Original 1904 Theodore Roosevelt Letter to Secretary Shaw
Letter of President Theodore Roosevelt to Secretary of the
Treasury Leslie M. Shaw, Dec. 27, 1904.
Launching His Coinage Redesign Efforts
'Our Coinage Is Artistically of Atrocious Hideousness'
Typed in blue on cream paper, 180 x 225 mm, some folds. Extremely Fine. Headed White House, Washington, Personal, this letter plunges into its subject with the straightforward language for which the president became famous:
"My dear Secretary Shaw:
I think our coinage is artistically of atrocious hideousness. Would it be possible, without asking the permission of Congress, to employ a man like St. Gaudens to give us a coinage that would have some beauty?
Hon. L.M. Shaw
Secretary of the Treasury"
The verso has a handwritten note in pencil:
The calligraphic signature is boldly inscribed in black ink. Called the "Genesis Letter," this brief note to Secretary Shaw began the process of redesigning the nation's coinage, a process that evolved from 1907 through 1921 and eventually changed the design of all denominations of U.S. coins.
The first project to actually emerge from the enthusiastic collaboration of president and sculptor was the 1905 Roosevelt presidential inaugural medal, modeled by Saint-Gaudens' pupil A.A. Weinman and cast by Tiffany & Company. This medal originated with Roosevelt's distaste for the official inaugural medal struck by Joseph K. Davidson's Sons that was designed by the Mint's Chief Engraver Charles Barber.
Saint-Gaudens and the president's next project was the completion of the High Relief double eagles with the Roman numeral date MCMVII (struck over Barber's strenuous objections). Death claimed Saint-Gaudens before the new double eagles were dropped into the channels of commerce, but he did live to see the completion of the Ultra High Relief twenties. The high relief design was soon succeeded by the lower relief, Arabic-date coins that would be struck through 1933.
While this letter is often quoted by those who have written about the president's initial involvement in coinage redesign, only a copy is held by the Library of Congress. As indicated by the "Personal" nature of this letter, it was a part of the estate of Secretary Shaw rather than being included in official correspondence. It was recently discovered in a group of letters and documents signed by various presidents and other notable Americans including Benjamin Franklin, William Henry Harrison, and John F. Kennedy. An in-depth examination of this letter and its significance was written by Roger Burdette and published in the January 9, 2012, issue of Coin World. The letter was examined and authenticated by both Burdette and John Reznikoff, noted manuscript authenticator, appraiser, and dealer. Reznikoff recently handled letters, books, and papers by notable Americans as diverse as John Adams, James Garfield, Superintendent of the Mint James Kimball, and Harry Truman's Secretary of the Treasury John Snyder. Regarding this document, Reznikoff stated:
"This letter is obviously and overtly authentic and my personal inspection under great scrutiny confirms this. I've handled many Theodore Roosevelt letters but none has captured the bravado of his language more than this one; it invokes the word most associated with him: 'Bully!'
"If hypothetically limited to the manuscript market, this letter would command a significant premium. Only a coin aficionado, however, could properly place its import in the numismatic world. ... It's one of the hobby's Holy Grails."
Roger Burdette confirmed that no original of this December 27, 1904, letter is contained in any of the collections that house Roosevelt documents and letters. To quote Burdette from the Coin World article: "I fully agree with Reznikoff that it is entirely original." After the letter was placed in Shaw's personal papers nothing is known about its location until it was recently discovered.
The importance of this "Genesis Letter" is difficult to overstate. This letter triggered the most vibrant and creative era in U.S. numismatics, an era that has rightly been termed a renaissance in American coinage.
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Revised Edition by James L. Halperin, Mark R. Borckardt, Mark Van Winkle, Jon Amato, and Gregory J. Rohan, with special contributor David W. Akers
The Coinage of Augustus Saint-Gaudens is an issue-by-issue examination of these two artistically inspired series of gold coins.
Each date and mintmark is reviewed with up-to-date information, much of which has never been previously published. The book is based on
two extraordinary collections: The Phillip H. Morse collection and the Dr. and Mrs. Steven L. Duckor collection.
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