April 10, 2000
Who wants to be a millionaire? I guess we all do.
One fellow who was recently on the popular television quiz show where people try their best to succeed lost his chance when he answered a question incorrectly regarding who was the youngest U.S. president at his own inauguration. He answered John F. Kennedy and was told the answer was actually Theodore Roosevelt.
He left the show politely, but later showed up on a morning news program for another network where he questioned whether the question was poorly worded and if, in fact, he should be given another chance on the quiz show. What did they show as an illustration while he argued his case? A drop-dead gorgeous gold inaugural medal of Teddy Roosevelt as designed by master artist Augustus Saint-Gaudens, the same guy who designed the Saint-Gaudens $20 double eagle coin at Roosevelt’s request.
The show wasn’t sensitive to the needs of coin hobbyists and didn’t even give us the courtesy of identifying the medal on the screen. Too bad. Inaugural presidential and vice presidential medals are interesting topics, whether or not some guy wants to be a millionaire on a television program.
JFK would probably have loved to have Saint-Gaudens design his inaugural medal some 60 odd years later, but since the famous sculptor-engraver was already dead, Paul Manship received the honor instead.
There were actually two inaugural medal designs produced for Roosevelt’s 1905 inauguration. The first was done by the usual committee using the usual medal-producing company using the usual designs already in existence. (An obverse by Charles E. Barber of Barber quarter, half dollar and dollar fame and a reverse by George T. Morgan of Morgan silver dollar fame.) Not only that, but the company making the medals removed Morgan and Barber’s names from the medal. Roosevelt was not amused.
Saint-Gaudens was at the height of his success about this time. He really didn’t want to spend his time producing a presidential inaugural medal, but when Roosevelt personally asked him and Saint-Gaudens later learned that if he refused the ghastly design by his old nemesis, the less-than-charming Barber, would be used it was an offer that couldn’t be refused.
Saint-Gaudens knew he didn’t have the time to design the medal. With the approval of Roosevelt, he asked a young sculptor engraver, Adolph A. Weinman* (who later designed the Mercury dime), to assist him.
There were several political twists and turns regarding the designs to be accepted, who would produce the medals and if the medals would be cast or struck. In the end, Weinman brought the completed designs to the White House for Roosevelt’s approval. Roosevelt’s comments, according to Weinman, were “Bully, bully.”
These are not common medals. Only three were struck in gold (A gold specimen was shown on television), none in silver, 125 in 74 millimeter bronze and 3,000 in 44 mm bronze.
The obverse is unmistakably Roosevelt’s portrait. The reverse may look surprisingly familiar. It is the same eagle design as it appears on the reverse of the gold $10 eagle coin of 1907 to 1933. Saint-Gaudens also designed the Indian Head on the obverse of this coin.
Who wants to be a millionaire? We all would. We probably have a better chance of owning one of these intriguing medals than trying to win on a television quiz show.
Richard Giedroyc is a numismatic writer, researcher, auction cataloger and coin dealer. He has been in the hobby and business most of his life, now having more than three decades experience in this fascinating hobby field. During this time Giedroyc has been the owner of Paris Bergman Galleries, owner of Classical Coin Newsletter, international editor of Coin World and owner of Giedroyc-Anderson Interesting World Coins. He is currently a numismatic consultant. He has written more than 2,000 byline numismatic stories and contributed to several coin catalogs.
* Editor’s Note: For an earlier article about Adolph Weinman, click here.
Richard Giedroyc is a numismatic writer, researcher, auction cataloger and coin dealer. He has been in the hobby and business most of his life, now having more than three decades’ experience in this fascinating hobby field. During this time Giedroyc has been the owner of Paris Bergman Galleries, owner of Classical Coin Newsletter, international editor of Coin World and owner of Giedroyc-Anderson Interesting World Coins. He is currently a numismatic consultant. He has written more than 2,000 byline numismatic stories and contributed to several coin catalogs.