Eleanor Roosevelt numismatic collectibles tell the story of an accomplished American

One of the most accomplished American women of all time
By , Coin World
Published : 12/13/14
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Medals, coins and paper money are a part of the legacy of Anna Eleanor Roosevelt.

To many, she may be best known as the wife of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. 

However, Eleanor Roosevelt is widely recognized on her own merits as one of the most accomplished American women of all time.

Just as many numismatic tributes to Franklin Roosevelt exist, many numismatic tributes recognize her as an individual because of her activism on behalf of the poor, the disadvantaged and those in harm’s way.

Long before she met and married the man who would serve four terms as president of the United States; before she traveled the world visiting U.S. military troops; and before she wrote six books and 2,500 syndicated newspaper columns, Anna Eleanor Roosevelt was groomed to be a conventional woman of her era.

Privileged birth

She was born Oct. 11, 1884, in New York City to the wealthy household of Elliott Roosevelt and Anna Hall Roosevelt. 

Her father was the younger brother of Theodore Roosevelt and their oldest child was named after her mother, Anna, though she would be known mostly as Eleanor. Theodore Roosevelt considered her his favorite niece.

Biographers say unhappiness began in her childhood in 1892, when her mother died of diphtheria. Her father, an alcoholic whose lifestyle led to commitment to a sanitorium and estrangement from his family, died of a seizure in 1894, two days after a suicide attempt.

At the age of 10 she and a younger brother moved in with their maternal grandmother. Eleanor was privately tutored until the age of 15 when she was sent to a finishing school in London, where she found academic achievement and popularity among her fellow students. 

Young adulthood

Two years later, as was the expected convention at the beginning of the 20th century, Eleanor was presented at a debutante ball. She was removed from her finishing school, an act she always regretted.

The following year she encountered one of her many distant cousins, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, on a train. The two, previously only slightly acquainted from their appearances at family gatherings, began a quiet romance. 

In 1903 she and Franklin were engaged — she was 19 and he was 22. On her wedding day, March 17, 1905, her uncle “Teddy” walked her down the aisle.

Again, it appeared she was headed for a conventional life as a wife and mother. Between 1906 and 1916 she gave birth to six children, with one dying in infancy. But Eleanor’s life would soon be changing.

Political future

In 1910 Franklin was elected to the New York State Senate and in 1913 he was appointed the assistant secretary of the U.S. Navy. 

Although a Democrat, Franklin was following in the footsteps of his cousin Theodore, a Republican whose first political office was in the New York State Assembly and who also served as assistant secretary of the Navy.

In August 1921, while the family was vacationing at Campobello Island, New Brunswick, Franklin contracted polio. 

That year marks when Eleanor’s role gradually changed from conventional housewife and mother to confidant and political strategist. 

By 1928, when Franklin was elected governor of New York, she had become the “eyes and ears” of her husband because his paralysis didn’t make travel easy.

She traveled across the state and took the pulse of the people, and reported back to him what she’d seen and heard. 

It was to become her pattern as he began the first of four terms in 1933 as president of the United States. 

In fact, she traveled so much it became a running joke among newspaper cartoonists and pundits that Eleanor could show up just about anytime and anywhere.

World War II

Eleanor started a syndicated newspaper column in 1936 called “My Day,” and throughout World War II she filled it with her observations as she visited U.S. and allied armed forces and civilians around the world.

In 1943, as she visited military hospitals and bases in Australia, New Zealand and 15 other islands in the South Pacific, her column related the realities of war. But she often described the courage and good humor she saw displayed by American armed forces.

Part of that good humor involved what are called “short snorters.”

One of the simplest definitions of a short snorter is “a piece of paper money upon which signatures were exchanged between those traveling together or meeting up at different events. 

The tradition was started by bush pilots in Alaska in the 1920s and subsequently spread, through the growth of commercial and military aviation. If you signed someone’s short-snorter and that person could not produce it upon request, they owed you a dollar or a drink. 

