I spent much of last week at the American Numismatic Association's World's Fair of Money in Milwaukee. I highly recommend that if you ever get a chance to take in an ANA anniversary convention that you do so. This year's was 20th I've attended, having missed only one show in the past 21 years.
While there, one of my favorite things to do is to attend Numismatic Theatre presentations. This is not always possible, and this year I missed several I would have liked to have gone to.
I was, however, happy to have dropped by on Friday, Aug. 10 for a noon Theatre presentation titled "American Coin Renaissance as Inspired by Augustus Saint-Gaudens," with one of the key speakers being Dr. Richard Doty of the Smithsonian Institution.
Generally, when referring to a renaissance in U.S. coinage, as Doty explained, collectors date the appearance of some of the nation's best coinage designs to the period between 1907 and 1921. This begins with Saint-Gaudens' redesign (at the request of President Theodore Roosevelt) of the gold $10 and $20 and continues with Bela Lyon Pratt's sunken Indian Head designs for the gold $2.50 and gold $5. Meshed into this period of inspired coinage designs (though coming after Roosevelt left office) are the Buffalo nickel (1913) by James Earle Fraser; the Standing Liberty quarter (1916) by Hermon MacNeil; and the Mercury dime (1916) and Walking LIberty half dollar (1916) by Adolph Weinman.
The Lincoln cent (1909) by Victor D. Brenner is sometimes added to the list, which usually ends in 1921 with Anthony de Francisci's Peace dollar.
Doty, however, has come to believe that there was another part to the renaissance and that was among the commemorative coinage of the period. Starting with the 1900 Lafayette dollar, the nation's commemorative coinage designs enjoyed a period of vast improvement that paralleled the revitalization of the circulating coins and continued for many years.
Doty pointed particularly to the gold coins from the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco as great examples of the minting art. This continued into the 1930s with the Oregon Trail half dollar (1926-1939) by James Earle Fraser and Laura Gardin Fraser.
There's much to be said for Doty's approach. As can be seen by the examples shown here, not only the circulating coins went through a significant sprucing up, but also the commemorative coins sold to collectors.