How to Use
Reading 5: A Letter to the President
President Theodore Roosevelt, a friend of Saint-Gaudens, personally selected the artist to design $10 and $20 gold coins for the U.S. currency. Saint-Gaudens and the president differed as to the design image. In the end, Saint-Gaudens won, but he never lived to see what numismatists argue are the most exquisite coins minted in U.S. history.
November 11, 1905
Dear Mr. President:
You have hit the nail on the head with regard to the coinage. Of course the great coins (and you might almost say the only coins) are the Greek ones you speak of, just as the great medals are those of the fifteenth century by Pisanello and Sperandio. Nothing would please me more than to make the attempt in the direction of the head of Alexander....
Up to the present I have done no work on the actual models for the coins, but have made sketches, and the matter is constantly in mind. I have about determined on the composition of one side, which would contain an eagle very much like the one I placed on your [inaugural] medal, with an advantageous modification. On the other side would be some kind of a (possibly winged) figure of Liberty striding energetically forward as if on a mountain top, holding aloft on one arm a shield bearing the stars and stripes with the word "Liberty" marked across the field, in the other hand perhaps a flaming torch; the drapery would be flowing in the breeze. My idea is to make it a living thing and typical of progress....
Questions for Reading 5
1. Why do you think Saint-Gaudens wrote this letter to President Roosevelt?
2. What was Saint-Gaudens' vision for the design of these coins?
3. If you were an artist, would you want to design coins? What would be the advantages?
4. Do you agree that it was fitting for Saint-Gaudens to design coins used during the Gilded Age? Why or why not?
Reading 5 was excerpted from Homer Saint-Gaudens, ed. The Reminiscences of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, vol.2 (New York: The Century Company, 1913).