Upon his triumphant return from The Spanish-American War, former commander of the famous Rough Riders, Theodore Roosevelt charged back into public life. First as the Governor of New York, then as Vice President, Roosevelt was launched into the Presidency with the assassination of William McKinley. Through his dynamic nature and irrepressible energy, Roosevelt left his indelible mark on American, and indeed world history. His list of accomplishments and contributions is truly remarkable by any standard.
One such contribution was the result of his “pet crime” (the desire to replace our “hideously atrocious” coinage with designs that would rival those of Ancient Greece) and his collaboration with the preeminent sculptor of the period, Augustus Saint-Gaudens.
Roosevelt was so pleased with the work Saint-Gaudens did designing his official presidential inaugural medal that he wasted no time in forging ahead with improving the designs of our two largest gold coins, the $10 Eagle and $20 Double Eagle.
Saint-Gaudens immediately began to work on the new coin designs. He created full length and bust images of Liberty and two magnificent eagles (both in flight and standing). Although he preferred the bust motif for the $20, after much correspondence with Roosevelt, it was agreed that the bust/standing eagle combination would be used on the $10 coin.
The portrait Saint-Gaudens gold coin chose was modeled after the figure of Nike (Victory) which he created for the Sherman Monument in New York’s Central Park. On the insistence of Theodore Roosevelt (the first president since George Washington to take such a deep personal interest in our coinage), Saint-Gaudens adorned the portrait with an Indian ceremonial feathered warbonnet creating an “American” motif. The powerful standing eagle, which dominates the reverse, indeed harkens back to Late Egyptian/Early Roman coinage at its finest.
These elegant coins were minted each year from 1907 through 1916 and again in 1920, 1926, 1930, 1932 and 1933. When President Franklin D. Roosevelt (Theodore’s cousin) signed the infamous Executive Order 6260 recalling gold coinage in 1933 countless numbers of these and other historic gold coins were lost forever to the melting pot.