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Image of United States. 20 Dollars, 1908 (Matte Proof)
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Materials: Gold
Measurement: Dia. 34.3 mm, Wt. 33.449 g
Source: Transfer from U.S. Mint
Note: Breen 7768

United States. 20 Dollars, 1908 (Matte Proof)

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 Ultra High Relief $20 piece. 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.
Related Events
1901: Theodore Roosevelt becomes president when President McKinley is assassinated.
1902: Congress authorizes building of the Panama Canal.
1904: Theodore Roosevelt elected president in his own right.
1907: Augustus Saint-Gaudens dies. His son, Homer, with others, completes the coin redesign project.
1908: Ford Motor Company introduces its Model T car.
Legendary Beauties The following objects are in this section.
Ancient Greek Silver Coin (Dekadrachm), about 400 B.C.E.United States, 20 Dollars, 1906 (Pattern)United States 10 Dollars, 1907 (Pattern)
Roosevelt Inaugural Medal, 1905United States, 20 Dollars, 1907United States, 10 Dollars, 1908
United States, 20 Dollars, 1907 (Pattern)United States, 20 Dollars, 1907 
United States, 20 Dollars, 1907 (Experimental)United States. 20 Dollars, 1908 (Matte Proof) 
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