What Is a High Relief Coin?
High relief coins are coins that have been struck multiple times and with greater pressure when minted, so that the design on the coin stands out in high relief, or by at least half of its depth from its background.
History of the High Relief
1907 $20 Gold Piece aka The Double Eagle
“The Most Beautiful Coin Ever Minted”
This coin came into existence thanks to Theodore Roosevelt’s sense of aesthetics. In a letter to Secretary Leslie Mortier Shaw, Roosevelt wrote, “I think our coinage is artistically of atrocious hideousness.” Roosevelt felt that the United States of America had become an actualized country, and our currency, specifically our coins, should reflect that. Roosevelt had just the man in mind to give our U.S. Gold Pieces a much-needed make over: Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Saint-Gaudens had designed Roosevelt’s inaugural medal and was a famous sculptor at the time.
There were a total of four attempts to actualize Saint Gaudens’ vision of an Ultra High Relief coin. The first two attempts were in ultra high relief with Roman numerals for the year. Two of the 1907 Ultra High Relief coins are currently housed in the Smithsonian. On the third attempt, they used two gold planchets or blank coins to create the $20 double eagle in high relief. Each coin required three blows from the die, in order to make the design stand out in high relief. Fewer than 13,000 coins were circulated from this third attempt. However, it was difficult to mass-produce mint coins in high relief, and it was at the time, an impractical design for commerce. Since the high ridging made it impossible to stack the coins properly for storage and counting. The fourth attempt was a success, but the relief was significantly reduced to make the mass production process feasible. The fourth and final attempt was a low relief coin that differentiated from the high reliefs in that it had the year written in Arabic numerals and had “IN GOD WE TRUST” on the reverse. But a lot of drama occurred before the coin was finally minted and circulated. The US Minter at the time, put up a great opposition. The coin was finally minted thanks in part to Roosevelt throwing around his presidential clout and Saint-Gaudens assistant putting up a fight.
Description of The High Relief Design
These coins were minted between December 1907 and January 1908. They weigh approximately 33.436 grams and have a pure gold net weight of .96750 oz. They are 34 mm in diameter, and have the phrase “E*PLURIBUS*UNUM” etched into their edge. On the obverse, it features Lady Liberty with a long flowing Grecian gown, holding a torch in her right hand and an olive branch in her left. With the words liberty above her and 14 sunrays behind her. Her left foot is raised upon a rock. In the coin’s mint state, the Capitol can be seen to the left of the coin, or on Lady Liberty’s right side. On the lower right side of the coin is the date in roman numerals. Around the picture of liberty there are 46 stars, representing the number of states at the time. On the reverse side of the coin, there is a young eagle in flight with a sunburst behind it. Most of these coins are flat rim, meaning if you look at the coin face, the background and the edge or on the same level. However, some have a wire rim, meaning that the edge is higher than the coin face. This occurred because of the striking process.
There are fakes that were created, that would fool even the most seasoned numismatist. These fakes were known as the Omegas. They differentiate from the originals, in that there is an omega inscribed on the coin, near the eagle’s claw.
If you do come across a fake omega, know that because the counterfeit was so flawless they are now worth almost as much as the real Double Eagle. So if you buy an omega thinking it is the original do not feel bad. There is a collector who would pay a high price for it.
Other fakes are a bit more obvious where Lady Liberty has no mouth, or the eagle’s beak and the rays are blurred. These fakes unfortunately do not have much value. Either way when purchasing one of these coins make sure to weigh it, and go over it with an eye loop. Its very hard to replicate the weight of a coin when using a different metal.
