Some of you might be surprised to learn that the United States came very close to having a Saint-Gaudens Cent in 1907, which likely would have continued to be produced for most of the 20th century.
Theodore Roosevelt, who served as President from 1901 to 1909, was the only U.S President known to have taken a deep interest in U.S coinage designs. In 1905, President Roosevelt viewed a number of high-relief coins of Ancient Greece on display at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington D.C. Admiring the ancient coins sculptured relief and artistry, he felt the U.S. coins in production at the time were derivative and uninspired in comparison.
Roosevelt then challenged his new friend and renowned artist Augustus Saint-Gaudens to redesign the entire line of American coinage from the Cent to the Double Eagle to new and more artistic standards.
However, under the terms of an 1890 law that governed coinage designs of the United States, coin designs had to be in place for at least 25 years before changes could be made without the approval of congress. As a result, the coins that were legal to change in 1905 without congressional approval included the one cent piece and the four gold coins only. Roosevelt empowered Augustus Saint-Gaudens to undertake this task and granted him “complete artistic freedom within the limit of coinage law.”
Unfortunately Saint-Gaudens, who was 56 at the time, was in failing health and only had time to complete the redesign of the $10 and $20 Gold coins — and was only able to make sketches and plaster models for a redesigned one cent coin — before he died in 1907 at the age of 58.
So if Saint-Gaudens’ One Cent sketches and models had made it to fruition, we may have had a small cent of this approximate design for a good portion of the 20th Century.
It would have been interesting if there had been a Saint-Gaudens Cent. I wonder how many more collectors might have gotten hooked by this potentially beautiful copper coin, which I think some might say (looking that the plaster model) could have had a bit more artistic merit than the more pedestrian (but still quite popular) Lincoln Cent that followed in 1909. The one downside of the Lincoln Cent design was it ushered in an entire era of Dead President coins. Most collectors I know love the Allegorical Representations of Liberty designs more than Presidental designs.
As a personal aside, I keep thinking how I would have liked to have made a few adjustments to the Saint-Gaudens Cent design (what nerve to mess with Saint-Gaudens!). I would have reversed the position of the date (1907) and the word Liberty, moving the date (and mint mark) from the reverse to the obverse. I also would have made the laurel wreath smaller providing a bit more margin on the edges. My attempt at a redesign is shown below. But that’s just me — it’s kind of fun to think about.
If the original Saint-Gaudens cent design, with the date on the reverse, came to fruition, I wonder how a reverse-side date might have impacted all those collectors that were shoving coins into coin folders and coin-boards over the rest of the 20th century. Would most collectors have flipped the coin over in their albums, showing the reverse side with the date?
Please note that I did discovery on this by doing web searches, so please excuse any mistakes in facts, I did the best I could based on what i could find.