The original design for what would be called the most beautiful gold coin in American history was the result of collaboration between President Theodore Roosevelt and sculptor Augustus-Saint Gaudens. After Saint-Gaudens had designed a commemorative medal for Roosevelt’s inauguration, Roosevelt would ask him to work on new designs for circulating gold coinage.
The two would exchange letters within which designs for the new coin would take shape. Early sketches from Saint-Gaudens would feature the full figure of Liberty in flowing gown, holding a torch and shield. His intention was to make the coin “a living thing and typical of progress.” President Roosevelt contributed the idea of striking the coins in his relief, similar to the coins of Ancient Greece.
Before Saint-Gaudens’ untimely passing in 1907, several pattern pieces featuring his design would be struck in ultra high relief. In order to fully bring up the design, it took as many as nine blows from the coinage press. Eventually, the dies cracked due to the heavy pressure. The mint rejected his original designs since it would be nearly impossible to mass produce the double eagles as the artist intended with the technology available at the time. The relief of the design would be lowered twice before full scale production for circulation could commence.
The 2009 Ultra High Relief Double Eagle features the design that the artist had intended for America’s $20 gold piece, made possible through 21st century technology.
The obverse design depicts Liberty moving confidently forward, holding a lit torch and olive branch. In the background the Capitol dome can be seen amidst rays from a rising sun. The image is surrounded by 50 stars representing the current number of states, as a slight change from the 46 stars on the original design. The word LIBERTY appears above with the date expressed as MMIX. The designer’s initials appear beneath the date.
The reverse design depicts an eagle as it soars majestically in flight. The sun appears below with its rays extending upwards. The inscriptions appear in two lines above UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and E PLURIBUS UNUM. Between the sun and its rays is the additional inscription IN GOD WE TRUST, which did not appear on the original design created by Saint-Gaudens. The edge of the coin includes the motto E PLURIBUS UNUM again, with the letters separated by stars.