Theodore Roosevelt and the Renaissance of American Coinage


Back in December 1904, three years after he took office, Theodore Roosevelt sent a famous letter to Treasury Secretary Leslie Shaw that ushered in a new age of American coinage.

Here’s what he said:

 I think our coinage is artistically of atrocious hideousness. Would it be possible, without asking permission of Congress, to employ a man like Saint-Gaudens to give us a coinage that would have some beauty?

Roosevelt’s strong words are not surprising coming from a man of great passion and conviction who rarely did anything by half measure. The Saint-Gaudens referred to in the letter is, of course, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, a Roosevelt family friend who would go on to design the $10 and $20 gold pieces that are still beloved by collectors today.

Despite Roosevelt’s contributions to the world of coinage, he has only been a bit player on an official U.S. coin: his was one of four faces on Mount Rushmore, which appears on the South Dakota state quarter as well as a number of commemorative coins celebrating the 50th anniversary of Gutzon Borglum’s famous monument in 1991. But April of 2013, the Hero of San Juan Hill finally received his due with the release of the Theodore Roosevelt presidential dollar by the United States Mint.

The presidential dollar program began back in 2007 with a bipartisan bill that stipulated that the U.S. Mint would release presidential dollar coins for general circulation. The plan was to release four presidential dollar coins each year in the order that the president served in office. Thus, the first year saw the release of quarters bearing the images of George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison.

The reverse of the coins shows an image of the Statue of Liberty and the inscription “United States of America.” In addition, along the edge of the coin is inscribed the year of minting, 13 stars and the words “E Pluribus Unum.” This marks the first time since the Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle that lettering had been inscribed on the edge of circulated coins.

Over the next four years, dollar coins were minted in large numbers, but were not widely used by the American public. This resulted in a huge surplus of 1.4 billion uncirculated presidential dollars, leading to calls for the end of the program as a waste of taxpayers’ money.

In December of 2011, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner announced that future presidential dollar coins (beginning with that of Chester A. Arthur) would be issued in much-reduced quantities for collectors only, and not for general circulation. Still, one imagines that Teddy Roosevelt would have been pleased by the handsome design of his presidential dollar, which will remind coin lovers everywhere of the great contributions the 26th president made to American numismatics.

Want to learn more about the fascinating history behind America’s coins? Come talk with the expert numismatists at Liberty Coin & Currency.

Liberty Coin & Currency specializes in gold buying and dealing in rare coins. We are a family-owned business that was first established over 16 years ago and is now located in Vancouver and Portland. We also buy gold, silver, diamonds, currency and jewelry. Visit us first for a free evaluation.