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20 Dollars, United States, 1907

National Museum of American History
In 1905, President Theodore Roosevelt asked sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens to lead an effort to redesign American coinage. Saint-Gaudens developed a design for what many consider the most beautiful American coin ever conceived. Unfortunately, the coin required multiple strikes to produce, even when its ultra-high relief design was reduced to a lower relief.

Deciding how to modify the coin so it could be produced in large quantities with a single strike in a high speed press was left to the Mint's Chief Engraver, Charles E. Barber. In effect, he told President Roosevelt to make a choice. He could have artistry in small quantities or mediocrity in large amounts.

If he chose the first, Americans would have beautiful money that few would ever see. If he opted for the second, Americans would have as much money as they needed, even though it might be merely pretty rather than beautiful. Roosevelt likely felt he had little choice: the purpose of coinage is commercial first, anything else second. And so one can imagine him being upset, but accepting low relief to facilitate an increase in production.

The first of the redesigned coins was struck in December 1907. It was easily distinguished from earlier versions: not only was there a radical difference in the coins' relief, but even the date had been altered. Saint-Gaudens's ultra high relief and Hering's high relief coins bore the date in Roman numerals (MCMVII). Barber's version featured Arabic numerals (1907). Thus amended, the new double eagles would continue to be struck through the beginning of 1933.

Panama-California Exposition Souvenir Button

National Museum of American History

2 1/2 Dollars, Panama Pacific Exposition, United States, 1915

National Museum of American History
United States Mint, San Francisco. Obverse: Columbia, seated on a hippocampus, or sea horse. Reverse: Eagle facing left on what appears to be a Roman legionary standard. This and several other commemorative pieces were created at the San Francisco Mint to celebrate the opening of the Panama Canal and the exposition held in its honor. This Smithsonian specimen is the only known proof.

panama canal lottery bond

National Museum of American History

builder's plate from panama canal

National Museum of American History

railway ticket, panama

National Museum of American History

Panama False Olive

NMNH - Education & Outreach
This object is part of the Education and Outreach collection, some of which are in the Q?rius science education center and available to see.

Smithsonian Tropical Research Insititute Library in Panama City

Smithsonian Archives - History Div
Featured in TORCH, May 1983

The new library for tropical sciences at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama City, Panama, is dedicated on April 7, 1983. In addition to STRI's permanent scientific staff, hundreds of researchers and pre- and postdoctoral students from around the world come to Panama to take advantage of its unique ecological location and the Smithsonian facilities.

Panama Horse Conch, Panama Horse Conch, Conch Shell

NMNH - Education & Outreach
This object is part of the Education and Outreach collection, some of which are in the Q?rius science education center and available to see.

20 Dollars, United States, 1854-S

National Museum of American History
The sheer size of the California gold strike altered the nature of American numismatics. It was not only that mintage figures dramatically increased; the actual range of denominations increased as well.

Prior to 1849, there had been three gold coins: the quarter eagle, half eagle, and eagle (or $2.50, $5.00, and $10.00 coins). By 1854, three more had been added, a dollar, a three-dollar piece, and a double eagle, or twenty-dollar coin.

Artist James Barton Longacre designed all three of the new coins. The double eagle was the most popular. For its obverse, Longacre employed a simple head of Liberty, wearing a coronet. Stars surrounded the head of the goddess, and the date appeared below. The reverse depicted a somewhat ornate representation of an eagle, a "glory" of stars and rays above, the national motto to either side.

In 1854, the United States created a new branch mint in San Francisco to deal with the fruits of the gold rush. It was intended to replace a whole galaxy of private California mints that had created a variety of local coins.

This double eagle was the first coin the new federal mint struck. Below the eagle, each coin from the new branch Mint bore a distinctive small "S." This distinguished the coin from ones struck in Philadelphia, which had no such mark, and ones struck at New Orleans, which had an "O."

20 Dollars, United States, 1908 (Matte Proof)

National Museum of American History
In 1905 President Theodore Roosevelt asked sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens to lead an effort to redesign American coinage. Saint-Gaudens developed a design that many consider the most beautiful American coin ever conceived. The Mint's Chief Engraver, Charles E. Barber, opposed the project, but ultimately developed a low-relief version of the Saint-Gaudens design that became the standard American $20 coin.

Barber was not averse to experimentation. He simply believed it had to be kept within fairly close bounds, and under the Mint's control. It would also help if there was profit involved. Instead of experimenting with relief, Barber tried modifying the finish of the Saint-Gaudens coin design. In one test, a "Roman Gold" finish was devised, imparting a glowing, golden surface to coins that would otherwise have a slight reddish sheen about them, from the copper added to the mixture to make the coins wear better.

No records of how this special finish was applied have survived; but a good guess would be that a light layer of pure gold dust was applied to both surfaces of the coin blank before striking. The force of the press would bond the dust to the blank as the blank was coined. In another test that yielded the coin shown here, Barber developed a "Matte" finish. In this case, the coin was likely struck first (more than once, in order to fully bring up what relief there was), and then "pickled," or etched in dilute acid.

The result was a coin of a vaguely medallic appearance, without all the work entailed in multiple striking. In addition to testing a concept, this experiment was directed at producing a few specialized coins that could be sold to collectors at inflated prices.

Dr. Herbert C. Clark at the Gorgas Memorial Institute in Panama City, Panama

Smithsonian Archives - History Div
Image contained in photo album prepared by Alexander Wetmore of his trip to Panama. Wetmore Neg. #3655

Dr. Herbert C. Clark, Director of the Gorgas Memorial Institute in Panama City, Panama. Clark is standing in front of a building and next to a plaque that reads "Laboratorio Instituto Gorgas de Medicina Tropical." Taken by Alexander Wetmore, ornithologist and sixth Secretary of Smithsonian, during an ornithological field trip to Panama.

Ten Year Calendar, United Hatters of North America

National Museum of American History

Barbados Keyhole Limpet

NMNH - Education & Outreach
This object is part of the Education and Outreach collection, some of which are in the Q?rius science education center and available to see.

Chiriqui Volcano, Panama

Smithsonian Archives - History Div
From 1910 to 1912, the Smithsonian participated in the Biological Survey of the Panama Canal Zone, field work designed to document the natural history of the Canal Zone prior to construction of the Panama Canal. Professor Henri Pittier from the Bureau of Plant Industry, United States Department of Agriculture, was a member of the field-party and took this picture.

A view of the southernmost peak of the Chiriqui Volcano, Panama.

Cavanillesia-tree, Panama

Smithsonian Archives - History Div
From 1910 to 1912, the Smithsonian participated in the Biological Survey of the Panama Canal Zone, field work designed to document the natural history of the Canal Zone prior to construction of the Panama Canal. Professor Henri Pittier from the Bureau of Plant Industry, United States Department of Agriculture, was a member of the field-party and took this picture.

A cavanillesia-tree, a striking feature of the Panama Canal Zone forest.

20 Dollars, United States, 1925

National Museum of American History

20 Dollars, United States, 1879

National Museum of American History

20 Dollars, United States, 1880

National Museum of American History

20 Dollars, United States, 1872

National Museum of American History

20 Dollars, United States, 1860

National Museum of American History

20 Dollars, United States, 1913

National Museum of American History

20 Dollars, United States, 1876

National Museum of American History

20 Dollars, United States, 1874

National Museum of American History
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