American Numismatic Society
American Numismatic Society

Drachmas, Doubloons and Dollars: The History of Money

U.S. Treasures of the American Numismatic Society

The work of Augustus Saint-Gaudens

In 1905, President Thedore Roosevelt (1901-1909), believing that contemporary U.S. coin design was "atrociously hideous," invited the famed sculptor and personal friend Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848-1907) to create a more fitting coinage. Roosevelt was a great admirer of the high relief of ancient Greek coins and desired to see the equivalent workmanship on U.S. coins. Saint-Gaudens did not disappoint. His designs for the 1907 10 dollar "eagle" and the 1907 20 dollar "double eagle" both rank among the masterpieces of 20th-century coin design. Approximately twenty-four of the 20 dollar coins were struck as patterns and each one required nine strikes to bring out the exceptionally high relief that makes this design so attractive. The Chief Engraver at this time, Charles Barber, who was also jealous of Saint-Gaudens' favor with the president, dramatically reduced the high relief for the circulating version of the coin. Saint-Gaudens died in 1907 before any coins based on his designs were put into circulation.

Macedonian gold distater of Alexander the Great (356-323 BC) from Amphipolis, depicting Athena wearing a crested helmet and Nike, the Greek goddess of victory.


Gold 10 dollar "eagle" (1907) designed by Saint-Gaudens, depicting Liberty wearing a feathered headdress and an eagle. Liberty wears a Native American headdress but is modeled after the Greek goddess Nike.


Gold 5 dollar "half eagle" (1908) with a portrait of a Native American chief and an eagle standing on a bundle of arrows entwine with an olive branch. The unique "sunken-relief" design by Bela Lyon Pratt (1867-1917) was inspired by the technique of ancient Egyptian art.


Gold 20 dollar "double eagle" pattern (1907) in ultra-high relief designed by Saint-Gaudens, depicting Liberty standing, holding a torch and an olive branch. On the reverse, an eagle flies and the sun rises. Following Saint-Gaudens' death in 1907, Charles Barber, Chief engraver at the U.S. Mint, reduced the level of relief for the circulating versions.


Gold 20 dollar "double eagle" (1913) in "sand-blast" proof showing the great degree to which Saint-Gaudens' original ultrahigh relief was reduced by Barber. A sand-blast proof is produced by blowing minute particles of sand against the coin's surface.