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The E-Sylum:  Volume 10, Number 44, October 28, 2007, Article 9

REVIEW: 'RENAISSANCE OF AMERICAN COINAGE 1909-1915' BY ROGER BURDETTE

Call it "The White Book". Those of us who now have all 
three books in Roger Burdette's "Renaissance" series will 
notice a pattern when lining them up in order on the shelf. 
The first volume, "Renaissance of American Coinage 1905-1908" 
has a red pictorial cover. The middle volume, covering 
the years 1909-1915 has a white cover, and the final volume, 
covering the years 1916-1921, is blue. So this marvelous 
set of books on a wholly American numismatic subject is as 
red, white and blue as the American flag.

The "White Book" covering the middle years is actually 
the last to be published, but no matter - the set as a 
whole will stand for years as pioneering scholarship in 
the field. Collectors of twentieth century U.S. coinage 
(and their numbers are legion) will do themselves and their 
collections a great favor by reading these volumes.

Roger has come to a very satisfying end to an endeavor 
begun several years ago when, as a curious collector of 
Peace Dollars, he set out to read all the information 
he could find on the series. What he found was unfortunately 
what many serious readers discover when delving into the 
body of numismatic literature - that much of what was written 
to date was simply copied from the work of earlier authors, 
and much of the information within was incomplete, 
contradictory, or just plain wrong.

Armed with the confidence only a neophyte researcher can 
muster, Roger set out to look a little deeper, intending 
to compile a short article on the subject in order to set 
his own mind straight on the real story and true sequence 
of events. We all know where Good Intentions often lead, 
but in his case Roger followed a trail one crumb at a time 
to numismatic nirvana.

In a lucky early break, someone advised him to check with 
the Commission on Fine Arts. As it turns out, the Commission 
has an extensive record archive going all the way back to 
its founding in 1910. Per the Commission's web site, its 
charter is to give "expert advice to the President, Congress 
and the heads of departments and agencies of the Federal and 
District of Columbia governments on matters of design and 
aesthetics, as they affect the Federal interest and preserve 
the dignity of the nation's capital... The Commission provides 
advice to the U. S. Mint on the design of coins and medals, 
and approves the site and design of national memorials, 
both in the United States and on foreign soil..."

As readers can guess, one thing led to another and Roger's 
article grew and grew. When he mentioned to dealer Julian 
Leidman that he was considering publishing a book on Peace 
dollars, Julian gave him some fateful advice. Julian was 
unsure that there was enough material for a full book on 
this coin, but thought there would certainly be a market 
for one covering the broader range of early twentieth 
century coinage.

His suggestion encouraged Roger to expand the scope of 
his research to the entire era, heading back to Commission 
archives, the National Archives, Library of Congress, 
correspondence files, personal archives and the occasional 
old newspaper. And just as his intended article had expanded 
to a book, his book on what he dubbed the "Renaissance of 
American Coinage" grew to a three-volume manuscript. Along 
the way Roger published some of his findings in various Coin 
World articles.

Well-researched, thoughtfully written and properly footnoted, 
Roger's manuscript compiled a trove of original information, 
much of which had either never been seen by previous writers, 
or had been overlooked or misinterpreted. Yet Roger encountered 
a new problem when he approached a major numismatic publisher - 
those pesky footnotes would have to go. In the end Roger 
self-published his work, putting what must have amounted to 
tens of thousands of dollars into their publication. Now 
Roger's investment of time and money (not to mention the blood, 
sweat and tears of a lone researcher) are paying off in spades 
for the numismatic hobby. These books are keepers.

"Renaissance of American Coinage 1909-1915" is a large format 
(8 1/2 by 11 inches) 350-page hardcover, with glossy pictorial 
covers like the other two in the series. Roger's Preface 
describes the volume well, so here are some excerpts:

"The scope of this volume differs somewhat from its companions. 
Volumes I (1905-1908) and III (1916-1921) stick closely to 
origin, design and early production of the respective circulating 
coins with limited exploration of other events at the Mint 
Bureau. This middle volume covers the cent and nickel circulation 
designs, then branches out to explore changes taking place at 
the Bureau during the years between 1909 and 1915, including 
the Panama-Pacific International Exposition commemoratives. 

"In this period we also find a great terra incognito of 
American numismatics: a nearly forgotten short-term mint 
director, stories of special deals involving pattern coins, 
dealers buying rarities “direct” from mint employees, and 
a dozen other unsubstantiated “facts” clutter numismatic 
history. Some of these tales were cooked up by auctioneers 
and catalogers, others by collectors determined to establish 
preeminence in their specialty, yet others as sly cover for 
the truth. As will become evident, several events occurred 
which changed the course of the mint and coin collecting. 
Other supposed events either never occurred, or happened 
very differently than reported in contemporary hobby 
publications.

"Much of the basic research material about the Lincoln cent 
and Buffalo nickel comes from a microfilm collection (T620) 
prepared by the National Archives (now National Archives 
and Records Administration – NARA) staff in the early 1960s. 
This has been the source of most material in previously 
published accounts of the coins’ creation. Archivists collected 
all the documents relating to these two coins and placed them 
in separate files, which were then microfilmed. Regrettably, 
this removed most of the documents from their original context, 
making it more difficult to relate documents to one another. 
Although most relevant documents were identified and filed 
together, several escaped notice. These included letters 
in Mint Bureau press copy books, and correspondence from 
persons not obviously associated with the projects so far 
as the archivists could determine. Unfortunately, over time 
the physical files, including some of the photos shown in 
Taxay’s U.S. Mint and Coinage, have become separated from 
letters and telegrams."

