The story behind this noble coin is as interesting as the
coin itself. President Theodore Roosevelt was disenchanted with American coins at the turn of the twentieth century,
feeling they were "artistically of atrocious hideousness."
Teddy asked Augustus Saint-Gaudens, the most renowned American sculptor at the time, to do better. Roosevelt admired
the coins of ancient Greece, particularly the gold staters of Alexander the Great. He was also said to have carried
an Athenian "Owl" silver tetradrachm in his pocket. In response to the President's wishes, Saint-Gaudens
created new designs for the double eagle, eagle, and cent (the cent was the only one of the three that didn't reach
Over the years a number of theories have been proposed regarding Saint-Gaudens' inspiration for the Saint obverse,
which is reminiscent of the Victory figure that's part his 1903 memorial sculpture to Civil War General William
One of the more intriguing theories, put forth by Harlan J. Berk in a 1993 article in The Celator, was that Saint-Gaudens
was inspired by the work of Paionios of Mende, a Greek sculptor of the fifth century B.C. Paionios' sculpture of
Nike, goddess of victory, was excavated in Greece in 1875, an event Saint-Gaudens, being a classicist, must have
been aware of. Like the Saint-Gaudens Liberty, the Paionios Nike features a buxom, partially draped female form
striding forward, left arm raised, left leg leading the right. You can view pictures of it at the Ancient Greek Cities Web site.
We know with greater assurance that Saint-Gaudens borrowed the Saint reverse design from the obverse of the Flying
Eagle cents of 1856 to 1858. The reverse design was actually criticized for its lack of originality when Saints
were first released, according to a 1917 book by Frank A. Leach, director of the U.S. Mint from 1907 to 1909. The
Saint reverse, however, features a more majestic, less angular eagle than the Flying Eagle large cent as well as
the addition of a partially eclipsed sun and its rays.
Whatever the inspiration for its design, Saint-Gaudens' Ultra High Relief and High Relief double eagles, minted
only in 1907, are the most classical of U.S. coins, with the sculptural relief common among ancient Greek coins
and with Roman numerals for their date. The coins' devices are raised high above the fields, which are concave.
The Ultra High Reliefs, of slightly higher relief, were experimental pieces, but 11,250 High Reliefs were struck.
The coin below is a mint state High Relief from the Ed Trompeter Collection graded MS-69 by PCGS, the Professional
Coin Grading Service. It's the highest graded High Relief Saint by PCGS. In some ways the High Reliefs are even
more attractive than the Ultra High Reliefs, when you consider the differences.