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A pyramid of the yellow stuff

I a couple of months ago I wrote in Coins magazine that if I had one dream coin it would be the new ultra-high relief Saint-Gaudens gold $20 being released next year by the U.S. Mint.

Recently, having attended the American Numismatic Association World’s Fair of Money in Baltimore, I had a chance to view a U.S.Mint exhibit that included one of the coins. It was great to be able to see the coin ahead of time, but what I also found interesting was a stack of six 24-karat gold bars from the West Point Mint, where the new $20s will be minted.


The press information for this portion of the display noted that each bar contained 400 ounces of gold, each weighed 27.5 pounds, each was comprised of newly mined U.S. gold, and each was worth $384,645 as of the gold spot price on July 22, 2008. Total value of this pyramid of gold was $2,307,870.

Beside the gold bars, the exhibit showed the process of achieving the ultra-high relief design and included plasters of the obverse and reverse that could be touched by visitors to better judge the height of the relief.

The coins are likely to go on sale early in 2009 and there is no mintage limit, though they are slated to be in gold only for that year. Prices haven’t been set yet and will depend on the price of gold.

Gold was above $960 an ounce when the bars were valued for the exhibit. Right now it’s in the $830 range. So the bars aren’t worth as much as they were when they went on display, but they are still in worth around $328,000 each.

The original idea behind the heightened relief for the early 20th-century coins, designed by famed sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, is credited to President Theodore Roosevelt, who wanted new designs for the nation’s coins and longed for the dramatic high relief found on ancient Greek gold coins struck by hand.

However, the Mint ultimately judged it impractical and issued the coin in a much lower relief. Today the few ultra-high relief patterns that exist are worth in the millions. More reasonably priced, but valued in the thousands, are the more plentiful high relief specimens.


The new versions are crafted from original plasters that were digitally mapped and are to be minted in 24-karat gold, which is more malleable than the 22-karat gold used for the originals. The 27mm planchets for the new coins are about 50 percent thicker than those used for the American Eagle gold one-ounce coins.

There are some slight design differences as well, including the addition of the motto “IN GOD WE TRUST,” four more stars to represent the current 50 states, and a small border not found on the originals.

It’s an impressive coin that should prove popular and one I wouldn’t mind owning.