2009 Ultra High Relief Double Eagle Gold Coin

2009 Ultra High Relief Double Eagle Gold Coin

Last week, the U.S. Mint sent a notice on its press list to announce the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee meeting on Tuesday, July 22 at 3 PM. As usual, the meeting will be held at the U.S. Mint Headquarters located at 801 Ninth St. NW, in Washington, DC. What caused a buzz amongst the numismatic press was the agenda:

“Discussion of a potential 2015 24K Gold Ultra-High Relief Coin and accompanying silver medal.”

In 2008, it became then Mint Director Edmund Moy’s “pet project” to create the ultra-high relief Augustus Saint-Gaudens double eagle design in a manner that Saint-Gaudens originally envisioned. The result was the 2009 Ultra High Relief Gold Coin. The design was based on the plaster casts originally made by Saint-Gaudens that was digitized and the equipment purchased that would be able to strike the coin.

Moy is no longer Director but the U.S. Mint still has the equipment used to strike the coin. The question is what does the U.S. Mint have in mind for creating a high-relief coin?

Also, what do they have in mind for an accompanying silver medal and how do they justify creating a medal? While the U.S. Mint can use the same law that authorizes the 24-Karat Gold Buffalo coin (31 U.S.C. § 5112(q)), it is uncertain what can be leverage for the silver medal. It is possible that the U.S. Mint might be leveraging 31 U.S.C. § 5111(a)(2) that says The Secretary of the Treasury “may prepare national medal dies and strike national and other medals if it does not interfere with regular minting operations but may not prepare private medal dies.” Before we pass further judgement we will wait to hear what the U.S. Mint says.

As for the subject, since they Saint-Gaudens double eagle design as been used, what other high-relief design has issues? The only design that comes to mind is the Anthony de Francisci Peace dollar. But not just the Peace dollar, but the original design with the broken sword.

The broken sword was not well received. According to numismatic researcher Roger Burdette, he discovered a editorial that appeared in the New York Herald that summarized the feeling about the broken sword:

A sword is broken when its owner has disgraced himself. It is broken when a battle is lost and breaking is the alternative to surrendering. A sword is broken when the man who wears it can no longer render allegiance to his sovereign. But America has not broken its sword. It has not been cashiered or beaten; it has not lost allegiance to itself. The blade is bright and keen and wholly dependable. It is regrettable that the artist should have made such an error in symbolism. The sword is emblematic of Justice as well as of Strength. Let not the world be deceived by this new dollar. The American effort to limit armament and to prevent war or at least reduce its horror does not mean that our sword is broken.

1921-D Peace Dollar

1921-D Peace Dollar

Aside from being too high of a relief for efficient striking, U.S. Mint Chief Engraver George Morgan modified the models using fine engraving tools under extreme magnification at the last moment to remove the broken sword. De Francisci was asked to be in Philadelphia as Morgan made the modifications to ensure the work met with his approval. As part of the modification, Morgan extended the olive branch and removed some of its parts to make it look as if it was de Francisci’s original work. Morgan also sharpened some of the details, strengthened the sun’s rays and straightened the eagle’s leg to give it a better appearance. The work was done so well that nobody realized that Morgan made these changes until Burdette uncovered the details in his research.

Although struck in Denver in late December 1921, the 1921-D Peace dollar was released into circulation on January 3, 1922.

Later that year it was determined that the high-relief design was causing dies to break at a faster pace than planned. The Mint then lowered the relief in order to keep striking coins at the rate required by law. This became the second type of the Peace dollar series.

Because 2015 will be 95 years since the first Peace dollar, I suspect that the high-relief gold coin will be a 2015 tribute to that first Peace dollar.

Artist's conception of a 1964-D Peace dollar.

Artist’s conception of a 1964-D Peace dollar.

As for a companion silver, there is an interesting story about an attempt to produce the Peace dollar in 1964. In 1964 the price of silver rose to new heights that it made the value of ordinary circulating coins worth more for their metals than their face value. Because of this, silver coins were being hoarded by the public and becoming scarce in circulation. Western states that relied on hard currency including the gaming areas of Nevada needed the U.S. Mint to strike additional coins for circulation.

The striking of a dollar coin had a powerful ally: Senator Majority Leader Mike Mansfield, Democrat from Montana, whose state would be directly affected by the new coins. Although the numismatic press was not in favor of the measure because of its limited ability to solve the coin shortage, Mansfield pushed a bill through congress to authorize the Mint to strike 45 million silver dollars.

After much discussion, the Mint looked for working dies but found that few survived a 1937 destruction order. Those that did survive were in poor condition. Mint Assistant Engraver Frank Gasparro, who would later become the Mint’s 10th Chief Engraver, was authorized to create new dies of the Peace dollar with the “D” mintmark. Since the coins would mostly circulate in the west it was logical to strike them closest to the area of interest.

When the coins were announced, coin dealers immediately offered $7.50 per coin which would ensure that they would not circulate as intended. Everyone saw this as a poor use of Mint resources during a time of severe coin shortages. Adams announced that the pieces were trial strikes never intended for circulation and were later melted under reportedly heavy security.

There have been reports that some Peace dollars were struck using base metals (copper-nickel clad) as experimental pieces in 1970 in anticipation of the approval of the Eisenhower dollar. The same reports also presume these coins have been destroyed.

While we are speculating, the companion silver medal could be a modern tribute to the 1964-D Peace dollar by minting a 1915-D silver medal with the same design but without a denomination. It would be the same design but with out “ONE DOLLAR” struck on the reverse.

A high-relief 24-karat gold Peace dollar design and a silver version without the denomination. That’s my prediction, what’s yours?

2009 Ultra-High Relief image courtesy of the U.S. Mint
1921-D Peace dollar courtesy of the author.
Artists conception of the 1964-D Peace dollar courtesy of PCGS.

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