$20 St. Gaudens (1907-1933)

In 1907 Augustus Saint-Gaudens redesigned the $20 piece, employing as the obverse motif the figure of Miss Liberty striding forward. The initial Saint-Gaudens design was struck in high relief, giving the coins an almost sculptured appearance. The date was expressed in Roman numerals, MCMVII. Some 11,250 of these coins were struck, after which the design was modified to a shallow format to permit production on high speed coinage presses. It is a tribute to Saint-Gaudens that when the Mint in 1986 decided to create bullion-type gold coins, it could not improve upon what Saint-Gaudens did in 1907, and it resurrected his design, even using updated Roman numerals.

MCMVII High Relief pieces are scarce today, although probably at least 2,000 or 3,000 exist. The demand for them is such that they have always found a ready market. Nearly anyone who aspires to form a set of gold coins desires to own at least one specimen. Among later Saint-Gaudens double eagles of the modified design there are a number of scarce and rare issues, particularly among mintmark varieties of the 1920s. All issues after 1928 are rarities.

Particularly hard to find is the 1927-D, of which 180,000 were minted, but of which fewer than a dozen can be traced with certainty today. Apparently most were melted and not released.

The last year of issue, 1933, saw production of 445,500 pieces, a dozen or so of which found their way into collections during the early 1930s. The vast majority of the mintage went to the melting pot. In the 1940s the government took the position that no 1933 $20 pieces had been officially released (although $10 pieces of the 1933 design were no problem), and that any pieces in the hands of collectors were illegally held. Louis Eliasberg and most other collectors dutifully surrendered their pieces to the Treasury Department, receiving face value for them. Although it could be argued that someone going to the Philadelphia Mint in 1933 and offering to exchange a $20 piece of an earlier date could have received a 1933 legally, the government alleged that no records of such transactions exist, and seized all it could find. An exception was an example which was sold in the collection of King Farouk of Egypt, and which was scheduled to cross the auction block in 1953 after the assets of the deposed king were seized by the Egyptian government.  That piece sold at auction in 2002 for $7,590,020, a record price for any coin -- one that remains unbeaten as of this writing.