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The E-Sylum:  Volume 9, Number 20, May 14, 2006, Article 4

BURDETTE'S RENAISSANCE OF AMERICAN COINAGE 1905-1908

The latest volume of Roger Burdette's planned trilogy covers
the early period of America's coinage renaissance, the key years
when President Theodore Roosevelt embarked on a mission to
revitalize the nation's coin designs with the help of Augustus
Saint-Gaudens and other top sculptors of the day.

The book is illustrated with hundreds of black and white images
of coins, patterns, models, drawings and sketches.  Absent are
portraits of some of the coin designers themselves, but Roger
adds: "There is a bust of Saint-Gaudens on p4 and a photo of Henry
Hering on p55.  There's a photo of Lodge on p.5 and Bigelow on p323.
Available photos of Pratt are so awful that I decided not to use
one. Roosevelt is represented by multiple images on medals and
plaques. Frank Leach will appear in the 1909-1915 book as will
George Roberts during his second stint as Mint Director."

The most technically impressive photo may be the computer-generated
"rollout" image of the entire edge of an extremely high relief
1907 double eagle, created by the author based on photo provided
by NGC (p367).  Similar edge photos appear elsewhere in the book.
Historically, the most impressive photos are the one showing the
original low-relief model and the one with "E Pluribus Unum" on
the rock. Roger adds: "The first was thought to not exist and the
second had never been imagined by numismatists."

"President Roosevelt was justifiably proud of the new eagle and
double eagle. He and the members of his cabinet purchased coins
as personal mementoes, as well as semi-official awards of respect
and admiration for friends and government employees." (p152)

A fact noted in Alison Frankel's new book about the 1933
Double Eagle, Augustus Saint-Gaudens "treated the experimental
coins he was sent as mechanical models, nothing more."  It was
his wife Augusta who recognized not only their beauty, but their
investment potential.  "She felt that beyond their artistic
qualities, they would be worth at least $5,000 in the future
and she has determined to get as many as possible..." (p153)

But the book isn't all about Saint-Gaudens - the fight over the
"In God We Trust" motto and the groundbreaking incuse designs of
Bela Lyon Pratt are addressed in depth as well.  It turns out
that "In all respects Bela Pratt was treated shabbily by the
president, the mint and his collaborator", Dr. William S. Bigelow.
Pratt designed the coin; Roosevelt's friend Dr. Bigelow provided
"technical and political influence" (p342).

Through his research, Roger identified two previously unrecognized
$10 gold pattern coins, and he notes at least four other patterns
that remain to be discovered - Mint records indicate that they
were struck, yet none are known today (p368-369).  Interestingly,
the book also identifies cardboard trial pieces (actually thick
paperboard) which "were supposed to be kept by the director's office
as part of the official record of acceptance", but which cannot now
be located in the archives.  "The rectangular stock was dampened,
struck with the dies at sufficient pressure to show the full design,
then allowed to dry." (p271-272).

Roger is to be commended not only for his diligent research and
clear writing, but for his openness in indicating where facts leave
off and speculation begins - such divisions are difficult if not
impossible to discern in the writings of earlier researchers.

For example, Mint records indicate that on December 2, 1907 the
president requested twenty additional individually-packaged
high-relief double eagles.  Twelve days later, Roosevelt observed
the highly-publicized ceremonial departure of the U.S. Atlantic
Fleet from Norfolk, VA. The total of twenty commanding officers
might have been a coincidence, but it would not be a far stretch
of logic to infer a connection.  The book includes a few pages on
"The Great White Fleet", but the section is prefaced with an
italicized paragraph noting that the connection is highly
speculative. "Naval archives contain nothing that confirms this
connection. The author admits to standing very far out on a thin
limb." (p154)

David Tripp, author of "Illegal Tender: Gold, Greed and the
Mystery of the 1933 Double Eagle" contributed the book's foreword.
I wholeheartedly agree with Tripp's conclusion that "future authors
of articles and books concerning these episodes will owe an
incalculable debt to Roger Burdette's book, for his work will become
the handbook to which future researchers will look first before
heading off on their own journeys of discovery." (page xv)

Tripp also accurately notes that despite "some frightfully
distressing destruction of United States Mint records in the 1970s,
there is still a treasure trove of vital, essential material that
is readily available, and there is more yet to be discovered."
(page xvi)

In short, this book is a must for any serious U.S. numismatist's
library, and is a must-read for any collector of the coinage spawned
in this era.  We bibliophiles are indebted to Roger both for his
painstaking research and for underwriting the publishing of the book.
The relatively small market will likely make this a break-even effort
at best, which is a shame.

Collectors, dealers, auctioneers and others will also be able to
leverage the book's information to identify, market and trade coins
worth sums thousands (or tens of thousands) of times the book's retail
price, but none of the profits are likely to find their way back to
the author.  If I were the Emperor Norton of Numismatics, I would
decree that for the period of five years from first publication, any
commercial coin description based on a book's original research be
taxed the sum of $25, with the proceeds going to the book's author.
That's impossible to implement, of course, but if Walter Breen got
paid by dealers of his day for his research efforts, maybe today's
authors should be remunerated as well.

I would like to publicly thank Roger for stopping by my office
personally on Monday to present to me a copy of the book, which he
took the time to inscribe to me.  I've savored it all week, and it
will become a treasured part of my numismatic library.   The book
debuted to the collecting public Saturday May 13 at the Pennsylvania
Association of Numismatists coin show in Monroeville, PA.

Roger graciously agreed to make a presentation to a crowd of young
numismatists at PAN's highly popular Coins4Kids program, and also
spent time meeting collectors and selling and signing copies of
his books.  He donated one copy of each of his two new books, and
these were awarded to two kids in a random drawing.  They were all
smiles and eagerly watched as Roger inscribed their copies.

  Wayne Homren, Editor

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