The tale of the St. Gaudens $20 gold coin is rather an ironic one. It came into being at the behest of President Theodore Roosevelt in 1907, and in 1933 was withdrawn from circulation when another Roosevelt, Franklin, caused a law to be passed outlawing the private ownership of gold.

Irish-born American sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, who had achieved fame by creating several statues commemorating heroes of the American Civil War, was near the end of his life when he was asked by Theodore Roosevelt to create a coin that could match the beauty of those of ancient Greece, which Roosevelt much admired. Saint-Gaudens came up with the coin that bears his name, and which has been called "the most beautiful coin ever produced."

The obverse of this coin consists of the figure of Liberty (or Victory) striding out of the coin, bearing a torch in one hand and a branch in the other. The reverse featured the side view of an eagle in full flight.

Saint-Gauden's original creation was in "high relief" – but this design made it impossible for banks to stack them high, as was their practice, and within a year a new coin was struck in "flat relief" instead. The original design, therefore, is considered Type 4, the shallow relief design is considered Type 5.

Neither of these two coins possessed the motto, IN GOD WE TRUST. President Teddy Roosevelt didn't believe that the name of God belonged on coinage. However, he was over-ruled by Congress and in 1908, and in all subsequent years, this motto was placed on the Saint-Gaudens coin, thus becoming Type 6.

In 1913, two new states were added to the Union, and so two new starts were added to the 46 that already encircled the figure of Liberty - however numismatists don't consider this to be a new type. For 25 years, from 1908 to 1933, the St. Gaudens $20 gold coin was produced in Philadelphia - with limited production from the Denver and San Francisco mints.

In 1933, the United States was suffering through the throes of the Depression, and recently-elected president Franklin Delano Roosevelt decided to take the United States off the gold standard. As a result, the private ownership of gold was outlawed, gold coins were recalled from circulation, and no more gold coins were produced.

A total of 445,500 specimens of this Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle were minted in 1933. These were all melted down by 1934 except for the at least 20 of these coins that have been found over the years. It is believed that several coins were taken – illegally – from the mint, possibly by the U.S. Mint Cashier, George McCann.

Because these coins were never issued, they belong legally to the U.S. mint and cannot be legally owned by anyone except the government. However, in the summer of 2002, a 1933 Double Eagle was auctioned off for $7,590,020 US, (shattering the old record of $4,140,000 paid at a public auction for an 1804 silver dollar)

This single specimen had been purchased by King Farouk of Egypt in 1944, who obtained a license to export it to Egypt. (The U.S. Mint was busy tracking down rogue coins in the hands of collectors, but missed this one. When Farouk was deposed in 1954 he fled the country, leaving his coin collection behind. His collection was sold by Sotheby's of London and the 1933 Double Eagle was withdrawn from the sale and disappeared, reappearing in the 1990s.

Dealer Steve Fenton purchased it, and took it to New York City where it was seized by the government. After much legal wrangling, the coin was declared "legal to own," and was sold at auction to an unknown bidder.

In August 2005, Joan S. Langbord contacted the United States Mint in order to turn over ten unauthorized 1933 Double Eagle coins. She had inherited the coins from her father, who had been a suspect in the original theft. When the government did not reimburse her for turning over the coins, she decided to sue. This case is still pending in the courts. So the mystery and intrigue of the 1933 St. Gaudens $20 gold coin continues to this day.

Author's Bio: 

Alan LeStourgeon runs the US Gold Coins web site where you can find St Gaudens $20 Gold Coins and American Eagle gold coins up for auction.