February 7th to the 14th, Barber produced three complete coins using the new obverse and reverse dies, and the edge collar die from his 1906 pattern twenty dollar coin. Each coin required up to nine blows of 150-170 tons on the medal press – eight to impart the face designs, and a final one to impress the edge lettering E PLURIBUS UNUM. With each piece taking multiple blows, several incomplete pieces were always awaiting annealing before the next strike. As Barber gave the eighth strike to one of the partial coins, the reverse die cracked. This ended initial experimental production of Saint-Gaudens’ EHR coins with only three complete specimens struck, plus several incomplete pieces and the plain edge example showing a prominent die crack on the reverse.

    The Annual Assay Commission was in session during this time and Director Roberts was in Philadelphia to attend the meetings. A special member of the Commission was George F. Kunz, Vice-President of Tiffany’s Inc. and Chairman of the American Numismatic and Antiquarian Society’s New Coin Design Committee. He was also the county’s foremost expert on minerals and gems and an acquaintance of President Roosevelt. Tiffany’s had provided consultative services to the Mint regarding the Saint-Gaudens’ coin ideas and director Roberts wanted Kunz to see the new coin. Soon after the first pieces were struck in February, Roberts, Kunz, possibly others on the Commission, and Henry Hering, Saint-Gaudens’ assistant, got to examine the EHR double eagles. Everyone was sworn to secrecy although that may have been less than completely effective. The experimental pieces were more medal than coin, and clearly not practical from a coinage standpoint. Still, they were uncommonly beautiful medal-coins and Roberts made a point of taking two specimens back to Washington. One he kept for himself, the other he gave to Robert Preston, who had been his predecessor as director. This might explain the reason why two coins of the first group featuring “Sans Serif” edge lettering (Type of 1906) were lightly circulated; the coin in this lot and one other uncertified example. Could this coin have been the very first strike from the Ultra High Relief dies? Could it have subsequently become the personal property of Roberts (or Preston) and acquired its wear from being handled by Mint executives, dignitaries, maybe even Teddy Roosevelt himself?

    A few days later, Roberts contacted Barber ordering that two specimens be placed in the Philadelphia Mint Collection of coins. Barber replied that the dies were broken, so in early March Roberts gave permission to prepare a new reverse die and strike more EHR coins. This was done and sometime between March and July, Barber struck 12 (or more) EHR specimens. All of these had both a new reverse die and a new edge collar with the motto in large Roman-style (serif) letters. Two examples went into the Mint Collection, Barber kept as many as eight pieces from this second group for his own collection, the remainder of the disbursement is unknown.

    During July through November, little happened with the EHR experimental pieces except for the President declaring that “coins struck from the high relief experimental dies” could be distributed to collectors who requested them. The Mint was busy with normal coin production, and struggling to produce the new Saint-Gaudens $10 and $20 coins in a form acceptable to commerce. In early December, the new Mint Director, Frank Leach, was shown the EHR owned by Preston. Leach was taken by the appearance of the coin and wrote to Barber asking him to make three more examples: one for “the Saint-Gaudens people” (meaning the artist’s widow, Augusta), one for Treasury Secretary Cortelyou, and one for himself. As an afterthought, he also asked for a fourth piece for the President “if he does not already have one.” Barber took the instructions literally, and made three more EHR coins on December 31, 1907. In typical government fashion, Leach provided examples to the other officials and himself, leaving Augusta without a sample of her late husband’s work.

    Between February 7-14, 1907 only 3 complete coins were struck, a fourth was also struck but the reverse die cracked and the collar never impressed the lettering on the edge. This plain edge example is now in the Captain North Collection and believed unique. The Sans Serif font used on the collar on the edge of these earliest Ultra High Reliefs distinguishes this coin was among the first struck, quite possibly the first struck! It is also known as the Type of 1906, and only one other example is known with this edge feature. This distinctive Sans Serif font on the edge was first discovered in 1992 by Paul Song, and three years later in 1995, the second example turned up, also discovered by Mr. Song. Another distinctive feature of the edge lettering is that the collar impressed the lettering upside-down, meaning when the obverse is up, the edge lettering is inverted, relative to the obverse.

    New discoveries and connections appeared recently in the article, “Fear and Trembling” & Other Discoveries: New Information on Augustus Saint-Gaudens and America’s Most Beautiful Coin, published in the Winter 2007 Edition of the ANS Magazine and written by David Enders Tripp as part of a commemoration of the 100th anniversary of Saint-Gaudens’ coinage. Under the section “An Edgy New Discovery,” Tripp explicitly points out how these first examples’ edge letterings (in elegant Roman-face font) are followed by a six-pointed star, which is a pattern unknown before the discovery of the only two examples (this one discovered and sold in 1992 and another example also sold in 1995). Tripp’s research solidly and definitively links this particular star pattern to Augustus Saint-Gaudens, and not to Charles Barber, as had traditionally assumed. Based upon the chronology of the strikings and St. Gaudens’ tragic imminent death to cancer on August 3, 1907, there can be no doubt that these two examples with the sans-serif inverted edge collars are the only ones that Saint-Gaudens would have lived to see and handle, which explains why this and the one other example in private hands are the only examples with evidence of handling! By corollary, these are the only two examples that he would have had a chance to correspond with Roosevelt himself about. The coin is in fact a poignant and powerful testament to the visionary collaboration of two different yet equally transcendent figures of the early 20th century and this design exists to this day.

