The Saint-Gaudens double eagle is a twenty-dollar gold coin produced by the United States Mint between the years of 1907 and 1933. The coin is commonly named for its designer, sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, whom President Theodore Roosevelt had commissioned to design the obverse and reverse. Teddy’s goal was to beautify American coinage, to contrast other currency being circulated at the time. The Saint Gaudens double eagle is still widely considered by many to be the most beautiful of U.S. coins.
Much time and attention were put into the design. So much, in fact, that the U.S. Mint suffered delays in production due to the uncommonly high relief and detail in the design. Multiple dies had to be created before the coin was considered production-ready and finally released to an impatient public.
The Saint-Gaudens double eagle coin was meant to represent the unity, prosperity, enlightenment, peace and progress of the United States. The .96750 troy oz of gold and was used to ensure the value of paper notes at home. It was also well respected in its use for international trade. In a sense, the Saint-Gaudens double eagle coin was a tangible representation of the gold standard: It was the US government’s promise of fortune and sound savings for citizens, investment and friendship for foreign business partners.
The Turning Point
And then, on April 5, 1933, it all went terribly wrong.
The second Roosevelt in office, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, issued Executive Order 6102 which, in effect, forced American citizens to turn in “all gold coin, gold bullion, and gold certificates” to the United States Federal Reserve.
On January 30, 1934, Congress followed up with the United States Gold Reserve Act, which allowed the President to seize the Federal Reserve’s newly-acquired gold supply.
In 1936, the federal government built Fort Knox as a place to store its stolen treasure.
Suddenly, gold coins became a thing of the past. The director of the Philadelphia Mint ordered the recently pressed 1933 double eagles to be melted down into gold bars and sent off to Fort Knox, a task which would take several years to complete.
What one Roosevelt had introduced to the world as a beautiful symbol of trade, of prosperity, of friendship, another Roosevelt snatched from our hands to melt down into a soulless lump of metal, locked away and forgotten.
The Government Seizes Remaining Double Eagles
Stories of double eagles yet unclaimed by the government began to pop up. One coin made its way into the hands of Egypt’s King Farouk. The federal government was so adamant about the destruction of all double eagle coins that the Secret Service actually debated the “advisability of trying to get [the] coin back from King Farouk.” Since World War II was in progress and Egypt was an important American ally, they decided not to take the risk.
When Stephen Fenton, a rare coin dealer, attempted to sell a double eagle coin in 1996, his mysterious buyer betrayed him to the U.S. federal government. Although he was initially charged with “conspiring to convert to his own use and attempt to sell property of the United States”, the charges were dropped when the Justice Department coerced Fenton into splitting the proceeds of an auction for his coin, by half. After an extended publicity campaign, Fenton’s double eagle sold for a grand total of $7.6 million, making it the single-most expensive coin in history.
In 2004, the Langbord family discovered ten 1933 double eagles in a safety deposit box. They took the coins to the U.S. Mint for authentication. The Mint confirmed that the coins were indeed authentic, by refusing to return the property. The Langbord family tried to sue the mint, but even with overwhelming evidence, the jury sided with the government. Government representatives were quite pleased with their success. After the trial, assistant U.S. Attorney Jacqueline Romero gloated that “[The] People of the United States of America have been vindicated.”
In all of these instances, no one seemed to care that FDR’s Executive Order had been repealed in 1974 by President Ford. The fact that there was no proof the coins had been stolen in the first place never seemed to strike anyone as strange…
Making the Connection
In 1933, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the federal government betrayed the American people and all those who chose to do business with the United States. They claimed value, in the form of gold and double eagle coins, that had been earned by the people, without a vote by the people. The only explanation given was a vague reasoning about “saving the economy” and the not so vague promise of “strict penalties for those who did not comply.” Everyone, citizen and foreign investor, through the use of the double eagle coin and the support of the United States Gold Standard, had trusted the U.S. government to secure their wealth and to work in partnership with them to create a better, more prosperous society. The federal government betrayed that trust by not only taking gold from the people, but doing so with the bold reasoning that it was theirs all along.
Enter Enemy Unknown
The Enemy Unknown medallion takes inspiration from the Saint Gaudens double eagle, to remind us of how a perceived ally may reveal itself to be our greatest foe. Lady Liberty has been replaced by a ‘friend’ with an extended hand offering an olive branch and a smile on one side, hiding a dagger with a skeletal hand in the other. Behind the figure are rays of sunshine, the promise of health and prosperity. On the other side, in the figure’s wake, a dead olive tree stands, with vultures circling overhead.The broken chain represents the broken chain of commitment, when envy or malice rot away at the bonds of trust.
The dead olive tree is the remains of the healthy olive branch in the figures hand, the consequence of using an offer of peace as a bargaining chip or a false premise, rather than as a core principle. The vultures circling are representative of the only creatures who prosper in situations where trust is broken. One enterprising vulture follows the figure closely, ready to swoop in on the next unfortunate victim.
Whether it’s a friend, a business partner, or even a family member, the greatest enemies we face are not met on an open battlefield in honest combat, but around the hearth fire. The enemy we meet in battle can be met with honor, our weapons and intellect against theirs. The more dangerous enemy is the enemy unknown. We invited them into our ranks, we shared our home and hearth. Like Brutus to Caesar, Judas to Jesus, Benedict Arnold to the American Forces, our best friends can become our most dangerous enemies as we welcome them closer, into the range of a dagger. To these enemies we say,
“We see you. Meet us in open combat if you dare.”
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