The name for these autographed notes came from the slang for an alcoholic drink, often referred to as a ‘short snort,’ ” according to Tom Sparks, creator of the online gallery called The Short Snorter Project.

While in Australia, she visited the Air Transport Command’s base and posed for a photograph with eight ATC officers in front of an ATC airplane. Each individual signed the photo. In 2010, Heritage Auctions sold the photograph, a letter typed and signed by Eleanor, and 14 “short snorter” notes that were taped together. 

One of the notes is a £1 New Zealand note that Roosevelt had signed. The lot sold for $717.

Photos of Eleanor visiting the Panama Canal Zone in 1944 and signing such notes can be found at the project’s website, www.shortsnorter.org.

She must have enjoyed the camaraderie, because she is known to have carried a “short snorter” with her and added signatures of military personnel she visited.

Other short-snorters featuring her autograph can sometimes be found in public and online auctions.

United Nations

In 1946, a year after the death of Franklin, President Harry Truman appointed Eleanor to be the U.S. representative to the United Nations.

She served as the first chairperson of the UN Human Rights Commission. She resigned in 1952, but in 1962 President John F. Kennedy reappointed her.

It was to be a short-lived second term, as she was diagnosed with bone marrow cancer that summer and died Nov. 7, 1962. She is buried beside her husband at the Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site in Hyde Park, N.Y.

Following her death, in a United Nations address U.S. delegate Adlai E. Stevenson said of her, “she would rather light a candle than curse the darkness and her glow has warmed the world.”

In 1968 the United Nations posthumously awarded its first Human Rights Prize to Eleanor Roosevelt. 

Collectible tributes

A range of numismatic items pay tribute to her.

In 1972 the Eleanor Roosevelt Memorial Foundation issued sterling silver medals struck by the Franklin Mint. 

The 39-millimeter medals commemorated the dedication of the Eleanor Roosevelt Library Wing added to the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park.

The obverse image has a portrait of Eleanor Roosevelt and the reverse displays a candle and flame with the words, SHE WOULD RATHER LIGHT/ A CANDLE THAN CURSE/ THE DARKNESS, AND HER/ GLOW HAS WARMED/ THE WORLD/ ADLAI STEVENSON.

In 1976 a 39-millimeter silver medal featuring a portrait of Eleanor was struck and issued by the Franklin Mint as part of its Gallery of Great Americans. 

The medallic program issued 12 medals from 1970 to 1976 honoring Americans in 12 different categories ranging from statesmen to social leaders to scientists to humanitarians. 

The Franklin Mint also issued bronze ingots in its 100 Greatest Americans series in the 1970s, with one honoring Eleanor.

Also in the 1970s, the Danbury Mint included a portrait medal of Eleanor in its Great Patriots of the United States series of medals struck in silver and bronze.

In 1984, in honor of the 100th anniversary of Eleanor’s birth, medallic sculptor Marika Somogyi designed a bronze portrait medal. 

The obverse of the 4.5-inch (108 millimeters) medal features a portrait of Eleanor in her 70s. The back of the 16-ounce medal is numbered. In total, 150 were made.

The medals were offered by Numismarketing Associates of Woodland Hills, Calif.

Many medals depicting Eleanor Roosevelt can be found on eBay and in other online auction venues. 

Also check with medals dealers to see what they have in their inventories or can find.

First Spouse

In 2014 the U.S. Mint began offering First Spouse gold $10 coins honoring Eleanor, the longest serving first lady in American history, holding that position from 1933 to 1945. 

She is one of four women to be honored on First Spouse coins during 2014.

The obverse portrait of Roosevelt was designed by Artistic Infusion Program artist Chris Costello and sculpted by sculptor-engraver Phebe Hemphill. 

The reverse was also designed by Costello and sculptured by sculptor-engraver Renata Gordon. The reverse depicts Eleanor lighting a candle. A glowing light rises over a stylized graphic of the Earth’s curved horizon. 

For more information about the First Spouse gold coins, visit the U.S. Mint website

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