This article is provided courtesy of Bowers and Merena and will appear in their June 2001 auction catalog.
Copyright 2001 by Q. David Bowers. Reproduction without the permission of Q. David Bowers is prohibited.
Notes on the 1907 Saint-Gaudens $10 With Periods, Wire Rim
by Q. David Bowers
In 1905 President Theodore Roosevelt commissioned noted sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens to redesign the entire American coinage spectrum from the cent to the double eagle. Working in his studio in Cornish, New Hampshire (now a National Historic Site), the artist prepared many sketches. In failing health, Saint-Gaudens was able to complete or nearly complete work for just two denominations, the $10 and $20, both of which were first struck in 1907.
His $10 design bore on the obverse a female wearing an Indian war bonnet, said to have been taken from the portrait of his mistress, Davida Clark, with whom he is alleged to have had a child (although biographers have never been able to confirm this). The bonnet or headdress is inscribed LIBERTY on a band, 13 stars are in an arc above, and the date is below.
The reverse depicts a perched eagle with UNITED STATES OF AMERICA above, the motto E PLURIBUS UNUM to the right, and the denomination expressed as TEN DOLLARS below. The eagle on the new 1907 $10 was directly copied from the motif Saint-Gaudens used on the 1905 presidential inaugural medal for Theodore Roosevelt. Later, Bela Lyon Pratt used essentially the same motif for the reverse of the new $2.50 and $5 coins of 1908.
As President Roosevelt personally objected to the use of the name of the Deity on coins, the Indian issues of 1907 and certain issues of 1908 lack IN GOD WE TRUST. Coinage of the type was effected at Philadelphia in 1907 and 1908 and also in Denver the latter year.
Reviewing New $10 Design
The advent of the Indian Head $10 prompted many numismatists and others to write to popular coin-collecting periodicals such as The Numismatist and the Elder Monthly.
Letters printed in the Elder Monthly, Volume 2, October-November, 1907:
“My dear Mr. Elder—
“I am enclosing a couple of rubbings of Bryan dollars, and descriptions of another one that has parodies of ‘In God We Trust.’ A search in the bar rooms will reveal a lot more parodies for at one time these places were especially rich in such mottoes. I trust that you will speak well of the new eagle. I have just sent off to Editor Heath [Dr. George Heath, Monroe, Michigan, editor of The Numismatist] a word of praise about the piece.
“In justification of the Greek type of the new $10, the placing of the head as it is and the feathers going to the edge, almost identical types can be found among many Greek coins. I can only think of a few offhand, including the Athenian pieces, and those of Thurium, Pharsalos, and Velia.
“In justification of the ‘pants’ of the eagle, a glance at our own coins of the seated liberty type will show that trousers were worn long in those days, as well as in the time of the Ptolemies, and good examples can be found on those Ptolemaic coins with one and two eagles on the reverse. I think the design of the obverse and reverse are grand conceptions, but the technical execution or die work I do not consider good.
“Yours very truly,
“HOWLAND WOOD, Secretary [corresponding secretary of the ANA, to which post he had been elected the preceding September; later, Wood would become prominent with the American Numismatic Society]
“November 13, 1907.”
“My dear Mr. Elder—
“I have examined the new Saint-Gaudens ten dollar gold coin which you so kindly obtained for me and will briefly give you my opinion of it.
“Upon the obverse, the head and appurtenances and date are too large for the size of the piece, and the stars too small. The face of Liberty is an anomaly. The prominent nose and chin indicate determination and strength of character, but the effect of over hanging ‘upper jaw’ and lip with open mouth is idiotic. While the face is not that of an Indian, the headgear is.
“On the reverse, we find a turkey buzzard in pantalets. The words of the legend above and value below the effigy are not sufficiently spaced, and are too close to the outer rim of the coin. There should be a marginal space between the top of these letters and the rim. ‘E Pluribus Unum’ is added as a postscript.
“The style of letters used on both obverse and reverse and the figures of date show very poor judgment viewed from a typographical standpoint.
“In one respect the piece may be called a “howling success.” It is entirely different from anything ever before issued by the United States Mint, and no patent is needed to protect the designer from infringements.
“The coin, both obverse and reverse, is a humiliating disappointment, without one redeeming feature, and is a ‘foozle.’
“Yours very truly,
“E. GILBERT” [Ebenezer Gilbert, of New York City, a close friend of Elder’s, a frequent consignor to his auctions, and, years later in 1916, the author of The United States Half Cents. From the First Year of Issue, 1793, to the Year When Discontinued, 1857, published by Elder. Gilbert was born in 1835.]
