What are High Relief and Ultra High Relief Coins?

High relief and ultra high relief coins are the pinnacle of numismatics. These jaw-dropping, exceptionally beautiful coins are as rare as they are stunning, carrying a premium that goes above and beyond their intrinsic value, and exciting coin collectors all over the world. High relief and ultra high relief coins have designs that are raised above their outer edge, designs that stand out.

But where do these coins come from and what makes them so special?

History Of High Relief Coins

For many decades, coins in true “mint condition” were incredibly rare. This is because the world of numismatics was more or less non-existent, and coins were valued because of the number on their face and their precious metal content. Mint condition coins were of no interest commercially and so coins were not handled with care. They often bounced and fell to the floor after being struck, they were scooped into bags where they brushed and rubbed together, and no protective finishes were applied.

This began to change with the invention of high relief coins, which were first produced by the US Mint back in 1907, at the insistence of then president Theodore Roosevelt. He wanted coins that looked like tiny sculptures, true pieces of art, and he got his wish. They produced a handful of these coins (only around 20 of which are thought to still exist), but the technology of the day made it very difficult to get the ultra high relief effect, so they eventually settled on a lowered and less impressive design.

The legend was born though. The US Mint had produced a coin that would live long in numismatic folklore and would go on to inspire many similar designs.

How High Relief Coins are Made

To get the desired effect, these coins are struck many times by dies that have been specially made. These extra strikes add more depth to the coin’s design, but they also add a deeper,
brighter luster, which ensures that every millimeter of the intricate design shines through. Modern technology makes this process easier, allowing for better dies and sturdier, deeper strikes.

Much like proof coins, high relief coins are not touched by human hands and handlers are instructed to wear gloves at all times. They are also not bundled into mint bags with other coins, which eliminates potential contact marks and keeps the coins in mint condition.

What do these Coins Look Like?

If you’re a silver stacker or gold stacker then there is a certain irony to high relief and ultra high relief coins, because they can’t actually be stacked. Typically, most minted bars and coins can be stacked high and there is a certain satisfaction to doing this and literally creating your own precious metal stack. However, with high relief coins, the design is raised so far from the edge of the coin that you can’t even stack two coins on top of each other without them wobbling.

This raised design is the most striking and perhaps the most noticeable characteristic of high relief and ultra high relief coins. It gives them a 3D aesthetic and one that transfixes many coin collectors if done right. The differences between a high relief coin and an ultra high relief coin lie in the way it is struck and the height of the design, with ultra high relief coins going the extra mile.

How Rare Are These Coins?

High relief coins are very time-consuming to produce, but they also carry a high premium because of their detail and luster. There is a lot of profit in these coins for the mint that produces them, but at the same time, if they don't keep mintage numbers low, then those high profits will cease to exist. Therefore, these coins are often struck in low numbers, which makes them very rare and adds to their high premium.

Although these coins are struck from pure precious metals, the premiums they carry can be worth several times more than their intrinsic value. They are favored more by coin collectors than by precious metal investors, and most numismatists get very excited by the prospect of owning these coins. This means that, even with the high premiums attached, high relief and ultra high relief coins always have a willing market, and that applies whether they are being sold direct from the mint or from a collector.