It was a difficult time for Charles Barber, chief engraver of the United States Mint. Although Theodore Roosevelt was no longer in office, his desire to have more classical designs on our coins, as expressed to Augustus Saint-Gaudens over dinner in 1905, was very much alive.
Barber’s uninspired Liberty Head nickel had been in production since 1883. Under the Coinage Act of 1890, a change in the design was permitted after 25 years. Secretary of the Treasury Franklin MacVeagh, originally a Roosevelt appointee, wasn’t about to pass up the opportunity. Reminded by his son in May, 1911 that a new nickel would be “A permanent souvenir of the most attractive sort,” MacVeagh, pointedly bypassing the competent but mediocre Barber, started the process for a new design.