One of the greatest treasures of US numismatics, a 1907 ultra high relief Saint-Gaudens double eagle, will highlight Heritage Auctions' January 7-12 FUN US Coins Signature Auction in Orlando.
The coin is a unique example, previously part of the estate of its designer, Augustus Saint-Gaudens. It is considered one of the most beautiful American coin designs, and with this example offered at auction for the very first time, bidding starts at $1.4m.
President Theodore Roosevelt, in typical style, wanted to create a new coin that would showcase America's status as a world leader in both industry and the arts, and in 1906 recruited Saint-Gaudens, who at the time was working on a series of monuments for Washington's parks.
Given free rein to redesign the nation's coinage (which Roosevelt had previously described as "artistically of atrocious hideousness" and had long desired to change), Saint-Gaudens came up with the spectacular ultra high relief design.
However, the coins needed 11 strikes to bring up the detail and could not be stacked with other denominations, resulting in the impractical design being changed soon after. The coins also proved controversial, with Congress intervening to add the words "In God We Trust".
As a result, there were many different variations of the coin issued between 1907 and 1933, but only those from 1907 are true to Saint-Gaudens' original vision.
The present coin is one of two struck for the mint cabinet, and was part of that collection until it was loaned to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1908.
With no trial examples available to give to Saint-Gaudens' widow (Augustus Saint-Gaudens died in August 1907, never to see his work realised) and the obverse dies destroyed, the sculptor's estate sued, and she was eventually awarded the present coin.
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