United States, 20 Dollars, 1908 (Matte Proof)

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In 1905 President Theodore Roosevelt asked sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens to lead an effort to redesign American coinage. Saint-Gaudens developed a design that many consider the most beautiful American coin ever conceived. The Mint's Chief Engraver, Charles E. Barber, opposed the project, but ultimately developed a low-relief version of the Saint-Gaudens design that became the standard American $20 coin.
Barber was not averse to experimentation. He simply believed it had to be kept within fairly close bounds, and under the Mint's control. It would also help if there was profit involved. Instead of experimenting with relief, Barber tried modifying the finish of the Saint-Gaudens coin design. In one test, a "Roman Gold" finish was devised, imparting a glowing, golden surface to coins that would otherwise have a slight reddish sheen about them, from the copper added to the mixture to make the coins wear better.
No records of how this special finish was applied have survived; but a good guess would be that a light layer of pure gold dust was applied to both surfaces of the coin blank before striking. The force of the press would bond the dust to the blank as the blank was coined. In another test that yielded the coin shown here, Barber developed a "Matte" finish. In this case, the coin was likely struck first (more than once, in order to fully bring up what relief there was), and then "pickled," or etched in dilute acid.
The result was a coin of a vaguely medallic appearance, without all the work entailed in multiple striking. In addition to testing a concept, this experiment was directed at producing a few specialized coins that could be sold to collectors at inflated prices.
Currently not on view
date made
U.S. Mint. Philadelphia
Saint-Gaudens, Augustus
place of issue
United States
place made
United States: Pennsylvania, Philadelphia
Physical Description
gold (overall metal)
0 (overall die axis)
0 (overall die axis measurement)
struck (overall production method)
overall: 3.4 cm; 1 11/32 in
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Credit Line
Transfer: US Mint
See more items in
Work and Industry: National Numismatic Collection
Legendary Coins
United States Double Eagle
Coins, Currency and Medals
Data Source
National Museum of American History


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