Have you ever wondered how the High Relief 1907 Double Eagle would have looked like if the final product was made according to what Augustus Saint-Gaudens originally envisioned? The answer lies in the 2016 Winged Liberty Proofs; highly collectible, collector issue 1 oz. high relief proof gold and silver commemoratives. I cover these fascinating gold and silver pieces and more in this article.
Who was Augustus Saint-Gaudens?
Augustus Saint-Gaudens was a renowned American sculptor who was born in Dublin, Ireland to an Irish mother and French father. They moved to the United States when he was a mere 6 months old, where he was raised in New York. He later dedicated himself to the study of classical art and architecture. He studied both in the United States and abroad in Paris and Rome. Upon his return to New York, he achieved major critical success for monuments that honor heroes of the American Civil War.
He had a passion for architecture and art, especially as embodied in the American Renaissance (1876-1917). This was a time when renewed national self-confidence inspired architects and artists to create works of great stature – works that reflected the notion that the United States was heir to Renaissance humanism, Greek democracy, and Roman law.
He also had a strong interest in numismatics. It is he who designed both the $20 “double eagle” gold piece (Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle) and the $10 “Indian Head” gold eagle – U.S. coins that were minted from 1907 until 1933.
A Classic American Design – Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle
More than a century ago, Augustus Saint-Gaudens submitted his designs for a new 20 dollar gold coin, the $20 Saint. His impressive high relief designs were chosen from the designs submitted by others, including the designs submitted by the legendary Charles Barber.
However, on the back of technological constraints at the time, only part of what Saint-Gaudens envisioned made it into the final product: the absolutely breathtaking 1907 Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle struck in high relief.
This 1907 20 dollar gold coin – which saw a limited mint run of slightly more than 12,000 pieces – is rightfully deemed by many as one of the most beautiful and popular American coins ever struck by the U.S. Mint.
Fast forward to 2016, and you will find that for the first time ever the original Saint-Gaudens $20 Liberty design has been captured in highly collectible, limited mintage, 1 oz. high relief proof gold and silver commemoratives. These beautiful proofs are the 2016 Winged Liberty High Relief Saint-Gaudens commemoratives.
The Original Vision – Winged Liberty Design
The original obverse as envisioned by Augustus Saint-Gaudens included an absolutely stunning rendition of a winged Liberty with Indian headdress in high relief. Liberty is standing with laurel leafs and torch in hand – against a backdrop that includes the Capitol building and a rising sun to the left.
This was in line with his vision of a winged, full-standing figure of Liberty “…striding forward as if on a mountain top, holding aloft on one arm a shield bearing the stars and stripes with the word Liberty marked across the field; in the other hand… a flaming torch, the draper… flowing in the breeze. My idea is to make it a lining thing and typical of progress.”
He wrote the above to President Theodore Roosevelt on November 11, 1905.
Ancient Greek Inspiration
The above perfectly fitted Roosevelt’s vision to see a revamp of U.S. coin designs. It was, after all, he who commissioned Saint-Gaudens in 1905 to undertake this gigantic task. This happened, after the impressive high relief ancient Greek coins in the Smithsonian’s collection, caught the eye of the president.
Those coins out of ancient Greece left such a strong impression on the president, that he decided to take an active role in the design of U.S. coinage – to such an extent that he was prepared to steamroll over any obstacles in his way! This happened to the annoyance of “old school” designers and engravers such as the renowned Charles Barber – who at the time, alongside the famous George T. Morgan – virtually held a monopoly over the design of U.S. coins.
A Change of Inscriptions
The 2016 Winged Liberty Proofs include the Roman numerals for 2016, “MMXVI.” The “TWENTY DOLLARS” inscription can be found on the reverse of the original High Relief 1907 Double Eagle coin (Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle). However, it was excluded in terms of the 2016 Winged Liberty Saint-Gaudens Commemorative Proofs. This is simply because these are not U.S. legal tender produced and distributed by the U.S. Mint. These are privately issued high relief gold and silver proofs, officially licensed by the National Park Foundation, minted by the British Royal Mint and distributed by ModernCoinMart (MCM) – the worldwide exclusive distributor.
The 2016 Winged Liberty Proofs do include the words: “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.” The same words can be found on the original reverse design as envisioned by Saint-Gaudens.
Contrary to the original coin design, these 2016 Winged Liberty Proofs include the following inscription on a common reverse: “SAINT-GAUDENS NHS” – where NHS stands for National Historic Site.
Thus, the full inscription is in reference to the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site – “a protected area of national historic significance in the United States.”
Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site – “Aspet”
This site enjoys the protection of the National Park Service (NPS) – a federal agency that is tasked with the management of all U.S. national parks, several American national monuments and other properties of historical and environmental significance. The NPS will celebrate its 100th anniversary on August, 25th 2016.
The Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site – with its beautiful surroundings – is nested within the Saint-Gaudens Estate in Cornish, New Hampshire. This estate includes the home – including personal studios and grounds – that were used by the great American sculptor, Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Congress declared his home a National Historic Site on August 31st, 1964 – almost 60 years since he passed away in 1907.
“Aspet” – as he called his home – is today a museum that houses an impressive collection of sculptures and numismatic treasures, including original plaster concepts. The latter are dated from the time he was tasked by President Theodore Roosevelt to create new U.S. coin designs in 1905.
