Coin Designs

At the request of President Theodore Roosevelt in 1904, Saint-Gaudens was commissioned to design three coins for the U. S. Mint: a ten and twenty dollar gold pieces, as well as a one cent coin which was never minted. One of the last important commissions before his death in August 1907, the "Eagle" ($10.) and "Double Eagle" ($20.) coins are considered to this day to be the most beautiful American coins ever minted. In fact, the twenty dollar coin is often referred to by collectors as a "Saint-Gaudens." He was the first sculptor to design an American coin, before that, only the mint engravers produced the designs.

Saint-Gaudens first began with simple quick drawings on whatever paper he had at hand. These small drawings were meant as visualizations of ideas only. The first real designs came in clay, in circular reliefs done about twelve to thirteen inch diameter. About seventy five designs exist for these early sketch models for the Twenty and Ten Dollar coins. The sculptor works in clay because it is easily shaped. Once a design is fully adapted, it is cast in plaster. The final plaster designs were sent to the US Mint, where they were used with the Janvier Lathe, a machine that can mechanically reduce the large sketch to the size of a coin.

Metal blanks are cut from large sheets of metal and placed in dies that contain the coin design. The blanks are annealed or heated to soften the metal, and then washed. An upsetting mill forms the edge of the coin. A press stamps the design into the metal blanks, forming the coin.

In the New Gallery at the park, the actual ten and twenty dollar gold coins are exhibited. One can also view some of the original 12 inch diameter plaster models of early versions of the coin designs, including the one cent coin.

Last updated: September 26, 2016

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