Uncle Sam Did Something Right
September 25, 2009 by Michael Checkan
In 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt summoned his personal friend, famed sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, to the White House. His request: Please design new coinage for the United States. Roosevelt wanted our coins modeled on the coins of ancient Greece, the birthplace of democracy.
Although in failing health, Saint-Gaudens accepted what would become his last challenge. He produced a stunning design that many consider to be the most beautiful coin ever produced… the $20 Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle. Sadly, Saint-Gaudens died without ever seeing his magnificent coin enter circulation.
The Saint-Gaudens $20 Double Eagle was minted from 1907 to 1933. The last gold coin struck by the U.S. Mint for regular issue, it remains a proud symbol of the emerging greatness of the United States in the early part of the 20th Century. In 1933, during the height of the Depression, a different Roosevelt, Franklin Delano, outlawed private ownership of gold by Americans. Production of new gold coins was halted and gold coins in circulation were confiscated. Double Eagles were melted down and added to the Treasury’s horde of gold. The few that weren’t seized are now highly prized collectibles.
In 1975, U.S. citizens were again permitted to own gold. At the time the bullion coin of choice was the South African Krugerrand. For many reasons our government wanted to issue its own gold coin. A representative of the U.S. Mint came to my office in Washington, DC and purchased a variety of gold coins. I was the executive vice president of Deak-Perera then, a company that specialized in foreign currencies, including gold and silver coins. They purchased gold coins minted in South Africa, Austria, and yes, even Mexico.
A few years later the U.S. Mint announced the production of a new American coin—the gold Eagle. It was available in four denominations: 1-oz, ½-oz, ¼-oz, and 1/10-oz of gold. The obverse featured a redesign of the classic Augustus Saint-Gaudens design.
I’m proud to say that during the first year of issue, 1986, my new company, Asset Strategies International, helped a major precious-metals company pre-sell more of these new American gold coins than any other company in the U.S. One day alone we shipped 600 registered packages throughout the country. Over the course of a year literally thousands of gold coins passed through our offices. The Eagle had definitely landed!
In 1986, the U.S. Mint added a silver dollar to its offerings. The silver Eagle contains 1 ounce of silver and has a face value of $1. The mint wisely chose to use Adolph A. Weinman’s “Walking Liberty” design on the obverse of the coin. To say it is classically beautiful is an understatement. It is a joy to hold in your hand—and an even bigger delight to drop on your desk where it makes that unique “silver on wood” clink that Americans haven’t heard in years.
There is much that our government has done and wants to do with which we could quarrel. But no one can deny that it makes the most beautiful modern coinage in the world. And you can own some for a small premium over the spot price of their gold and silver content!
The best way to purchase these gorgeous coins is through a reputable coin dealer. You’ll find a list of recommended dealers on the website for the U.S. Mint, www.usmint.gov. I’m proud to note that ASI has been included there for many years.
Because demand can rise and fall, so can premiums. Get two or three different quotes before you buy. (And never, never give your business to mass marketers, who always have the highest premiums around. How do you think they can afford all that advertising?)
With gold hovering around $1,000 an ounce, the gold American Eagle is admittedly expensive. Remember, you can purchase versions as small as 1/10th ounce. But note: the smaller the coin, the higher the premium.
An even better investment, in my opinion, is the silver American Eagle. You can purchase this classic American beauty for less than $20 each. As the price of silver continues to climb (something I think is all but inevitable) your coins could turn out to be a superb investment.
When I was growing up, on every birthday, my parents gave me a bright, shiny silver dollar. I still have those coins, mostly for sentimental reasons. But they’ve also soared in value. If you’d like your children to know what “real money” used to look like, you might consider doing the same. After all, the only thing that’s still good as gold is gold… or maybe silver.