American Numismatic Society
American Numismatic Society

Drachmas Doubloons and Dollars: The History of Money

The Art of the Medal

Saint-Gaudens and the Art of the Medal

The work of the famed American sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848-1907) includes public statues, private portraits, medals and numismatic designs. He had a rancorous relationship with the U.S. Mint as his designs were usually modified or rejected. Just before his death, however, Saint-Gaudens undertook the redesign of the 20 dollar "double eagle" and the result can be seen in case 18.

The portrait of Washington on this medal commemorating the presidential inauguration in 1789 offers a different perspective on the great leader. Augustus Saint-Gaudens, a great admirer of Pisanello's work (see Group A), modeled this image on Renaissance portraits. The first president wears a continental coat and lace-shirt; behind him is a bundle of rods (known as the fasces), a traditional Roman symbol of power.


Saint-Gaudens' 1892 design for the 400th anniversary of Columbus's landing in America led to one of the most controversial pieces in U.S. medallic history. The artist chose the figure of Columbus for the obverse side of the medal. The reverse, shown here, depicts a nude youth with a torch and three wreaths. Presumably because of its nudity, the design was rejected and replaced by a less controversial image.