Ultra High Relief Gold coins provide the buyer of gold coins the opportunity to own miniature works of art.

For millennia coins have been stamped to celebrate and lionize leaders and heroes. The Greeks and Romans 1 took great strides in creating the standards for fine coins that lasted centuries. However, it is only in the past 150 years that collecting coins for their beauty has become common enough to create the demand for truly high-quality minting processes.

In fact, many collectors today, especially those who buy gold coins, shiver over the fact that the U.S. Mint for decades minted beautiful gold and silver coins and let them fall from the dies to the stone floor. They were then unceremoniously shoveled into bags and transported by wagon and rail, leaving few early coins in truly “gem mint condition.”

Setting The Standard for Numismatic Beauty and Collectability

Saint Guade Eagle Gold Coin

One major exception to the early trend of unceremoniously minting coins is the famous Augustus Saint-Gaudens gold pieces ordered by President Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt felt very strongly about creating a “brand” for the burgeoning country and disliked the mundane U.S. coinage of the 19th century.

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He turned to the most famous sculptor of the era (and, as far as many are concerned, the greatest American sculptor ever), Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Roosevelt challenged the artist to design coins that would be minted in very high relief, creating a new and dramatic look.

What Is High Relief?

The concept of relief in coinage originally comes from sculpture, and simply refers to a sculpture in which figures project outward from a flat background. Coins are mini sculptures, so high relief refers to the distance from the “lowest point” of the field of a coin to the “highest point” of the sculpted, raised design. The fields of a coin are the areas that have no design, and are generally flat. For example, on the Saint-Gaudens $20 Gold Double Eagles, the fields have a noticeable slope.

While coins minted for everyday use have to meet such criteria as stackability, Roosevelt wanted coin designers to equal or exceed the high reliefs achieved by the Greeks. After sculptor Saint-Gaudens died in 1907, Roosevelt continued to push the Mint to continue using his high relief patterns. The end result is the Ultra High Relief Saints, which are still considered some of the most stunning of all coins. (The patterns that produced these coins are themselves now worth millions.)


To achieve Ultra High Relief quality, individual coins must be repeatedly struck by the dies on special presses, with strikes of 172 tons pressure. According to the records of the U.S. Mint, fewer than 25 of the UHR Saints were produced, as they were too expensive and impractical for common use.

Technology for Today’s Gold Buyer

While there are silver and gold coins minted today as legal tender, virtually no one uses them as such. Generally, the stamped value is below the intrinsic value, and high relief coins are not expected to be circulated. Rather, mints produce fine coins to make a profit and as a way to “package” bullion in commercially viable units for both collectors and those investing in gold and silver. In a competitive market, there is a greater demand than ever for high relief coins, and so they continue to be pressed for the benefit of collectors and investors.

Many individuals interested in buying gold are attracted to the beauty of many of these coins, and will pay a premium over their intrinsic value. In fact, many who buy gold coins as a hedge fund prefer the enhanced fungible nature of these coins as collectibles.

Modern specialty presses and new digital die-making processes allow an unprecedented level of detail in today’s UHR coins. In fact, the additional pressings can provide a luster and detail in the relief that make the coins virtually works of art. Additionally, human hands never touch most of these newly minted UHR coins. They are handled very carefully from the moment they leave the presses and are packaged individually.

Whether you buy gold coins as a collector, as an investor, or both, you’ll find UHR coins a pleasure to observe and own. You can also visit any one the six different museums that display original Ultra High Relief Saints to see for yourself the original inspiration that has so significantly shaped the look of America’s coinage.

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