“My dear Mr. Elder—
“It is not strange that a feeling of exultation results from one’s first glimpse of the new $10 gold coin. Chagrin and dismay have long stirred within us at sight of our coins in contrast with these of other nations, and to have one now that need not be defended save from attacks of patriotic committees from Harrisburg [Where the “Mary Cunningham” controversy reached a head; discussed later in the present text] and from over-zealous religious enthusiasts, is indeed gratifying.
“To the former we might say, should we be able to assume sufficient gravity in addressing them: ‘Look you! A great painter or sculptor is no one-eyed camera, nor does he slavishly copy every feature before him when he works from a model, in order thus to translate more readily into the medium he has chosen, his conception of beauty, or grandeur or power.’
“The simple beauty and dignity of design here shown on both obverse and reverse, must eventually silence all such noisy objections, and so we listen with a show of tolerance to the criticisms noted.
“Formerly at the suggestion of that great American, Benjamin Franklin, some of our coins were inscribed ‘Mind your business,’ and it has been suggested that if we must have a motto, this be reinstated as being more pertinent and characteristic.
“Seriously though, it is certainly true, as President Roosevelt so convincingly showed in his recent open letter, that it has come to be flagrant irreverence to use the inscription ‘In God We Trust’ on the country’s coins. Reverence for truth and beauty is most effectively in evidence in a beautifully designed and characteristic coin, certainly—and it is because we, as a nation do not appreciate the inspiring grace and power of beautiful symbols that we have so many ugly and dispiriting ones all about us.
“But now that we have it before us, we appreciate the grace and beauty of the firmly modeled head, so nicely placed, and so decoratively relieved by the stiff feathers; and the eagle remarkable for its spirited yet dignified posture and for the very evident characteristics, in drawing and modeling of the American eagle. In this we have at last a truthful, dignified and conventional American eagle.
“Charles J. Connick
“November 20, 1907.”
Howland Wood, whose letter had been published by Elder (as quoted above), contributed this expanded commentary to The Numismatist, issue of December 1907:
“At last it has come—art in our new coinage. The new eagle, the talked of $10 gold piece, has been put into circulation.
The obverse shows a grand statuesque head of Liberty crowned by an Indian war bonnet, on the band of which the word LIBERTY is inscribed. Around the edge in the upper half of the field are 13 pointed stars, below the neck the date 1907.
“The placing of the head with a blank space in front is very artistic, and it is regrettable that more designers do not realize the value of blank spaces, but rather deem it necessary to make use of every available space on a coin. At first glance the feathered bonnet looks too large, but after the eye becomes reconciled to the new type no change would be wanted. The general pose of the head, its position on the coin, and the arrangement of the headdress resembles very closely several of the old Greek coins. Symbolism occupied a prominent place on these ancient Greek pieces and evidences of it are marked on this, the position of the feathers and the stars suggest in their combination the stars and stripes in our flag. The eager attentive face, full of expression and yet full of dignity and a certain amount of serenity, is a long step ahead from the almost vacant stare of the faces depicted on our previous coins.
“Owing to the high relief which Saint-Gaudens prepared the model for this coin and the necessary modification of this relief to bring it down to the modern mechanical requirements the locks of the hair above the eagle are not as well worked out as might be desired. A good deal of this effect may later be overcome.
“The reverse of the coin shows the typical Saint-Gaudens eagle in a standing pose with partially drooping wings. The eagle occupies the central position on the reverse and with an impressive majesty dominates this side of the coin. The reverse as a whole shows a careful working out of type and inscription with a happy avoidance of overcrowding which cannot be said of so many of our other coins.
“A noticeable change from our other pieces is the treatment of the background, both on obverse and reverse. Instead of being flat there is a general hollowing in from the edge, or cup-shaped depression from the mill to the center. This treatment of the sunken parts of the piece has been done on different European coins of recent dates, especially the French.
“A still greater departure from old standards is noticed on the edge. Instead of the reeding as heretofore used, the edge on the present piece is composed of 46 raised stars, signifying the states of the Union. The coin is a magnificent conception throughout, of a refined Greek character, simple in its aspect, but grand in its dignity, and will surely find a place in the front rank with the best coins of the age.
