The $20 Saints of 1907 & 1908
When the $20 “Saint” was first introduced in 1907, the United States Mint struggled to perfect the coin’s design. In its original form, the coin’s design was extremely complicated and difficult to execute. Augustus Saint-Gaudens intended for the coin to be struck in extremely high relief, but doing so required an excessive amount of minting pressure and force. After numerous revisions, in late 1907, the Mint switched to a lower-relief version that was much easier to mass-produce. By that point, however, much of the year had already passed.
By 1908, however, the kinks had been worked out and it was full steam ahead for the $20 Saint. The Philadelphia Mint struck millions of Double Eagles in the first half of the year; for this reason, the 1908 No Motto issue is one of the most common dates in the series. Not only did the issue have an extremely high mintage, but the 1908 No Mottos was hoarded by banks all across the world. One notable cache, the Wells Fargo Hoard, contained nearly 20,000 pieces of which some graded as high as MS 69!
Later in 1908, there was a subtle change to the $20 Saint-Gaudens design. The original version lacked the emblem “In God We Trust,” which had appeared on Double Eagles since 1866. The public was outraged that this motto was removed, so it was restored back to the $20 Double Eagle in late 1908. The result is that 1908 “With Motto” Double Eagles are dramatically scarcer than their extremely common No Motto counterpart.
While Philadelphia’s production was robust in 1908, mintage levels were anemic in Denver and San Francisco. The Philadelphia Mint serviced the needs of the heavily populated eastern seaboard and Europe; both markets demanded huge quantities of double eagles. The western half of the United States did not require nearly the same quantity of coinage. For this reason, one almost never sees 1908 Saints with mintmarks.
For Double Eagles, the production boom of 1908 was followed up by years of anemic mintages. All three active mints, including Philadelphia, cut back their $20 releases substantially and kept mintages low through the teens. A huge surplus of 1908 No Motto $20s remained for years and this overhang would not be absorbed for over a decade. Amazingly, so many coins remained that all United States gold coin production halted altogether in 1917. Not a single gold piece of any denomination was struck in 1917, 1918 or 1919. Finally, after the oversupply has dissipated, the federal government resumed making gold coins in the early-mid 1920s.