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Augustus Saint-Gaudens and the American Gold Eagle

When it comes to the innumerable reliefs that have been wrought onto U.S. coins over the years, the canon of the images of American coinage owes much of its thanks to one man in particular: Augustus Saint-Gaudens. And in light of the recent release of the 2016 1 oz. American Gold Eagle Coin (the obverse of which was sculpted by Saint-Gaudens), we thought it would be appropriate to delve into a brief history of his life and works—namely in regard to his coin reliefs.

 

If you’re a serious numismatist, chances are Saint-Gaudens’ work is present in your coin cases. But in the event that you don’t know much about the prolific sculptor, read on to learn more, then go check your collection to see how many times he turns up!

 

Early Life

 

Augustus Saint-Gaudens was brought from Ireland to America in his infancy, and raised in New York until he completed his apprenticeship at the age of 19, in 1867. After that, he traveled to Paris and Rome, where he continued to study sculpture and hone in on his craft, while receiving his early commissions.

 

Civil War Works

Augustus’s career kicked off soon after the American Civil War concluded, so it’s not surprising that some of his greatest works came in the form of memorials to commemorate the War Between the States. Among his most famous of those was his memorial to Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, who had been 20-years deceased at the time of its commission.

 

Shaw’s family made but one request of Saint-Gaudens: That the fallen hero be surrounded by his troops in the sculpture. And it was executing the inclusion of those soldiers that led Saint-Gaudens to become obsessed with the piece, causing him to spend far more time than was allotted to working on it. When the Shaw Memorial Committee grew angry with Saint-Gaudens’ lack of timeliness, he settled them down by saying this:

 

It’s the way a thing’s done that makes it right or wrong. That’s the only creed I have in art. After all, statues are plastered up before the world for centuries, while men and nations pass away.

 

Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle

While the 2016 American Gold Eagle obverse depicts the work of Augustus, that image of Liberty from which it stems was initially featured on an earlier gold coin—known as the Saint-Gaudens double eagle. The coin, which August designed entirely, was minted from 1907 to 1933. Interestingly, the work was one of Saint-Gaudens’ last, and he died in 1907 just after finalizing the design, yet before it was approved for production.

 

While Augustus Saint-Gaudens produced many other works—both reliefs and sculptures in the round—one of the best ways we can remember him today is through the 2016 American Gold Eagle. And if you’re going to possess one of those, you’ll definitely want to invest in some sturdy coin collecting supplies, too, so be sure to check out our inventory.

 

Here’s to Augustus Saint-Gaudens—one of America’s unequivocally most accomplished sculptors!