The Mary Cunningham Commotion
In 1907 a story went the rounds of newspapers to the effect that the portrait on the new Saint-Gaudens $10 was of a—perish the thought—foreigner. Sample items:
New York Sun
“A Pennsylvania Society has protested against the act of the late Augustus Saint-Gaudens in using as the design for the new coin the profile of a young woman born out of the United States. It is interesting to reflect that the model used for long by another artist for his typical ‘American girl’ was also an alien.”
This commentary in the Sun was from the pen of Edgar H. Adams. This was from the pen of numismatist Edgar H. Adams. At the time, “The American Girl” was all the rages, and depictions of the ideal American lass were drawn and painted by Charles Dana Gibson (the pioneer), Harrison Fisher (who derived the most publicity from the situation and who published the most color images, Gibson’s being mostly black and white), Philip Boileau (whose character was particularly sensuous in appearance), and others. No attention was paid by these artists as to the country of birth of their models.
The preceding arose from a commentary datelined Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, September 19, 1907:
“Victor Boyer, state counselor of the Order of Independent Americans, will personally present to Secretary [of the Treasury] Cortelyou the protest of the order against placing the profile of Mary Cunningham on the United States gold coins.
“Miss Cunningham was a waitress in a Cornish, Vermont [Across the Connecticut River from Cornish, New Hampshire—the latter place being where Saint-Gaudens had his studio. The sculptor’s address was often given as Windsor, Vermont, as mail was delivered there more expediently, the Post Office being larger than at Cornish] eating house when discovered by the late Augustus Saint-Gaudens, the sculptor, who selected her as the model for the design he had been commissioned to execute for the government. The Independent Americans, admitting her rare beauty, object because she was born in Ireland.”
In due course, this piece of fiction appeared in The Elder Monthly, Vol. 2, Nos. 6-7, reprinting a newspaper account:
“Windsor, Vermont, September 21.
“The Saint-Gaudens family refuse to give any information whatever regarding Mary Cunningham, the pretty young Irish waitress whom the late Augustus Saint-Gaudens took as a model when designing the new issue of gold coins.
“The Cunningham girl is now employed as a domestic in the family of the late sculptor, but no outsider is allowed to see her. The Saint-Gaudens villa is secluded on a spur of the Green Mountain range with numerous signs at the entrance to the grounds announcing that no strangers are admitted.
“Homer Saint-Gaudens, a son, said tonight that the statement that her face is to appear in profile on the copper cent is incorrect. He asserted, instead, that she will be shown full-length on either the ten or twenty-dollar gold piece [The full-length figure was used on the $20 gold coin and was taken from the Sherman Victory statue installed in New York City several years earlier in 1903; by September 1907, Homer Saint-Gaudens, the sculptor’s only son, was fully aware of the designs of the $10 and $20, which had been nearly completed by that time]. Mr. Saint-Gaudens was not sure which.
“There had been many other models for coins, and he did not see why so much fuss should be made over this one, but at any rate he was not going to add to it by giving any other information.…”
Mary Cunningham was a figment of someone’s imagination. No such person was ever involved in the coinage design.
The With-Periods Rarities of 1907
In autumn 1907 the Mint produced two special varieties of the new Saint-Gaudens Indian design. These had a round dot or period added before and after the inscriptions on the reverse. One variety had a sharp “wire” or “knife” rim, as offered in the present sale, and the other had a rounded or normal rim.
While these have been popularly called patterns, an examination of the situation leaves no room for any conclusion other than that these were “special” coins produced not as patterns, but for the profit of Mint employees and favored others. A pattern is a design proposal made in very small numbers to test the motif—often involving adjustments made by the engraver, etc., before coins are struck for circulation. In the present instance, the “special” 1907 coins with periods were placed in the hands of Mint personnel who were free to keep them as souvenirs or sell them at a profit.
Struck as delicacies for the numismatic trade, these $10 coins were “filtered” out of the Mint and into the hands of receptive coin dealers including Henry Chapman and Thomas L. Elder, both of whom had quantities on hand for years afterward.
At the Mint at the time a number of delicacies were produced by assistant engraver George T. Morgan (who seems to have been in charge of distributing most of the rare MCMVII Ultra High Relief pattern double eagles and who is known to have made special Proof strikings of silver dollars in 1921-2, as evidenced by documented Proof dollars sold with the Norweb Collection; also described and illustrated in The American Numismatic Association Centennial Anthology, 1991, in a feature by Andrew W. Pollock III).
The pieces were “given to” officials and key employees and even the director in Washington (see below). However, the Mint never announced how the “ordinary” numismatist could obtain one. The whole affair was shrouded in secrecy.
