The Silver American Eagle and the Gold American Eagle are among the most beautiful coins in the world. Although these coins make great additions to a precious metals portfolio, their attractive appearance gives them something special beyond the intrinsic value of the metals. Who created these magnificent coin designs? The two designers Adolph A. Weinman and Augustus Saint-Gaudens stand out as two of the most brilliant coin designers in the history of the United States.
Gold American Eagle Obverse Designer: Augustus Saint-Gaudens
The Gold American Eagle is a fabulous coin that was first minted in 1986, after the enactment of the Gold Bullion Coin Act of 1985. However, Augustus Saint-Gaudens created the obverse design on the Gold American Eagle for the Gold Double Eagle $20 coin in 1907.
Early Life and Work
Augustus Saint-Gaudens was born in Dublin, Ireland on March 1, 1848. Augustus was raised by his French father and Irish mother in New York City. When he was 13 years old, Augustus began an apprenticeship with a cameo cutter.
He continued this work and used it to support himself while he studied art at the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art as well as the National Academy of Design. In 1867, Saint-Gaudens went to Paris to study sculpture at the Ecole des Beaux Arts there. Three years later, he left for Rome, where he reproduced other sculptors’ work on commission. It was during this time that he began to create his own designs.
Sculpting in New York and Paris
Saint-Gaudens was back in the U.S. by 1875. In New York, he surrounded himself with important artists, such as John La Farge, and architects, including Henry Hobson Richardson, Charles Follen McKim, and Stanford White. In the 1880s, he did some of his most important work, including the statue of Abraham Lincoln at Lincoln Park, Chicago.
During that same decade, Saint-Gaudens created many important statues, including a monument to Civil War Colonel Robert G. Shaw, one to Mrs. Henry Adams, and in 1903, the Sherman Monument. This last monument he worked on in Paris before unveiling it in New York.
Gold American Eagle
In 1907, during the last year of his life, his created the distinctive design for the $20 Gold Double Eagle coin, which would later be used for the Gold American Eagle series that came out in 1986. This design featured Lady Liberty standing tall, holding a torch aloft in one hand and an olive branch in the other. The rays of the sun spread out behind her. Her long hair flows to the left of the obverse, and her dress billows gracefully.
Shortly after creating this design, on August 3, 1907, Saint-Gaudens died in Cornish, New Hampshire. Many artists, coin collectors and precious metals experts consider Saint-Gaudens the most gifted coin designer and sculptor in American history.
Gold American Eagle Reverse Designer: Miley Busiek
The reverse design for the Gold American Eagle was described first in the Bullion Coin Act of 1985. The reverse was to picture a family of eagles. Miley Busiek, now known as Miley Tucker-Frost, created the design by building on that basic description. Busiek’s design showed a female eagle with young eagles waiting in a nest as a male eagle flies toward them carrying an olive branch.
Miley Tucker-Frost has been a force in the American sculpture scene. She created patriotic, classical, and religious art throughout her career. From 1977 to 1996, Tucker-Frost worked in Dallas. After that, she moved to Washington, D.C.
Through the years, Tucker-Frost has created many notable sculptures. She started in her studio, crafting them in clay in full scale. She then took them to a foundry and cast them in metal. She now also uses digital techniques to produce sculptures with computer-aided design.
Some of Tucker-Frost’s sculptures include:
- The Seal of the President in the George W. Bush Presidential Center
- Peace Through Strength, sculpture in Virginia
- Wild Running Mustangs, a sculpture at SMU in Texas
- Flying Eagle, at Brown University in Arkansas
- Cross Country Runners at Montgomery Bell Academy in Nashville
Silver American Eagle Obverse Designer: Adolph A. Weinman
Adolph A. Weinman created the Walking Liberty design that would later be used for the Silver American Eagle series. Walking Liberty first appeared on the half dollar in 1916. Yet, this design was not Weinman’s first artistic endeavor. His path to becoming one of the greatest coin designers in the world started in a small village near Karlsruhe, Germany.
Gustave Weinmann was a shoemaker. He and his wife Katherina were living in Durmersheim, Germany, when their son, Adolph, was born on December 11, 1870. The family moved the short distance to Karlsruhe, Germany seven years later. A few years later, in 1885, Katherina and Adolph left Germany for America. The two lived with a relative who was working in the grocery business.
Adolph had natural talent for art. His drawing and clay work were impressive enough to land him an apprenticeship with Frederick Kaldenberg when he was fifteen years old. For the next five years, he made practical objects such as smoking pipes and picture frames for Kaldenberg to sell.
Yet, Adolph wanted more. After a year with Kaldenberg, Weinman, who had changed his name from the German spelling, Weinmann, enrolled in the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art. There, he studied drawing.
