Part of my day job is to analyze the impact of laws and policies on the security of computing systems. Although I enjoy the research, there are times it gets tedious and I need a diversion. Today’s diversion was to log into THOMAS, the website of the Library of Congress where citizens can look up bills and resolutions from congress, where I entered “coin act” as a search string.
The search turned up 55 bills—many of which are different versions of the same bill. Many of the bills are for commemorative coins along with the Presidential $1 Coin Act (codified in Public Law 109-145). But what caught my eye is the Theodore Roosevelt Commemorative Coin Act (S.863) to honor the centennial of his winning the Nobel Peace Prize. Roosevelt was the first US citizen to win Alfred Nobel’s prize, the first sitting president to be so awarded (the only other sitting president to win the Nobel Peace Prize was Woodrow Wilson for his founding of the League of Nations, the forerunner to the United Nations).
Roosevelt was known as a reformer with a real vision as to how to modernize a nation still recovering from a bloody Civil War and draconian laws from the Victorian Age. Roosevelt was a man of strength and a man of peace. He won the Nobel Peace Prize for negotiating the 1905 peace treaty ending the Russo-Japanese War. A truly remarkable American.
For us numismatists, Roosevelt initiated the “Golden Age of American Coin Design.” Using his bully pulpit, he held the designs of the US Mint’s Chief Engraver Charles E. Barber in contempt and ordered coinage whose designs were more than 25 years old to be redesigned. Roosevelt was a fan of sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens and asked Saint-Gaudens to redesign the small cent. Rather than use the Liberty design in an Indian Headdress for the small cent, it was used on the 1907 $10 gold coin. Roosevelt also asked Saint-Gaudens to design the $20 gold double eagle coin to rival the beauty of all classic coins.
Unfortunately, Saint-Gaudens died of cancer before he could redesign the small cent. Roosevelt continued to look to revitalize US coinage and seized on Abraham Lincoln’s 100th birthday to redesign the small cent. He was steered to Victor David Brenner, whose bust of Lincoln was used as the model for the new Lincoln Cent first issued in 1909. Not only was Lincoln the first president to appear on a circulating coin, but Brenner’s obverse is still in use today.
The impact of Roosevelt’s redesign continues to be felt today. Saint-Gaudens’ image of Liberty from the $20 coin is being used today on the American Eagle Gold Bullion Coins. With his impact on American coinage, it is astounding that Roosevelt was not honored with a commemorative coin of his own.
The Theodore Roosevelt Commemorative Coin Act is the perfect way to honor this great American. The Act calls for three commemorative coins: one to represent his presidency using designs from James Earl Fraser and Augusts Saint-Gaudens; one with the obverse commemorating Roosevelt as a Rough Rider with a reverse from the Saint-Gaudens $20 coin; and an “Adventurer” coin with an image of Roosevelt on horseback that is based on the Fraser statue that stands at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Although I am not a collector of commemoratives, I would purchase these coins.
S.863 was passed by the Senate on December 16, 2005 and sent to the House of Representatives the next day. The next day, the bill was “Held at the Desk” since the calendar makes aspects of the bill impractical to enact. It was too late to complete the bill in order to honor Roosevelt in 2006. This bill was discharged from the Senate a few weeks later, which formally lays it to rest.
Although it is too late to honor Roosevelt for the 100th Anniversary for winning the Nobel Prize, it is never too late to bestow this honor to a reformer, veteran, peace maker, and great President. Hopefully, congress will give us numismatists and fans of Teddy Roosevelt a present and revive this act for the future.