TR would have approved of coin design
BISMARCK, N.D. - Theodore Roosevelt would have endorsed the design of North Dakota’s new quarter, although he wouldn’t have included the motto “In God We Trust,” says a historian who will play Roosevelt at the coin’s unveiling ceremony.
The quarter, more than two years in the making, is being formally unveiled Wednesday at the state Capitol. It features a pair of buffalo grazing in North Dakota’s western Badlands, with buttes and the setting sun as a backdrop.
During his presidency, Roosevelt hired a renowned sculptor, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, to fashion new coins. Roosevelt believed the nation’s coin designs at the time “lacked sufficient imagination,” said David Lebryk, the U.S. Mint’s acting director.
Saint-Gaudens designed new $10 “eagle” and $20 “double eagle” gold coins with raised images of an eagle and Lady Liberty. The words “In God We Trust,” which had been put on coins since the Civil War, were deliberately omitted.
In one letter to a New York minister, Roosevelt said he believed to put those words on coins amounted to “irreverence, which comes dangerously close to sacrilege.”
“It seems to me eminently unwise to cheapen such a motto by use on coins, just as it would cheapen it by use on postage stamps, or in advertisements,” Roosevelt said in the letter, which he wrote in November 1907.
Saint-Gaudens thought the motto was ridiculous, said Clay Jenkinson, a visiting Roosevelt scholar at Dickinson State University scheduled to speak at Wednesday’s ceremony in the character of Roosevelt.
“Roosevelt felt that money is money, and God is God, and that they don’t belong on the same thing,” Jenkinson said. “Saint-Gaudens objected because he thought it was just kind of a knuckleheaded motto. He wanted a more dignified coinage.”
Roosevelt’s decision caused a backlash in Congress shortly after the coin was issued in 1907. The following year, Congress approved a law requiring “In God We Trust” to appear on most coins. Beginning in 1955, the words also were required on the nation’s paper money.
Roosevelt would have regarded the buffalo as “absolutely appropriate” for a North Dakota coin, although “I think he’d probably say, ‘Kill one of those buffalo. Shoot it.’ He was a big game hunter,” Jenkinson said.
“I believe he would think that (the buffalo) is the characteristic North Dakota creature,” Jenkinson said. “The buffalo is a classically Plains animal.”
People ages 18 and younger have a small incentive to attend Wednesday’s event - they will be eligible to get a free sample of the new 25-cent piece. The quarters also will be for sale at $10 per roll, with a limit of five rolls.
Eric Hardmeyer, president of the Bank of North Dakota, said the bank has an initial supply of 200,000 quarters for the ceremony. He said he would like to have at least 1.2 million of the coins, and he is expecting another shipment after Labor Day.
“There’s tremendous interest in all of the state quarters that have been rolled out. We’ve never had enough to go around,” Hardmeyer said. “Of course, we expect … the demand for the North Dakota quarter to be great. We’re trying to get as much of the supply as we can.”
The state-owned bank distributes currency to North Dakota banks for the Federal Reserve System. Becky Bailey, a Mint spokeswoman, said the Federal Reserve’s bank network will begin shipping the quarters to banks nationwide Monday.
Lebryk said the quarter will be made at Mint factories in Denver and Philadelphia for 10 weeks. More than 500 million North Dakota quarters will be struck, and Lebryk expects 40 percent or more of them will be held by collectors and as keepsakes.
“It’s the most popular coin program in U.S. history, and it really has generated … a renaissance of interesting coins,” he said.
The Mint makes quarters as needed, and summer is a fairly high-demand time for coins, Lebryk said.
The Mint began introducing specially made quarters for each of the 50 states in 1999, introducing five each year. North Dakota’s quarter is the fourth of 2006, behind Nevada, Nebraska and Colorado, and represents the 39th state quarter issued.
So far, the Mint has issued almost 28.5 billion of the state quarters.