The 2012 presidential campaign was the lowest-class such event I
have ever witnessed. According to one account only 8 percent of the
advertisements were positive. That said, I am delighted to have no
more unsolicited calls from campaigners and pollsters.
Following passage of the Mint Act of April 2, 1792, President
George Washington took a deep interest in the nation’s coinage.
Washington was instrumental in having the first federal coins struck —
about 1,500 silver half dismes — and may have personally provided the
The federal Mint facility was not yet ready, so these half dismes
were struck in a private shop nearby. In his annual message to
Congress the president specifically mentioned the half dismes. Then a
long period of time passed before another president took great
interest in coinage.
In 1904, Theodore Roosevelt went to the Smithsonian Institution,
then headquartered in the “Castle” building that is still an icon on
the Washington Mall. He viewed the rare coins on exhibit, was
impressed with the sculpturelike and artistic features of ancient
Greek coins, and determined to improve American designs. As is well
known to numismatists, he commissioned Augustus Saint-Gaudens, the
country’s most famous sculptor, to create new motifs for all
denominations from the cent to the double eagle. The artist was in
failing health and died Aug. 3, 1907, by which time he had created the
1907 Saint-Gaudens, High Relief, Roman Numerals gold $20 double eagle
and the 1907 Indian Head gold $10 eagle.
Then another long gap — still going on!
The National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian’s Museum of
American History is a very short walk from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. I
am not aware of any sitting president in recent decades taking the
time to visit the display — one of the greatest in the world. And yet,
according to the Mint, many millions of citizens regularly buy new
commemoratives, American Eagles, and the like, and more than 100
million have taken an interest in State quarter dollars. Perhaps there
is a voting bloc here?
If for no other reason, perhaps a presidential visit to the
Smithsonian’s National Numismatic Collection exhibit is overdue.
Q. David Bowers is chairman emeritus of Stack’s Bowers Galleries
and numismatic director of Whitman Publishing LLC. He can be reached
at his private email, email@example.com,
or at Q. David Bowers, LLC, Box 1804, Wolfeboro, NH 03894.