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The 1906 Barber Design 1 oz. Silver Smithsonian Proof was issued by a privately held mint in 2009. This collector issue silver commemorative bears the designs of a man that took exception when a U.S. President – for the first time ever – took an active role in the design of U.S. coinage.
Charles Barber, more specifically Charles Edward Barber, was born into a family with the skills, and later contacts, required to leave a legacy in the design and engraving of U.S. coinage.
Charles was born in London in 1840. 12 years later, he moved with his family to Boston, Massachusetts. His father, William Barber, worked in various jobs in the decade that followed – all jobs that required his skills.
William built a solid reputation as a skilled engraver. Before long, he was offered a job as an assistant at the U.S. Mint facility at Philadelphia. He worked with James Longacre, the 4th Chief Engraver of the U.S. Mint.
When Longacre passed away in 1869, William became the 5th Chief Engraver of the U.S. Mint. His son Charles assisted him in this capacity – and in step with tradition - took over the reins when William passed away in 1879. Charles became the 6th Chief Engraver of the United States Mint – a position he held for almost 40 years, until his passing on February 18th, 1917.
Charles had a huge pair of shoes to fill, but was more than capable of fulfilling this task. He gained valuable experience from his predecessors, including his father who was known for his design of the United States trade dollar. Longacre in turn was known for his design of the Flying Eagle cent - struck as a pattern coin. He also designed the replacement: the Indian Head cent (Indian Head Penny), which made it into circulation.
Charles was involved in the designing and engraving of various U.S. coin issues, both public, commemorative and otherwise. His involvement included, but were not limited to the following Barber coins:
The Barber half dollar (1892–1915), Barber quarter (1892-1916), the Barber dime (1892-1916) and the Liberty Head Nickel (1883-1913).
Obverse of the Columbian Exposition half dollar (1892-1893), Isabella Quarter (1893), Silver Lafayette Dollar (1899), Louisiana Purchase Exposition gold dollar (1903), Lewis and Clark Exposition gold dollar (1904-1905), Panama-Pacific Exposition half dollar (1915) and the William McKinley Memorial gold dollar (1916-1917).
Flowing Hair Stella (1879), the 1879 “Society Lady” or "Washlady" Silver Pattern Quarter and the 1906 Pattern Double Eagle – the latter, in part, the main focus of this article.
President Theodore Roosevelt took it upon himself in 1905 to start a project aimed at the redesign of U.S. coinage. This fitted into The Act of September 26, 1890 – which opened the door to new coin designs after 25 years in use.
It also opened the door to the temporary employment of artists not directly associated with the U.S. Mint. It seems, beyond Roosevelt’s ego, that it was by large an honest attempt to move away from conventional, outdated coin designs, including those of Barber.
It was undoubtedly a bitter pill for Barber to swallow. He and the famous George T. Morgan had, until this point, pretty much enjoyed a monopoly on the designing of coins. This near monopoly was now threatened, but all was not lost. The two retained control over the design of commemorative coins and medals.
The bulk of the trouble surfaced when President Roosevelt, a staunch critic of Barber’s work, decided to take an active role in the design of U.S. coinage – the first U.S. President to do so. He referred to this project as his “pet baby” – something that must have been highly offensive to someone such as Barber.
Roosevelt commissioned a personal friend and sculptor, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, to redesign many of the coins. This was the first time in history that someone that is not an employee of the Mint, was involved in the designing of U.S. coins. Roosevelt also suggested, among other things, that the most beautiful coins were in high relief. Saint-Gaudens agreed with him and proposed a design for a double eagle ($20 gold eagle) in high relief. This was despite objections from the Mint that a design in high relief is not coinable due to technical constraints at the time.
When Saint-Gaudens inquired about using Roman numerals to state the date on his double eagle design, the Secretary of the Treasury, Leslie Mortier Shaw, made it clear that:
“While we are making coins for the people of the United States, I think we should confine ourselves to the English language. I have reminded our architects that I will dismiss the first one who puts a V on a public building where a U is intended.”
Despite this objection, Shaw was overruled by Roosevelt.
Barber closely followed the progress of the proposed re-coinage, which highly annoyed him. He rejected, after close examination, the high relief models submitted by Saint-Gaudens. He also noted his reluctance to waste time on an experimental piece that would never made it into circulation.
