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Augustus Saint-Gaudens Coins On ViewAt American Numismatic Society



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Augustus Saint-Gaudens Coins On View

At American Numismatic Society

1col  10 1980…

A $20 gold Augustus Saint-Gaudens is among the featured coinage in the upcoming exhibition.

Photo sent e-m 8-31

FOR 9/14


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NEW YORK CITY — The American Numismatic Society, in conjunction with the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, will present a new exhibition: “‘I suppose I shall be impeached for it’: Theodore Roosevelt, Augustus Saint-Gaudens and America’s Most Beautiful Coin,” on view at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York September 20–March 31.

This year marks not only the centenary year of the death of Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848–1907), America’s renowned sculptor of the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries, but also the release of his revolutionary and controversial designs for the $20 and $10 gold pieces.

At a White House diplomatic supper in January 1905, President Theodore Roosevelt approached Augustus Saint-Gaudens with his hopes to improve upon the “atrocious hideousness” of America’s coins. Although the artist was reluctant to agree to the president’s wished due to ill health and prior unpleasant experiences with the United States Mint, Saint-Gaudens took on the task. This partnership of artist and president to create new designs for coinage remains unparalleled in American history.

Guiding the younger and steadier hands of his chief assistant, Henry Hering, Saint-Gaudens fine tuned design elements as he met resistance every step of the way from the United States Mint — most particularly from its contentious and intensely jealous chief engraver, Charles Barber.

In February 1907, Saint-Gaudens held the first examples of his concept struck in gold. More than mere coins, they were fully realized sculptures on a miniature scale. The President was overjoyed, but the high-relief of the coins rendered them useless for everyday commerce.

For the next half year (the last few months of his life) Saint-Gaudens worked with his assistant in an effort to retain the coin’s majesty while making it suitable for the rigors of circulation.

The exhibition will, for the first time, draw together elements of all phases of this partnership and commission. The collections of the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site and the American Numismatic Society contain an array of material charting virtually all phases of the commission as well as Saint-Gaudens’ career as a cameo-cutter, sculptor and medalist.

Examples of early cameos will be displayed along with some of the classical numismatic prototypes that Saint-Gaudens is known to have used as inspiration. Examples of his medallic work ranging from private commissions for friends to the 1889 Washington Inaugural Centennial to examples of the Columbian Exposition Award medal will be included.

The centerpiece of the exhibition will be the progression of the design process for the new coinage and will concentrate on the “double eagle.” Correspondence with the president, examples of Saint-Gaudens’ original pencil sketches, plaster models and the massive 12-inch plaster of the framed ultra high relief coin will be on view. Included will be the series of electrotypes for the coin, showing the progression of the multiple strikes needed to fully bring up the detail.

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York is at 33 Liberty Street. For information, www.numismatics.org or 212-571-4470.

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