Wednesday, September 13, 2000
Dirksen Senate Building - Room 538
Coin Exhibition - 9:00 a.m.
Discussion - 10:00 a.m.
Free and Open to the Public
President Theodore Roosevelt asked renowned U.S. sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens to design new coins that would reflect the might of the greatest nation on earth. In lively correspondence over several months, the president and the sculptor swapped ideas and complaints about resistance to the radical new designs.
"My dear Saint-Gaudens," Roosevelt wrote on Nov. 6, 1905, "It seems to me worth while to try for a really good coinage, though I suppose there will be a revolt about it. I was looking at some gold coins of Alexander the Great today...."
"Dear Mr. President," came the reply, "You have hit the nail on the head with regard to the coinage. Of course the great coins (and you might say the only coins) are the Greek ones you speak of....I have about determined on the composition of one side....My idea is to make it a living thing and typical of progress."
"My dear Saint-Gaudens: I have seen (Treasury Secretary) Shaw about the coinage and told him it was my pet baby....Of course he thinks I am a mere crack-brained lunatic on the subject...."
"Dear Mr. President....Well! Whatever I produce cannot be worse than the inanities now displayed on our coins and we will at least have made an attempt in the right direction...."
What Saint-Gaudens produced would become known as the most beautiful coin ever minted in the United States: a $20 gold coin bearing the image of Liberty holding a torch and striding forward - "a living thing and typical of progress."
Letters: The U.S. Mint and Coinage by Don Taxay, Arco Publishing, New York (1966)
Photos: Douglas A. Mudd, National Numismatic Collection, Smithsonian Institution