The Art of Coins

The Master Die Engravers of Ancient Sicily

These coins were struck with dies made by master engravers from ancient Greek cities on the island of Sicily during the 5th century BCE. They are generally regarded as masterpieces of Greek art, and their engravers are considered some of the most accomplished artists of the time. Some engravers were so proud of their dies that they signed them, claiming their work for eternity.

Decadrachm Coin, Syracuse, Sicily, 465 BCE

Donated by John Whitney Walter

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The ancient artist Kimon engraved the die used to make this decadrachm coin. He signed his work with his initial K, placing it on the crown on the goddess Arethusa’s head.

The ancient artist Kimon engraved the die used to make this decadrachm coin. He signed his work with his initial K, placing it on the crown on the goddess Arethusa’s head.

Courtesy of Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Loan from the Trustees of the Arthur Stone Dewing Greek Numismatic Foundation, 1.1965.869

Inspiring American Coin Designs

President Theodore Roosevelt was inspired by the artistic merit of ancient coins and sought to change the look of American coinage. In 1905 he asked famous sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens to create new designs for the U.S. cent, ten dollar, and twenty dollar coins, taking his inspiration from the high relief and fine quality of ancient coins.

Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural Medal by Augustus Saint-Gaudens, 1905

Tetradrachm Coin, Macedon, 336–323 BCE

Augustus Saint-Gaudens

Augustus Saint-Gaudens began working to redesign American coinage in 1905. He created innovative new designs for the ten and twenty dollar gold coins, but faced strong opposition from the U.S. Mint, whose officials encountered significant challenges in the production of Saint-Gaudens’s high relief designs.

Augustus Saint-Gaudens at work in his studio. 

Augustus Saint-Gaudens at work in his studio. 

Courtesy of U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site, Cornish, New Hampshire

Saint-Gaudens Eagles

In 1907 ten and twenty dollar gold coins designed by Augustus Saint-Gaudens were released to the public and were immediately in high demand. The twenty dollar coin, also called the double eagle, is widely considered the most beautiful American coin ever made for circulation. Saint-Gaudens’s design was last used on a coin of this denomination in 1933, as the U.S. government ended the circulation of gold coins the following year.

10 Dollar Coin, United States, 1907

Donated by Estate of Josiah K. Lilly Jr.

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10 Dollar Coin, United States, 1907

Donated by Estate of Josiah K. Lilly Jr.

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20 Dollar Coin, United States, 1907

Donated by F. A. Hauck

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20 Dollar Coin, United States, 1907

Donated by F. A. Hauck

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Realizing Saint-Gaudens’s Double Eagle

20 Dollar Commemorative Coin, United States, 2009

Transfer from U.S. Mint

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Augustus Saint-Gaudens’s design for the twenty dollar gold coin was ahead of its time. His ultra-high relief design could not be fully realized by the U.S. Mint, so it was altered in order to produce coins for circulation in 1907. About a century later, the U.S. Mint revisited Saint-Gaudens’s ambitious design, digitally mapping his coin plasters and employing new minting technologies to fully implement his plans. The result was these commemorative coins that reveal the full beauty of Saint-Gaudens’s artistic vision. They represent how new technologies can lead to more advanced coin designs.  

Glenna Goodacre’s Sacagawea Dollar

In 1997 the U.S. Mint initiated a search for a design for the obverse, or front, of the millennium golden dollar. American sculptor Glenna Goodacre’s design depicts a Native American woman named Sacagawea, who accompanied American explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark on their journey to the western United States Sacagawea is one of only three historic women depicted on an American coin.

Coin Plaster, United States, 1998

Donated by Glenna Goodacre

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1 Dollar Coin, United States, 2000

Transfer from U.S. Mint

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