The 2009 Ultra High Relief Double Eagle Gold Coin's release was anticipated with a hype verging on mania. Demand for the Double Eagle has been so high that the US Mint currently has a backlog of orders that will take up to 9 months to deliver. Over 40,000 of the coins were ordered during the first five days of sales. Undoubtedly the current gold coin shortage is affecting the production time of the High Relief coin, because most gold stocks are being set aside for American Gold Eagles, whose production is legally obligated to meet public demand.
This coin recreates the design of the old Double Eagle gold coin which was struck between 1907 and 1933. The old Double Eagles contained .9675 oz of gold, which on the gold standard of that time equaled $20.67, giving double eagles a face value of $20. The design was created by Augusts St. Gaudens, a renowned American sculptor. His design for the Double Eagle is a classic and is considered one of the best coin designs in American history. St. Gaudens' design was originally struck into the coins in high relief, giving depth and stunning clarity to the images on the coin face. However, the coin was quickly changed into a low-relief version, because the high relief coins needed to be repeatedly struck to bring out their details properly, and their high relief made them awkward to stack. St. Gauden's high relief work of art had to be compromised for the sake of practicality.
But 2009's reincarnation of the Double Eagle comes closer to St. Gauden's original vision, featuring a high relief design with stunning depth and contrast between foreground and background images. The images were reproduced by digitally mapping the original coin plastes from 1907, following St. Gauden's design with amazing accuracy. A couple of small modifications were made to make the coins current, including an increase in the number of stars from 46 to 50, to reflect the current number of US states. And of course the date was changed to the current date of 2009, written in Roman Numbers as "MMIX". The original DOuble Eagles were some of the only US coins to have ever had the date written in Roman Numerals. One other modification is the addition of the motto "In God We Trust" at the bottom of the reverse side.
Despite the overwhelming similarity of design, this 2009 can not be considered a replica or reissue because there are some important differences. While the original Double Eagles were struck in 90% gold and 10% copper, with a gold content of .9675 oz, the new 2009 incarnation is a 24 karat (.9999 fine gold) bullion coin, containing exactly one troy oz. of gold. And because they are struck in high relief, the coins are double thickness, measuring 4 mm thick rather than the normal 2 mm thickness of an old Double Eagle or standard bullion coin. They do, however, contain the same amount of gold as a standard low relief coin so its diameter is reduced to make up for its extra thickness. Its diameter is 27 mm instead of the standard 34 mm. One probably reason for striking the coin in 24 karat gold is that it is soft, and easier to strike in high relief than the old 90% gold alloy.
The 2009 High Relief Double Eagles are of uncirculated quality with a special finish. They sell for a higher premium above the gold spot price than standard bullion coins, but in my opinion unlike proof coins uncirculated coins are not prohibitively expensive. It looks like this coin sells for around 25% above the spot price of gold. If you are looking strictly for an investment, then a standard American Eagle is a better bet. But if you are looking for both an investment and a beautiful, precious collectible, then this uncirculated masterpiece may be a good balance between the two. I have hear nothing but rave reviews from owners of this coin. I guess the only thing left to do is to decide whether the beauty and uniqueness of this coin is worth a wait of 9 months!
Below is a photo of an original Double Eagle from 1908. Notice some of the differences in design mentioned above. Also notice the color of the coins, which is somewhat orangey, similar to a krugerand. This is because of the copper alloy used in the coin, as opposed to today's pure bullion version.