Dr. Sol Taylor

Ronald Reagan's Birthday Gift

By Dr. Sol Taylor
"Making Cents"
Saturday, March 29, 2008

n 1986, Nancy Reagan bought her husband, Ronald, a $20 gold piece dated 1911 — his birth year. She indicated that he had admired this type coin previously, and she felt it would be a suitable 75th birthday gift. It is believed to reside in the Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley.
    At the time, a 1911 $20 would retail for about $600 in Mint State-60 and about $2,100 in MS-65. It is not known whether the coin bore a mintmark. Nor is it known if President Reagan ever actually carried the coin with him after his 75th birthday party.
    If it weren't for the assertive efforts of President Theodore Roosevelt in 1907 to modernize and beautify our coinage, this coin never would have been made. Roosevelt met with Augustus Saint Gaudens, a well-known sculptor of the time, and they discussed classical Greek and Roman art. T.R. suggested that Saint Gaudens should redesign all of our nation's circulating coinage, but due to the latter's illness (Saint Gaudens had cancer), he managed to complete only two new designs: the $10 Indian head and the $20 Walking Liberty design.
    In addition, Roosevelt offered the job of designing the new Lincoln cent to another non-Mint engraver, Victor D. Brenner, a noted sculptor of the period. Charles Barber, the Mint's chief engraver, strongly objected to using non-Mint artisans for our coinage designs. Barber was the designer of the then-current 5 cent, 10 cent, 25 cent and 50 cent coinage. Roosevelt prevailed and went forward with the two gold coin designs of Saint Gaudens.
    The Saint Gaudens design was released in 1907, and after a few technical changes, it was a generally and widely accepted coin of the realm from 1908 until the early 1930s. The last issues were mostly recalled and melted and all are considered quite rare today.
    The famous 1933 specimen attributed to the collection of Egypt's King Farouk, which sold a few years ago for $7.59 million, suddenly had another 10 specimens show up for authentication. Their status is unresolved, since it was generally believed when the Farouk specimen was sold, it was the only 1933 $20 gold piece available.
    Several other dates in the series are quite rare, as well: he 1927-D in mint condition is worth more than $1 million, and the Ultra-High Relief 1907 coins also are in the $1 million category.
    In "The Romance of Coin Collecting," author Edward C. Rochette relates the story of the gold coin gift as told by Mrs. Reagan's press secretary at the time. If this coin is ever certified, it would probably carry the special provenance of "President Ronald Reagan's 75th Birthday Gift."

    Dr. Sol Taylor of Sherman Oaks is president of the Society of Lincoln Cent Collectors and author of The Standard Guide to the Lincoln Cent. Click here for ordering information.