1921 Peace Dollar aka
High Relief Silver Dollar
The next high relief coin was issued in 1921. World War I had ended in 1918, and Farran Zerbe wanted to mint a coin that would commemorate the peace that followed. Farran Zerbe was a member of the American Numismatic Association (ANA) and founder of the Chase Manhattan Bank Money Museum. In an 1920, at an ANA Convention, Mr. Zerbe presented a paper about commemorating peace on a coin for circulation. He suggested that it be either on the half dollar or if silver dollar coinage was going to resume, then it should be that denomination. This presentation was received with great enthusiasm. And thanks to Zerbe’s political connection as well as the ANA’s work, Zerbe’s dream of a peace dollar became a reality. The peace dollar was issued without congressional sanction thanks in part to the Pittman Act; which had depleted US silver dollars in America, so there was a need for more circulated silver in order to protect against inflation.
The original designer of the coin was Anthony de Francisci, a famous sculptor. However, his design was changed before the minting process began by George Morgan, the designer of the Morgan Dollar and Chief Engraver for the US Mint at the time. Francisci originally portrayed the eagle, on the reverse of the coin, breaking a sword. However, it was felt that this design had more of a conquering spirit than a peaceful one, so Morgan redesigned the eagle holding an olive branch in its talons and sitting on a mountaintop that had the word peace inscribed on it. Of course Francisci had no idea that his design had been changed without his permission. The coin was minted and put out as a high relief the last week of December, 1921. About 1,006, 473 were struck. However, it was soon found that the high reliefs were weak at the center, so not an ideal coin for circulation. Morgan actually took a sledge hammer to the die in order to flatten it. The high-relief design was discontinued, and starting in 1922, the Peace dollar design was in low relief. It is important to note, that the 1921 Peace Dollar was the last high-relief coin that was circulated.
Description of Peace Dollar
The coin weighs 26.73 grams, with a pure silver net weight of .77344 oz. It is 38.1 mm in diameter with a reeded edge much like our current coinage.
On the obverse of the coin features the profile of lady liberty wearing a crown and facing left. The word “Liberty” is written above her head. And “In god we trust” is located on either side of her neck. The date, 1921, is also featured on the bottom of the coin, below her neck, in Arabic numerals.
On the reverse of the coin there is an eagle facing the right side of the coin, standing on a mountaintop inscribed with the word “PEACE”. He has an olive branch gripped in his talon. There is a rising sun in the background and the words “E PLURIBUS UNUM” is featured above the eagle. The mintmark of the coin be found to the left of the eagle’s tail feathers.
High relief coins are still made today but not for circulation. A majority of them are made as proofs. These coins have both a bullion value and a face value much like it’s circulated predecessors.
In 2009, the US Mint produced a collector’s version of the Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle. The coin was made in Ultra High Relief and had few changes to his original design. This coin has 50 stars on the obverse, as well as the 2009 date in Roman numerals. On the reverse, the statement “IN GOD WE TRUST” was added to the bottom of his original design of the high-flying eagle in front of a rising sun.
In 2015, a high relief gold 1 oz liberty coin was released. Featuring a trendier looking lady liberty with Grecian robes a laurel crown. In her left hand or the right side of the coin she is holding a flagpole with the United States flag waving in the wind. In her right hand or the left of the coin she is holding a fiery torch. “Liberty” is written on the top of the coin, “In God We Trust” on the bottom, with the date in Arabic numerals on the left side of the coin. On the reverse is the profile of an eagle in flight clutching an olive branch in his talons. “United States of America” is written at the top of the coin and “ONE HUNDRED DOLLARS” on the bottom with “1 OZ. .9999 FINE GOLD” written right above it. “E PLURIBUS UNUM” is written to the left of the eagle in flight.
High Relief as an Investment
Any or all high relief collectables are rare and are probably going to be scarce in the future, because of their high collectable appeal. Do to unique striking of the high reliefs that were minted, people would not spend them and chose to put them away. Modern ones are a bit more affordable and have room to appreciate. They haven’t yet become true collectables like the 1907 Saint-Gaudens and the 1921 Peace Dollar; but they do have a bullion value that the other ones did not.
We buy and sell high relief and ultra high relief coins. Please contact us if you have any interest in buying or selling.