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How President McKinley’s Assassination Led to a Change to Gold Coins

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How President McKinley’s Assassination Led to a Change to Gold Coins, photo courtesy of

How President McKinley’s Assassination Led to a Change to Gold Coins

There have been a number of presidential assassinations in our nation’s history, but none impacted U.S. coinage as much as the shooting of President William McKinley on September 6, 1901. During his visit to the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, the president was shot by Leon Czolgosz, an anarchist who believed McKinley was a symbol of oppression.

After the shooting, McKinley died 8 days later after valiant attempts to save him. McKinley’s vice president, Theodore Roosevelt became the 26th President of the United States. Among his priorities as president, Roosevelt wanted to change America’s gold coinage, believing the existing design left much to be desired. He believed U.S. coinage should be majestic in its design, similar to what was done in ancient Rome and Greece.

Rather than work through Congress to change the design of U.S. coinage, Roosevelt learned that there were several coins he could change without their input. Those coins included the one-cent coin, the $2.50 gold piece (quarter eagle), $5 gold piece (half eagle), $10 gold piece (eagle) and the $20 gold piece (double eagle). It was determined that the $2.50 quarter eagle would be the first coin to be newly designed and released into circulation.

The president’s personal friend, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, was a well-known sculptor at the time and agreed to create a design for high relief coins. It’s worth noting that high relief coins were not popular because the higher the relief on the face of the coin, the more difficult it becomes to stack. In addition, with a higher relief, mint engraver Charles Barber was concerned whether such a coin could be easily mass-produced. Coins with higher relief also require many more strikes to finalize the coin, increasing production costs.

Nevertheless, after much time, bureaucratic back and forth and compromises to the design, the $20 Saint Gaudens Double Eagle and $10 Indian Head gold eagle coins was finally produced in limited quantity and released into circulation starting in 1907. President Roosevelt initially wanted the words “In God We Trust” kept from the design, thinking it was a bad mix of religion and commerce. After much public outcry, the president was forced to change his mind and keep the words on the coin.

Today, the $20 Saint Gaudens Double Eagle is considered to be one of the most beautiful coins ever designed. A variation of that design can be found on the American Gold Eagle and other smaller weight gold coins, some of which can be purchased from

The Staff

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