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$20 United States Gold Coin, 1849-1933

The 1848 discovery of gold at Sutter's Mill in California created the California Gold Rush and a steady flow of the element, part of which reached the United States Mint in Philadelphia. Instead of striking gold in traditional $1 pieces, the Mint decided to also issue larger denominations. In February 1849, Congress authorized the striking of $20 gold coins. Created by the very talented Chief-Engraver James Barton Longacre, the coin featured Liberty in profile on the obverse and an eagle on the reverse. The coin inaugurated the series of gold 20 dollars, nicknamed "double eagles," which were issued from 1850 to 1907. The term "double eagle" is derived from the fact that the $10 coin is called an "eagle."

The experimental high-relief $20 coin shown here was struck on December 22, 1907. It was the work of two famous Americans: President Theodore Roosevelt and sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens. The President was a great admirer of ancient Greek coins and wanted to bring similar beauty to the U.S. coinage. He approached Saint-Gaudens to redesign the $10 and the $20 coins. For the $20, the sculptor chose an advancing figure of Liberty for the obverse and a flying eagle on the reverse. Chief-Engraver of the U.S. Mint, Charles Barber, resented the new design, partly because the high relief of the coin required a longer striking process. Therefore, only a few of the very high-relief pieces were struck in December 1907. Soon afterwards, new dies with a much lower relief were created for this coin; it was issued for circulation from 1907 to 1933.

In the spring of 1933, 455,500 $20 gold coins were struck but never released for circulation. The financial instability following World War I throughout the world encouraged many private citizens to hoard gold, ultimately also affecting the U.S. gold reserves. The problem was compounded in the 1930s by a general bank crisis which led, on March 6 to 9, to the closing of all banks. President Franklin D. Roosevelt's "Emergency Bank Relief Act" (March 9, 1933) and the "Gold Reserve Act" (January 1934) put an end to these crises; banks were opened, but gold vanished. The legislation also prohibited the circulation and private possession of U.S. gold; an exemption was granted for "gold coins having a recognized value to collectors of rare and unusual coins." Late in 1934, the 1933 $20 coins were melted down, with the exception of two coins, which are now part of the National Numismatic Collection at NMAH.

 


Theodore Roosevelt, Twenty-sixth President, 1901-1909

When McKinley was shot, Theodore Roosevelt became the youngest ever president of the United States, at the age of forty-two. A popular war hero from the Spanish-American War in which he led the famous Rough Rider Regiment on the charge up Cuba's San Juan Hill, Roosevelt had a reputation for courage, boundless energy, and idealism, which he amply demonstrated as president. Despite his wealthy origins, Roosevelt felt that it was his duty to protect American workers from the power of wealthy business interests. When Pennsylvania coal miners went on strike for higher wages in 1902, Roosevelt supported the workers and threatened to close down the mines unless the owners agreed to negotiate; he brought both sides to Washington, where the miners won many of their demands. A strong believer in racial equality, Roosevelt was the first president to entertain an African American in the White House. His guest was Booker T. Washington, renowned educator and principal of the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama.

Roosevelt was unanimously elected to a second term, during which he continued to support workers and average Americans by crusading as a "Trust Buster," against the unfair price-setting practices of big business. He went after railroad corruption with the Elkins Act, endorsed the Pure Food and Drug Act, and encouraged the vigorous lifestyle he and his large family so enjoyed by doubling the number of national parks and adding 150 million acres to the nation's forest reserve. Although Roosevelt was fond of hunting wild game, his refusal to shoot a captured bear cub on a hunting trip in Mississippi inspired the stuffed toy known today as the teddy bear. Roosevelt's mediation of the Russo-Japanese War won him a 1906 Nobel Peace Prize.

 

 

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