At the age of 20, Weinman joined the studio of Philip Martiny, an artist who designed medals. Adolph enjoyed the work and soon determined that he would follow Martiny’s example and become a medalist. From Martiny’s studio, Weinman advanced to the studio of another artist, Olin H. Warner. Warner only lived another year, but Weinman was not deterred from his career path. Instead, he joined the prestigious studio of the famed Augustus Saint-Gaudens.
Weinman and Saint-Gaudens
Saint-Gaudens must have been an incredible mentor for young Adolph, who was only 25 when he joined the studio. There’s no doubt that Saint-Gaudens’ influence can be seen in the painstaking and beautiful design of the coins, medals, and sculptures that would later make Weinman famous.
In fact, Weinman collaborated with Saint-Gaudens on the design of the inaugural medal made for President Theodore Roosevelt. This privately-commissioned medal was highly regarded in the artistic community. For this medal, Saint-Gaudens came up with the ideas, but it was Weinman who did the modeling. However, Saint-Gaudens and Weinman only worked together for a short time before Saint-Gaudens moved to Paris in 1898.
Getting His Own Studio
Not to be dissuaded, Weinman simply went to another medalist, Charles H. Neihaus, and joined his studio. After working with Saint-Gaudens, the position in the Neihaus studio might have seemed like a bit of a letdown. Yet, Weinman stayed with Neihaus for five years. After that, he went into partnership with Daniel Chester French. French was a well-respected sculptor whose work was eventually featured on several U.S. coins.
Weinman stayed with French for only two years before deciding to have his own studio. At his new studio, Weinman set to work designing medals. One of these was the award medal for the Louisiana Purchase Exhibition participants, coined at the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia.
The Walking Liberty Design
In 1916, a request by the Commission of Fine Arts put Weinman in the position of being one of three sculptors invited to submit designs for a dime, quarter, and half dollar. The Winged Liberty Head dime, more commonly called the mercury dime, was minted until 1945, although the Mint altered the design to make the coin work better in vending machines.
However, it was the half-dollar design that would go on to be one of the most famous coin designs then as well as now. It was Walking Liberty design used from 1916 to 1947 on the half dollar and then on the Silver American Eagle starting in 1986.
The Walking Liberty design was a stunning representation of Lady Liberty, walking in front of a rising sun. Lady Liberty stands tall, carrying olive branches in one hand and stretching the other high in front of her. An American flag is draped across her shoulders and billows gracefully.
Weinman drew inspiration for the Walking Liberty design from the bust of Elsie Kachel Stevens that he created in 1913. Weinman considered Stevens the supreme example of American womanhood. While Weinman is generally considered a medalist, this Walking Liberty design gave him an honored place among the world’s best coin designers.
Weinman went on to design many medals, as well as sculpting monuments to Abraham Lincoln and Alexander Hamilton. Weinman died on August 7, 1952, but his works live on, none more prominent in the American consciousness than the design that now graces the obverse of the Silver American Eagle.
Silver American Eagle Reverse Designer: John Mercanti
The reverse of the Silver American Eagle isn’t as famous as the obverse. Still, it’s an impressive work on its own. Designed by John Mercanti, the reverse carries the image of a heraldic eagle with wings outstretched with a shield in front of its body. In its talons, it clutches arrows and an olive branch. In its beak, it holds a ribbon with the words “E Pluribus Unum.” Thirteen stars stand out in a triangle above the eagle’s head.
Mercanti grew up in Philadelphia and studied art at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, the Philadelphia College of Art, and the Fleisher Art Memorial School. He was employed at the U.S. Mint in 1974, when he joined the Mint as a sculptor-engraver. In 2006, he was named as the twelfth Chief Engraver of the Mint. He retired in 2010. Since that time, he has continued to be active in promoting precious metals. In his time at the Mint, Mercanti produced over 100 coin and medal designs – more than anyone else as of 2006.
Choosing Your Eagle
Both the Silver American Eagle and the Gold American Eagle bear exquisite designs. Only you know which design appeals to you most. So, if you’re choosing an eagle based on its appearance, you’re the best judge of which one you like best.
When it comes to choosing an investment option, however, there’s much more to consider. Precious metals generally follow similar trends, but silver and gold spot prices don’t necessarily run together. Silver may be the best choice at one time, while gold may be better at a different time, depending on how the markets are going.
At GMRgold, we can help you find the right choice for you, either Gold American Eagle, Silver American Eagle, or a combination of the two. We can advise you on the best options given your budget, your preferences, and your goals. Simply fill out our contact form at GMRgold.com or call us at 1 (877) 795-9585.