American Eagle Coins

The History of the American Eagle Gold Coin

src: US Mint

To commemorate the 35th anniversary of the modern American Eagle Coin Program, let’s take a look at the history of the American Eagle Gold Coin. Did you know that renowned sculptor and artist Augustus Saint-Gaudens originally created his likeness of Lady Liberty at the personal invitation of President Theodore Roosevelt? President Roosevelt had a keen interest in transforming and invigorating the design of American circulating coins in the early 1900s.

On December 27, 1904, the President wrote a letter to Treasury Secretary Leslie Mortier Shaw. The President wrote: “I think our coinage is artistically of atrocious hideousness. Would it be possible, without asking the permission of the Congress, to employ a man like [Augustus] Saint-Gaudens to give us a coinage that would have some beauty?”

Saint-Gaudens was one of the first Americans to study sculpture at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, a world-renowned fine-arts school in Paris. During his career, he completed numerous commissions including The Puritan, a bronze sculpture for Merrick Park in Springfield, Massachusetts; a 12-foot bronze statue of Abraham Lincoln for Lincoln Park in Chicago; and an 18-foot statue of the Roman goddess of the hunt, Diana.

Saint-Gaudens responded to President Roosevelt’s invitation by creating designs that would appear on the “Eagle” ($10) and “Double Eagle” ($20) gold coins. More than a century later, Saint-Gaudens’ trailblazing designs continue to stand out. A version of Saint-Gaudens’ Liberty that first appeared on the 1907 $20 coin, now appears on of the obverse of the American Eagle Gold Coin.

“In some ways, the American Eagle Coin breaks barriers compared to coins with traditional placements,” said Roger Vasquez, a program manager for the U.S. Mint’s Office of Design Management. Vasquez has been working for the Mint for nearly 19 years and has seen many obverse and reverse designs for coins. For example, the head of a figure is usually depicted on the obverse side of a coin, and an important building or special event is depicted on the reverse side. The American Eagle Gold Coin features a full-figured Liberty and Capitol building on the obverse side, as opposed to a traditional portrait.

The reverse of the American Eagle Gold Coin features a design created by Miley Busiek Frost and sculpted by Sherl J. Winter. In this design, which symbolizes the unity and family tradition of America, a male eagle carries an olive branch flying above a nest containing a female eagle and hatchlings.

1986 American Eagle Gold Coin obverse and reverse plasters
1986 American Eagle Gold Coin obverse and reverse plasters