It is here where renowned American coin designers such as Adolph Weinman, Charles Keck, James E. Fraser, Bela Pratt and John Flanagan were taught under the guiding hand of Saint-Gaudens. Today the site boasts an artist-in-residence program surrounded by well over a 100 of the great sculptor’s works – a must see for anyone traveling that part of the world.
Technological Constraints 1907 – A Heavily “Watered Down” Version
As mentioned earlier, a couple of essential elements of the original Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle design never made it onto the final product: the 1907 High Relief Double Eagle coin (Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle).
The most beautiful and artistic elements in my opinion – Liberty’s wings and Indian headdress – were sacrificed at the time on the back of technological constraints. This made it impossible to bring the original Saint-Gaudens $20 Liberty design to life at that time.
Even the “watered down” high relief version was not coinable on a commercial scale. Trial dies of the altered version had to be struck no less than 9 times to obtain the high relief Saint-Gaudens envisioned! This must have been extremely frustrating, especially to Saint-Gaudens and Roosevelt – even considering that they went into it fully knowing the risks involved. They pressed ahead despite previous warnings from Mint officials. The high relief designs they envisioned were simply not coinable.
Technological Advances 2016 – Original Winged Liberty Design Comes to Life
ModernCoinMart (MCM) was doing research on how to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Foundation (NPF). During this research, the original plaster concept of the $20 Saint was discovered! The next step was to get renowned American sculptor and engraver, John Mercanti, involved. Mercanti, the 12th Chief Engraver of the U.S. Mint, was tasked to finish the Winged Liberty design that Saint-Gaudens envisioned. The perfect man for the job!
Interestingly, it was during Mercanti’s tenure as Chief Engraver at the U.S. Mint when the 2009 MMIX Ultra High Relief $20 gold coin was released – another attempt to pay tribute to the original $20 Saint design.
They were successful in demonstrating technological advances in minting techniques – the primary aim of the 2009 commemorative release. However, it fell short in bringing what Saint-Gaudens originally envisioned to life – a Winged Liberty with Indian headdress (obverse) and Standing Eagle (reverse). Those elements were missing again!
This time around – armed with prior knowledge, experience and the original plaster concept in hand – Mercanti managed to finish the plaster of the Winged Liberty design. The end result – taking all legalities into account – something that reflects as close as possible what Augustus Saint-Gaudens originally envisioned.
The Royal Mint – The Official Mint of the United Kingdom
The finished plaster was then sent to the official mint of the United Kingdom, the British Royal Mint – one of the most technically advanced minting facilities in the world. They are experts when it comes to the striking of high relief coins. They also offer unmatched craftsmanship when it comes to the production of proof medallions and coins, and were the perfect choice to help bring the original $20 Saint to life.
It is here where the 2016 Winged Liberty Saint-Gaudens Commemorative Proofs were meticulously struck in high relief, proof quality. Increased pressure and multiple strikes left deep mirrored fields and frosted devices. The high relief of these commemorative proofs makes the beautiful design really stand out. It is a remarkable piece of art, designed over a century ago!
Why buy the 2016 Winged Liberty Saint-Gaudens Commemorative Proofs?
Great reasons to add these impressive high relief proofs to your collection, in summary:
Saint-Gaudens’ Original Vision
It closely resembles the original design envisioned for the $20 Saint – a 1907 20 dollar gold coin. The Winged Liberty with Indian headdress (obverse) and the Standing Eagle (reverse) are included this time around – Finally!
100th Anniversary of the National Park Service (NPS)
Commemorate the 100th anniversary of a service that is helping to make America great! The National Park Service (NPS) is managing the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site and is helping to preserve a great part of American history, both numismatic and otherwise. Licensed by the official charity of the NPS that was founded in 1967, this coin is an opportunity to support a great national nonprofit organization.
The Mercanti Connection – 12th Chief Engraver of the U.S. Mint
John Mercanti was tasked to finish the plasters of the original Winged Liberty design as envisioned by Augustus Saint-Gaudens. He based this on the original plaster concepts discovered at the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site.
Mercanti also hand signed the labels of the NGC certified 2016 1 oz. High Relief Proof Silver Winged Liberty Saint-Gaudens Commemoratives – available at MCM.
The Royal Mint
This 1,100+ year-old mint, the official mint of the United Kingdom – one of the most technically advanced minting facilities in the world – was tasked to bring the 2016 Winged Liberty Saint-Gaudens Commemorative Proofs to life. The involvement of the Royal Mint ensures unmatched quality and craftsmanship.
The 2016 Gold Winged Liberty Saint-Gaudens Commemorative Proof comes packed with 1 oz. of .9999 fine gold – and the silver piece – with 1 oz. of .999 fine silver. It is important to remember that these 2016 high relief commemorative proofs are not legal tender or government issued gold and silver coins. However, rest assure – the Royal Mint has a strong reputation when it comes maintaining the purity of precious metals – and that ModernCoinMart will hold them to it.
World Exclusive Distributor
ModernCoinMart (MCM), one of the pioneers of the online bullion and modern coin market, is the world exclusive distributor of these 2016 Winged Liberty Saint-Gaudens Commemorative Proofs.
It is hard to go wrong with MCM’s competitive prices, including free domestic shipping and backed by world class customer service and systems, including a strong customer-centered approach.
With a Maximum authorized mintage of 10,000 silver pieces and 1,000 gold pieces, supply will be limited! Only a portion of this mintage will be produced at first, so act fast to secure your own!