On February 28, 1908, Henry Chapman, who one way or another had acquired a number of pieces for private sale to his clients, furnished Baltimore collector Robert Garrett with information concerning the 1907 gold issues (as quoted by QDB in The History of United States Coins as Illustrated by the Garrett Collection. Original correspondence preserved by The Johns Hopkins University; Robert Garrett, a son of the late T. Harrison Garrett, inherited his father’s collection and in a dilatory manner added specimens here and there including that under discussion here in the Chapman correspondence):
“I wish to give you some information. If you will act quickly upon it I think we will secure for you a couple of coins which are worth large sums. In fact, I have paid $150 cash for one of them myself.
“The director of the Mint, Mr. Frank A. Leach, at Washington, has in his possession, and is distributing at face value, to collectors or public museums, to the latter he writes me more especially than to the former, special $10 pieces of the Saint-Gaudens design, 1907.
“If you will write him and ask him to send you a specimen of the $10 gold piece, Saint-Gaudens design 1907, from die No. 1 without any border, and die No. 2, with a wire or thin edge, you might say to him that you have been informed that he has a few of these for distribution to collections which are exhibited to the public. I would tell him that your collection is on exhibition at Princeton College and that you would like to have him send you them.
“Send him $20 in gold notes and 12¢ in postage stamps, and I think you will succeed. Do not mention my name or your source of information. Of the coin without the border, 500 were made, of number 2 only 50 were kept out of several thousand that were minted. The rest were melted. As he has but a few of the wire edge, which he refuses to let me have a specimen of, I would suggest that you write immediately upon receipt of this. If you can bring to bear any influence of your senator or congressman, it might be well to do so, but I think that it is possible you will get them without bringing anyone else into the matter, which might cause delay. If you succeed in getting them, you are going to get two coins worth $400…”
In his autobiography, Recollections of a Newspaperman, 1917, Leach breezily stated that these pieces “were given” to officials and others (here excerpted):
“In producing the new $10 pieces, or eagles, three models of the new design were made by Saint-Gaudens. Five hundred trial pieces were struck from the first model, and 34,100 pieces were struck from the second model, but all of this [second] lot were subsequently remelted, except 42 coins, which with those of the first lot [the 500 “Wire Rim” coins] were given to museums of art and officials and others connected with the work.…”
It would be interesting to know how many “museums of art” actually received such coins!
The 1907 “Wire Rim” and the rarer “Rolled (or Rounded) Rim” pieces soon came onto the numismatic market and were a staple in the auctions of Thomas L. Elder and other dealers.
Regarding the number known, for the “Wire Rim” the usual mintage figure given years ago was 550, but in recent times the number 500 has been used—probably due to a typographical error (for, so far as is known, no new information became available). As to the number of “Rolled (or Rounded) Rim” pieces, Mint Director Leach’s figure of 42 is often cited as is the number 50. The true figure is anybody’s guess, but it must have been small.
Characteristics of the 1907 Wire Rim $10
Contemporary mintage figures vary slightly, with 500 or 550 being usually cited—the former now being the most often quoted. The truth will probably never be known.
I estimate that from the preceding mintage about 325 to 375 exist today. Most are semi-lustrous, a hybrid between matte and mint frost. These constitute the majority of the stated original mintage. These numismatic delicacies met with a fine reception in the beginning, and which today is in unprecedented demand as one of the finest representations of the beautiful Saint-Gaudens design.
In his Encyclopedia, Walter Breen offered this tribute: “The very first of these [the wire rim issues] are the only available gold $10s showing the Saint-Gaudens conceptions in anywhere near their pristine splendor.…”
All are from the same pair of dies, which under examination exhibit a multitude of tiny swirls or die-finishing lines. The motif differs from the circulation issue in that there are raised periods before and after the reverse inscriptions, the “With Periods” variety. On this issue the rim of the coin is raised, thus “Wire Rim,” earlier generally called “Wire Edge.” The term “knife rim” or “knife edge” has been used occasionally, including in early listings, and is the style preferred by Walter Breen. At the Mint the term fin was typically used to denote a wire rim, although the writer has not encountered this in specific connection with production of the 1907 $10 coins.
All specimens are of pleasing appearance, but from dies that are not extremely detailed on the higher areas. Some pieces show weakness in areas, but this is not obvious. All have the same finish, which is now generally called “Mint State,” but in the past has been sometimes designated as Proof. Over the years descriptions have varied. Take your pick. There seems to be no right or wrong. However, the finish of all pieces was in the dies; the coins received no “sandblast” or other later treatment.