Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Blunder the Double Eagle

Dec. 26, 1907
Pittsburgh, by direct wire to The Times

As Christmas celebrations concluded at Knoxville Presbyterian Church, the congregation presented the Rev. W.A. Jones with $100 ($2,052.36 USD 2005). A banker who was among the worshipers made a point of getting freshly minted gold pieces to present to the pastor.

But the $20 Double Eagles, newly redesigned by sculptor Augustus St.-Gaudens at the request of President Theodore Roosevelt, had a terrible flaw, in Jones’ view.

“This is Godless money, I cannot take it,” Jones said of the coins, example at right. “My mother taught me to look for the motto ‘In God We Trust’ on the coins of our country and when the president announced his new order effacing the inscription from the coins, I swore I would take no money that did not bear the old motto.”

St.-Gaudens died in August before the release of the coins and the resulting furor over omission of the motto, which was restored by U.S. Mint engraver Charles E. Barber in 1908. In fact, St.-Gaudens wanted to omit all the lettering and it was only after a heated battle with Roosevelt that he agreed to restore “E Pluribus Unum” to his design.

In 1908, Los Angeles bankers made further complaints about St.-Gaudens’ new $10 gold pieces, saying that they wouldn’t stack properly because the Indian’s cheek, example at right, was raised too high. “Someone’s idea of art is on the bum if those are artistic coins,” one the banker said. “Maybe it is mine and maybe it is the designer’s. I don’t know about that, but I do know the coins won’t do for us. They won’t stack and we cannot handle them at all.”



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