The book's Foreword by Mark Van Winkle of Heritage Auctions, 
Inc. likewise does a great job of describing the book, so 
here are some further excerpts:

"The first time I spoke with Roger was in connection with 
writing the book The Coinage of Augustus Saint-Gaudens as 
Illustrated by the Phillip Morse Collection (a.k.a. “The 
Morse Book”). Prior to the publication of Volumes I and III 
of his three-volume series, Renaissance of American Coinage, 
only a couple of articles had appeared in Coin World by this 
previously unknown author/researcher. From reading the Coin 
World articles, it appeared he could make a valuable 
contribution to the writing of our book and when I contacted 
him it was immediately obvious that he could. 

"At that time, all I knew was the working title of his 
three-volume series, and did not really comprehend the 
scope of what he was attempting. When I spoke to him I 
asked if he was familiar with Homer Saint-Gaudens’ article 
in the June 1927 issue of The Mentor magazine. Yes, he 
replied, he was familiar with it and he would not consider 
it as a source for his book. 

"His response initially surprised me. He explained that 
Homer’s article was a secondary source, 20 years removed 
from events, and written by someone who was not actually 
involved in the process of producing the coins. It was then 
that I began to realize what Roger was attempting to publish: 
a comprehensive history of the renaissance of American 
coinage from its earliest inception in 1905 through the 
Peace dollar in 1921 based entirely on original source 
materials. 

"When Volumes III and I were published in 2005 and 2006 
respectively, they set a new standard for numismatic 
research. The reception of those two volumes was uniformly 
positive throughout the numismatic community, and predictably 
the 1916-1921 volume received the 2006 Book of the Year Award 
from the Numismatic Literary Guild. 

"There is some inevitable duplication of material from 
other works, most notably David Lange’s books on the Lincoln 
cent and Buffalo nickel (to which Roger also was a contributor). 
However, most of this volume, as with Volumes I and III, 
presents material that is entirely new to collectors. As 
such, it represents a significant contribution to the 
numismatic knowledge of this important and extensively 
collected era in U.S. numismatics. Once again, Roger Burdette 
has raised the bar for numismatic research."

Heritage Auctions generously underwrote the publication 
of this final volume, and they deserve a hearty thank-you 
rom all of us.

I learned a number of interesting things when reading the 
book although I won't pretend to have read all 350 pages 
in detail (yet). For example, Burdette makes a convincing 
case that it was Roosevelt's involvement in planning for 
the striking of a Panama Canal medal (designed by Frank 
Millet and sculpted by Victor Brenner) that eventually 
led to the selection of Brenner for the cent design. I 
also learned that Brenner was once arrested and convicted 
of counterfeiting official seals in Russia.

Other nifty facts: a Lincoln design was originally considered 
for the nickel, and when Brenner began working on his Lincoln 
Cent design Charles Barber began working on a Washington 
design for the nickel. James Fraser also created an obverse 
design for a Lincoln cent. I further learned from Roger's 
book that Brenner made an extensive proposal for coinage 
redesign including a Lincoln Half Dollar and a nickel with 
a walking Liberty similar to the French two franc coin. 

Burdette also digs into the facts surrounding the controversy 
over William H. Woodin's purchase of two $50 gold patterns 
and his subsequent surrender of them, along with the pattern 
dealings of William Idler and John Haseltine. 

Illustrations are plentiful and often eye-opening, such 
as the very crude 1911 sketches by James Fraser of designs 
for the reverse of the Buffalo nickel and Robert Aiken's 
sketches for the octagonal $50 Pan-Pacific coin.

The occasional typos are minimal, such as the misspelling 
of Glenn Smedley's first name as 'Glen' (p337). In another 
example the word 'or' is used when it should be 'for': 
“the only metal acceptable FOR striking the medals was 
contained in the staybolts” (p23). Although such minor 
problems could be fixed in a second edition, as Dave Lange 
points out in the following article, due to the economics 
of publishing numismatic literature today, a second edition 
is unlikely. Once the set goes out of print I wouldn't 
be surprised to see their aftermarket price reach $350 or 
more. Don't miss out on the opportunity to complete a 
set now while they are still available.

Roger writes: "Though November 15, 2007 I'll honor the 
$44.95 postpaid pre-publication price for anyone who mentions 
The E-Sylum when ordering (the retail price of the 1909-1921 
book is $64.95). For E-Sylum readers wishing to order the 
complete set of three volumes, the price is $155 postpaid 
through November 15 (retail $194.85). I can be reached 
via email at SenecaMillPress@aol.com or accurateye@aol.com."

For more information on the Commission on Fine Arts, see:
Commission on Fine Arts

  Wayne Homren, Editor

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To submit items for publication in The E-Sylum, write to the Editor 
at this address: whomren@coinlibrary.com

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Copyright © 2005 The Numismatic Bibliomania Society.

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