Theodore Roosevelt’s “Genesis Letter”

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Published : 07/11/12
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The "Genesis Letter" addressed by Theodore Roosevelt to Secretary of the Treasury Leslie M. Shaw, plunges into its subject with the straightforward language for which the president became famous, reading:

"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?

Sincerely yours,

Theodore Roosevelt

Hon. L.M. Shaw
Secretary of the Treasury"

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 letter is scheduled to be offered in the upcoming Heritage August 2-5 Philadelphia Signature Auction,

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.

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. After the letter was placed in Shaw's personal papers nothing is known about its location until it was recently discovered.

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.

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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