United States, 20 Dollars, 1907 (Ultra High Relief Pattern)
U.S. Mint. Philadelphia
gold (overall metal)
0 (overall die axis)
0 (overall die axis measurement)
struck (overall production method)
overall: .4 cm x 3.4 cm; 5/32 in x 1 11/32 in
In 1905, President Theodore Roosevelt asked sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens to redesign American coinage. As Saint-Gaudens began work on the project, there was never any possibility that he would restrict himself to well-traveled artistic paths. Playing it safe was against his nature and that of the president for whom he toiled.
As a result of Saint-Gaudens's vision and Roosevelt's persistence, Americans got their most beautiful double eagle, one of the most artistic pieces of money ever struck. Instead of a head or a static, seated goddess, Saint-Gaudens's Lady Liberty strides towards us, the dawn at her back. She represents the morning of the Republic, full of possibilities and hope.
She bears a torch in her right hand, an olive branch in her left: offerings of freedom and peace. The law said that Saint-Gaudens had to use an eagle for his reverse design, and so he did. But what an eagle! Nothing like it had ever been seen before. The naturalistic bird, in such high relief that it threatens to soar out of the circular space that seeks to enclose it, is all movement and grace.
Saint-Gaudens and his patron surely knew that this coin was impossible to make in mass quantities. The high relief came at a high price: it took nine blows from the hydraulic coining press to strike each one. Charles E. Barber, the Mint's chief engraver, strenuously objected out of jealousy, but he had a point.
This is no way to make money for mass circulation. But to Roosevelt and Saint-Gaudens, the chief engraver and other critics lacked vision. This ultra-high relief double eagle was intended to show what artistry and technology could do when afforded the chance. Fewer than two dozen of the ultra-high relief coins were minted, in February and March of 1907.
Land Grant College Presidents with President Truman [cellulose acetate photonegative]
Scurlock Studio (Washington, D.C.)
Truman, Harry S. 1884-1972
White House (Washington, D.C.)
Silver gelatin on cellulose acetate film sheet, 4" x 5"
African Americans Washington (D.C.)
No ink on negative, no Scurlock number. Group of men (Land Grant College presidents) standing in front of a portion of the White House. Truman does not appear in this print. "9 ANSCO SAFETY FILM" edge imprint.
Scurlock Studio Records, ca. 1905-1994, Archives Center, National Museum of American History
William Howard Taft once said, “I don’t remember that I ever was President.” He believed that having been named chief justice of the United States was a greater accomplishment than having achieved the presidency. Taft served one term in the Oval Office, after which he became a professor at Yale University Law School. In 1913, Alyn Williams included this miniature of Taft in an exhibition at Moulton and Ricketts Galleries in New York City. While looking over the display, Williams noticed that five of the miniatures, including his portrait of Taft, were missing. When the gallery assured him they had never received the paintings, Williams retraced his steps in an attempt to find them. Exhausted and discouraged, the artist returned to his hotel room that evening only to find the paintings in his dresser drawer, just where he had left them. Conservation of this miniature was made possible through a generous grant provided by the Smithsonian Women’s Committee.
“One of the most uncomfortable four months of my life.” William Howard Taft, speaking of his 1908 presidential campaign, White House Web site
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the artist
Currier & Ives Lithography Company, active 1857 - 1907
Major Henry Riggs Rathbone, 1837 - 1911
Mrs. Clara Harris Rathbone, c.1830 - 1894
Mary Ann Todd Lincoln, 13 Dec 1818 - 16 Jul 1882
Abraham Lincoln, 12 Feb 1809 - 15 Apr 1865
John Wilkes Booth, 26 Aug 1838 - 26 Apr 1865
Hand-colored lithograph on paper
Image: 20.1 x 30.9cm (7 15/16 x 12 3/16")
Sheet: 27.7 x 35.5cm (10 7/8 x 14")
Mat (horizontal): 40.6 x 55.9cm (16 x 22")
On the night of April 14, 1865, Lincoln was attending the play Our American Cousin at Ford's Theatre, accompanied by his wife and their guests, Major Henry R. Rathbone and his fiancée, Clara Harris. That evening the guard assigned to the president abandoned his post, and as a result, John Wilkes Booth found it easy to enter Lincoln's private box and shoot him. As Booth leapt out of the box to the stage about twelve feet below, he caught the spur of his boot on a draped American flag and broke his leg when he landed. Nevertheless, he escaped. Union soldiers cornered him twelve days later in a barn in Caroline County, Virginia, where he died of a bullet wound.
On the night of April 14, 1865, Lincoln was attending the play Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theatre, accompanied by his wife and their guests, Major Henry R. Rathbone and his fiancée, Clara Harris. That evening, the guard assigned to the president had thought it safe to abandon his post. As a result, John Wilkes Booth found it relatively easy to enter Lincoln’s box and shoot him. As Booth leapt out of the box to the stage about twelve feet below, he caught the spur of his boot on a flag and broke his leg when he landed. Nevertheless, he escaped. It was not until twelve days later that Union soldiers cornered Booth in a barn in Caroline County, Virginia, where he died of a bullet wound.
In 1905, President Theodore Roosevelt initiated a project to redesign American coinage and commissioned sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens to create the new designs. While the two had admirable goals, they committed the unpardonable bureaucratic sin--they had not "gone through channels." The Mint already had an artist, Charles E. Barber, and it would have been his job to redesign coinage if that was what the president wanted. Barber was unhappy with the president's new project, complained to anyone who'd listen, and finally decided to do something about it. He would design his own double eagle, and he would get it done before Saint-Gaudens completed his.
Barber was in an unusual hurry. His single surviving pattern double eagle, shown here, is unusual in American numismatics, and one of the least successful artistically. For the obverse, Barber featured a Liberty head with a Phrygian cap and a laurel wreath, inspired by contemporary French artists. For his reverse, he recycled some of his own earlier work. Back in 1891, he had created a pattern half dollar, the obverse of which had featured Liberty with a sword and a Liberty cap on a pole. Liberty was guarding an eagle, the symbol of America. Now, this old design appeared on the reverse of the new coin. Thus Barber's proposal had two Liberties, one on each side. Roosevelt was unimpressed. Saint-Gaudens went on with his work, and Barber continued to fume.
Someone once observed that a giraffe was a horse designed by a committee. The same might be said of this coin: what had seemed a good idea around a table in the boardroom proved to be an interesting but spectacular flop as it neared production.
The coin resulted from a project that President Theodore Roosevelt began in 1905 to redesign American coinage. He commissioned sculptor August Saint-Gaudens to create the new designs, and Saint-Gaudens developed a plan for an ultra-high relief $20 coin. The coin here, which appears to have been struck early in 1907, followed Saint-Gaudens' basic designs, but there the similarities ended.
This experimental coin contained twenty dollars' worth of gold, but it was squeezed into a coin the width of a ten-dollar piece. The discrepancy was handled by making the patterns much thicker than ordinary coins. Staff at the Mint wondered whether it was possible to decrease the diameter to have the best of both worlds: a coin in glorious high relief that didn't take quite as many blows of the press to create. The experiment failed. Although the patterns were unacceptable for commerce, word of their existence leaked out to the collecting community. An exasperated Mint Director wanted them called in and melted down. Somehow two escaped. Both are in the Smithsonian Collection.