In 1905, President Theodore Roosevelt asked sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens to lead an effort to redesign American coinage. Saint-Gaudens developed a design for what many consider the most beautiful American coin ever conceived. Unfortunately, the coin required multiple strikes to produce, even when its ultra-high relief design was reduced to a lower relief.
Deciding how to modify the coin so it could be produced in large quantities with a single strike in a high speed press was left to the Mint's Chief Engraver, Charles E. Barber. In effect, he told President Roosevelt to make a choice. He could have artistry in small quantities or mediocrity in large amounts.
If he chose the first, Americans would have beautiful money that few would ever see. If he opted for the second, Americans would have as much money as they needed, even though it might be merely pretty rather than beautiful. Roosevelt likely felt he had little choice: the purpose of coinage is commercial first, anything else second. And so one can imagine him being upset, but accepting low relief to facilitate an increase in production.
The first of the redesigned coins was struck in December 1907. It was easily distinguished from earlier versions: not only was there a radical difference in the coins' relief, but even the date had been altered. Saint-Gaudens's ultra high relief and Hering's high relief coins bore the date in Roman numerals (MCMVII). Barber's version featured Arabic numerals (1907). Thus amended, the new double eagles would continue to be struck through the beginning of 1933.
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.
In 1905 President Theodore Roosevelt asked sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens to lead an effort to redesign American coinage. Saint-Gaudens developed a design that many consider the most beautiful American coin ever conceived. The Mint's Chief Engraver, Charles E. Barber, opposed the project, but ultimately developed a low-relief version of the Saint-Gaudens design that became the standard American $20 coin.
Barber was not averse to experimentation. He simply believed it had to be kept within fairly close bounds, and under the Mint's control. It would also help if there was profit involved. Instead of experimenting with relief, Barber tried modifying the finish of the Saint-Gaudens coin design. In one test, a "Roman Gold" finish was devised, imparting a glowing, golden surface to coins that would otherwise have a slight reddish sheen about them, from the copper added to the mixture to make the coins wear better.
No records of how this special finish was applied have survived; but a good guess would be that a light layer of pure gold dust was applied to both surfaces of the coin blank before striking. The force of the press would bond the dust to the blank as the blank was coined. In another test that yielded the coin shown here, Barber developed a "Matte" finish. In this case, the coin was likely struck first (more than once, in order to fully bring up what relief there was), and then "pickled," or etched in dilute acid.
The result was a coin of a vaguely medallic appearance, without all the work entailed in multiple striking. In addition to testing a concept, this experiment was directed at producing a few specialized coins that could be sold to collectors at inflated prices.
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