    There are four different edge lettering formats known on Ultra High Relief twenties:

    1. 1906 Style Lettering. E*P*L*U*R*I*B*U*S*U*N*U*M*. Judd-1907 (formerly Judd- 1778), Pollock-2001, struck in first group. Two known including this coin.

    2. Plain Edge. Judd-1914, Pollock-2000. Believed unique, struck in first group, February 7-14 (probably Feb. 14th)

    3. 1907 Style Lettering. *E*PLURIBUS*UNUM*********** Edge lettering read with reverse up. Judd-1909, Pollock-2002, struck in second group March 1907 – July 1907

    4. 1907 Style Lettering. *E*PLURIBUS*UNUM*********** Edge lettering read with obverse up. Judd-1909, Pollock-2003, struck in third group, December 31, 1907

    As can be seen in the chart above, the type of edge lettering determines when an individual coin was struck. This totals 18 complete EHR specimens and one plain edge example, or 19 pieces, which is in agreement with the number presently accounted for.

    What about Augusta Saint-Gaudens’ coin? In June 1908, she was finally sold one of the examples from the Mint Collection for face value plus postage of 12 cents. Her husband had seen the EHR and other experimental coins, but never owned one before his death in August 1907. Original owners of the extremely high relief $20 experimental coins were:

    ● George E. Roberts – 1
    ● Robert Preston – 1
    ● U.S. Mint Collection – 2
    ● Charles E. Barber – 8
    ● Theodore Roosevelt – 2
    ● George B. Cortelyou – 1
    ● Frank A. Leach – 1
    ● Augusta Saint-Gaudens – 1 (from Mint Collection)

    ● Total Pieces Accounted For: 16
    ● Total Pieces Unaccounted For: 3 (approximately)

    There is no indication that the Mint Bureau sold any of the 1907 coins for more than their face value in gold plus a few cents for postage. The President’s order allowed anyone who wanted them, including employees, to purchase experimental pieces. What the employees or coin collectors did with them later was a private matter.

    Since our primary interest lies in the coins produced in the first group in February, a compilation of the pedigrees of these coins is as follows:

    1. Proof 58 NGC, the coin in this lot. New York Sale (Sotheby’s, 12/1992), lot 837; Morrison / Licht Collection (Stack’s, 3/2005), lot 1538; Southern Collection; Samuel Berngard / S.S. New York Collection (Stack’s, 7/2008), lot 4242; 74th Anniversary Sale (Stack’s, 11/2009), lot 1983; U.S. Coins Signature Auction, Philadelphia, (Heritage 8/2012), lot 1173. Inverted edge lettering, discovery coin with Sans Serif style of 1906.
    2. Impaired Proof, AU Uncertified. United States and Foreign Coins (Sotheby’s, 6/1995), lot 485. Inverted edge lettering, Sans Serif style of 1906, second discovery coin.
    3. Chief Engraver Charles Barber; Captain Andrew North cased set; Stack’s exhibited the cased set at the 1956 ANA convention; private collection; Stack’s again offered the set in 1980; purchased by NERCG for $1,000,000; John Dannreuther; private collection; Swiss Banking Corporation, per Goldberg’s 5/1999 catalog. Unique specimen with no edge lettering, also struck in first group.

    We have chosen to only list these three pedigrees as they pertain to only the “Sans Serif” edge lettering Ultra High Reliefs. The pedigrees of the remaining 16 examples with normal and inverted edge lettering are well documented in other’s research.

    Like many of America’s most attractive coins – both patterns and adopted designs – the original hubs for Saint-Gaudens’ coins were destroyed May 24-25, 1910 on orders from Mint Director A. Piatt Andrew.

    Augustus Saint-Gaudens died of cancer August 3,1907, just months after the first Ultra High Reliefs were coined in February. He never personally examined one of his “works of art.” Hering and Roosevelt refused to the let the project die, and the design was modified to the High Relief coins that were struck in November and December 1907. Mintage estimates indicate between 11,250 and 12,367 pieces were struck, despite Mint Director Barber’s sabotage and protests. Soon Barber would win out, and the relief was greatly reduced again in mid-December 1907, and that design continued through 1933 when gold production ceased until more recent times.

    As indicated by the Proof 58 designation by NGC, this piece shows evidence of light wear (rubbing) on the highest points of the design. The coin itself, is concave due to multiple blows of the medal press, with the edges appearing sharp and knife-like. The color is bright yellow-gold throughout with only the slightest breaks in the luster on the aforementioned highpoints. There are no other singular distractions or pedigree identifiers. This will prove to be a truly remarkable opportunity to purchase one of the first two (if not the very first!) Ultra High Relief Saint-Gaudens double eagles produced in early 1907. (PCGS 81954)

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