It was only after much discussion that Barber agreed to experiment, probably on the back of indirect pressure from Roosevelt. Despite this, the Ultra High Relief Double Eagle ($20) of Saint-Gaudens didn’t make it into circulation at the time (exactly as Barber predicted). Only a modified, low relief version of the Saint-Gaudens double eagle made it into circulation at that time.
A modified, high relief version of the 1907 Ultra High Relief double eagle, made it into circulation for the first time in 2009 – the MMIX Ultra High Relief $20 gold coin. This was on the back of modern minting technology, which finally made the minting of high relief coins in great numbers feasible.
Charles Barber responded with a double eagle design of his own. This was probably in response to the “threat” posed by the involvement of Saint-Gaudens in Roosevelt’s project.
It is claimed that Barber was in an “unusual hurry” to get his double eagle done before Saint-Gaudens completed his. Despite achieving this objective, the 1906 Barber double eagle design was rejected by Roosevelt in favor of the design later submitted by Saint-Gaudens. Something that certainly left Barber hot under the collar.
Barber’s double eagle design is known as the 1906 Pattern Double Eagle. Only one specimen was struck in gold. It was supposed to be destroyed, but miraculously survived – making it one of the most valuable U.S. pattern coins in existence today.
It is today part of the National Numismatic Collection (NNC) – the largest numismatic collection in North America and one of the largest in the world. The NNC is part of the Smithsonian Institution.
MCM offers the 1906 Barber Design 1 oz. Silver Smithsonian Proof for sale in NGC GEM proof quality. The production and issuing of this impressive silver round was officially authorized by the Smithsonian Institution.
This private issue proof silver round showcases the designs featured on the 1906 Pattern Double Eagle. This was probably an answer to the U.S. Mint’s release of the MMIX Ultra High Relief $20 gold coin in 2009. Someone felt it necessary to level the playing field by bringing Barber’s design of the 1906 double eagle into play – showcasing it on a large diameter (38.1 mm) .999 fine silver round.
A Liberty head with a laurel wreath and a liberty cap (Phrygian cap) as inspired by contemporary French artists.
This design also includes the date “1906” and thirteen stars – representative of the 13 original colonies. This while “LIBERTY” is inscribed on Liberty’s cap.
Liberty with a sword in her right hand, guarding an eagle – the symbol of America. She holds a liberty cap on a pole in her left hand. The design also includes the date “2009” (the year of issue), “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,” “DOUBLE EAGLE” and “IN GOD WE TRUST.”
Barber copied this design from the obverse of a pattern half dollar he designed in 1891 – leaving this silver round and the 1906 Pattern Double Eagle with two Liberties, one on the obverse and one on the reverse.
This was probably to save time, but it is said that Roosevelt was not impressed with the 1906 Barber double eagle design that was submitted.
This 1906 Barber Design silver round was struck by the Sunshine Mint in Idaho in GEM Proof quality. This privately held mint is well-known for producing gold and silver bullion products of an extremely high quality.
The contrast between the mirrored fields and frosty devices is absolutely breathtaking on this NGC certified Gem Proof 1906 Barber design silver round.
Great American author and humorist, Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, was brilliant at exposing the facades and flaws of the human character. He stated in his autobiography:
“Mr. Roosevelt is the Tom Sawyer of the political world of the twentieth century; always showing off; always hunting for a chance to show off; in his frenzied imagination the Great Republic is a vast Barnum circus with him for a clown and the whole world for audience; he would go to Halifax for half a chance to show off and he would go to hell for a whole one” (Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol. 3, University of California Press, 2015).
Barber probably had good reason to be upset, especially on the back of Roosevelt’s active, and what seems to be overbearing, involvement. It was also clear that Roosevelt was anything but objective, especially considering that Augustus Saint-Gaudens was a personal friend of his.
On the other hand, it seems that the market was saturated with Barber coins and that the redesign of U.S. coinage was a matter of urgency. In addition, good or bad, many seem to have supported Roosevelt’s active involvement in the redesign of U.S. coinage.
Was it a case of desperate times calling for desperate measures or simply a matter of Roosevelt wanting to show off? We will probably never know with 100% certainty. I suspect it was a good mix of both. Nonetheless, it remains a fascinating part of American history!
Honor the Tom Sawyer of the numismatic world. Buy the 1906 Barber Double Eagle design silver round in NGC Gem Proof quality today!
Author Name: Paul Maritz
Paul Maritz is a self-employed webmaster who generates income through the direct and indirect selling of advertising space through a network of websites. Paul is proficient in all areas of numismatics and enjoy participating on various forums, including MCM's Modern Coin Forum.