“This is my pet crime,” said President Roosevelt to Saint-Gaudens

Does the Teddy Roosevelt museum also have copies of his correspondence with Augustus Saint-Gaudens? Especially about the $10 and $20 gold pieces?

Last week on a Mysteries at the Museum episode, they talked about an assassination attempt on President Teddy Roosevelt’s life. This occurred after his two terms in office. Unhappy with President Taft, he began campaigning for a third term.

After breakfast and on his way to give a speech, the assassin shot President Roosevelt. Between his metal glasses case and his lengthy speech, which was folded in his coat’s breast pocket, the objects kept the bullet from killing the President even though the bullet penetrated his chest.

President Roosevelt continued on his way to give the speech – an 80 minute speech – before obtaining medical attention. With the loss of campaign time during his recovery from surgery, he did not achieve his bid for a third term as President.

The glasses case and the copy of his speech can be found at the Teddy Roosevelt museum in New York.

That’s an interesting bit of history, and it reminded me of Roosevelt and Saint-Gaudens.

Did you know about their correspondence? Did you know that Teddy Roosevelt made a large impact on American coinage?

In early 1905, Augustus Saint-Gaudens traveled to Washington to participate with esteemed architects of the day in discussions with President Theodore Roosevelt on how to maintain the nation’s capitol buildings and grounds.

During this time, President Roosevelt and Saint-Gaudens also discussed the nation’s coinage.

Both President Roosevelt and Saint-Gaudens thought Greek coins were beautiful and American coins rather lackluster. President Roosevelt implored Saint-Gaudens to develop models similar to the Greek coins. He claimed that if Saint-Gaudens made the models, he would, in turn, make sure the coins were minted.

In his boisterous way, President Roosevelt stated, “This is my pet crime.”

In reality, correspondence between the two men began a couple of years earlier in 1903 – at first about statues and monuments and later about coins.

Several of their letters can be found in The Century, Volume 99, April 1920, pp 721-736 in an article titled, Roosevelt and Our Coin Designs – Letters Between Theodore Roosevelt and Augustus Saint-Gaudens.

One in particular was dated, November 14, 1905 – 106 years ago today. In the letter to Saint-Gaudens, President Roosevelt wrote,

The White House
Nov. 14, 1905.

My dear Mr. Saint-Gaudens:

I have your letter of the 11th instant and return herewith the book on coins, which I think you should have until you get the other one. I have summoned all the mint people, and I am going to see if I cannot persuade them that coins of the Grecian type but with the raised rim will meet the commercial needs of the day. Of course I want to avoid too heavy an outbreak of the mercantile classes, because after all it is they who do use the gold. If we can have an eagle like that on the Inauguration Medal, only raised, I should feel that we would be awfully fortunate. Don’t you think that we might accomplish something by raising the figures more than at present but not as much as in the Greek coins? Probably the Greek coins would be so thick that modern banking houses, where they have to pile up gold, would simply be unable to do so. How would it do to have a design struck off in a tentative fashion—that is, to have a model made? I think your Liberty idea is all right. Is it possible to make a Liberty with that Indian feather head-dress? Would people refuse to regard it as a Liberty? The figure of Liberty as you suggest would be beautiful. If we get down to bed-rock facts would the feather head-dress be any more out of keeping with the rest of Liberty than the canonical Phrygian cap which never is worn and never has been worn by any free people in the world?

Faithfully yours,
Theodore Roosevelt.

That generated a change in the Saint-Gaudens design from an olive wreath to a headdress as seen in this comparative picture:

The article (The Century, Volume 99, April 1920, Roosevelt and Our Coin Designs) went on to describe more of their interactions about the $10 and $20 gold pieces. And, about how the designs changed along with the continued correspondence between the sculptor and the President.

It’s interesting to learn of the intrigue and the personalities behind the decisions about some of our most popular coins throughout history.

You can find more relationships between coins and history in Days of Our Coins.