Famed Teddy Roosevelt letter to Treasury Secretary Shaw, suggesting Saint-Gaudens be hired to address our coinage’s “atrocious hideousness,” had been misplaced for more than a century and presumed destroyed
DALLAS, TX – The Dec. 27, 1904 letter on White House stationary in which President Teddy Roosevelt likely first used the words “atrocious hideousness” – a phrase that he used elsewhere at later dates – to describe America’s coinage will be sold as part of Heritage Auctions’ Aug. 2-3 Philadelphia U.S. Coins Signature® Auction.
It is in the same important missive that Roosevelt also broaches the subject of having Augustus Saint-Gaudens re-design the $20 and $10 gold pieces, setting in motion a renaissance in American numismatics. The letter first came to light in November 2011. In the ensuing nine months Heritage has established the historical background and ownership of the letter.
“There is no American coinage more beloved than the $10 and $20 gold pieces that Saint-Gaudens designed,” said Jim Halperin, Co-Chairman of Heritage Auction, “and here we have the very letter from Roosevelt that initiated the change and introduced one of his most famous and descriptive phrases.”
The letter reads:
“My dear Secretary Shaw:
“I think our coinage is artistically of atrocious hideousness. Would it be possible, without asking permission of Congress, to employ a man like Saint-Gaudens to give us a coinage that would have some beauty?
(Signed) Teddy Roosevelt”
The letter is typed on official White House stationary in blue ink, to then Secretary of the Treasury Leslie M. Shaw, with Roosevelt’s bold signature clearly visible at the bottom. It is interesting to note the dollar figure on bottom left of letter, likely an indication from Secretary Shaw of the money available in the Philadelphia Mint’s Contingency fund – $85,000 as of the end of the calendar year, the relatively modest source of money for what would become America’s most important coin designs.
“It’s hard not to presume that this brief letter is the written source of TR’s famous assessment of American coins,” said Halperin, “and, while it’s made of paper rather than metal, is arguably one of the most important numismatic finds ever.”
This famous original letter, which has been authenticated by leading experts, is believed not to have been seen by the coin world for almost 100 years. It was uncovered last year in a group of random papers acquired from a part-time book and manuscript dealer and collector.
Heritage Auctions, headed by Steve Ivy, Jim Halperin and Greg Rohan, is the world’s third largest auction house, with annual sales more than $750 million, and 600,000+ online bidder members. For more information about Heritage Auctions, and to join and gain access to a complete record of prices realized, along with full-color, enlargeable photos of each lot, please visit HA.com.