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The Flipside with Robert R. Van Ryzin

A Pyramid of the Yellow Stuff
August 26, 2008



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.



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Recent Comments
On January 25, 2009 bluegrassriver said
Very nice article.  I noticed you have no contests at this time.  Make a new contest that predicts the price of this high relief $20.00 one year from its release date.  The prize should be a gift certificate to a coin supply store/catalog.

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About the Author
Robert R. Van Ryzin has been a coin collector for 30 years. He has served as editor of Krause Publications Coins and Coin Prices magazines since 1994. He joined the firm in 1986 after obtaining a master of fine arts degree in history from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. Prior to becoming a magazine editor, he worked on World Coin News as a staff member and later served as managing editor of Numismatic News. Van Ryzin, whose specialty is U.S. coinage history, is also the award-winning author of the book Crime of 1873: The Comstock Connection (Krause Publications, 2001), as well as two earlier titles, Twisted Tails: Sifted Fact, Fantasy and Fiction from U.S. Coin History (Krause Publications, 1995) and Striking Impressions: A Visual Guide to Collecting U.S. Coins (Krause Publications, 1992).

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