Sometimes referred to as the age of exploration, the 1920s were truly an extraordinary time in the United States and around the world. In fact it was the decade of international exploration and scientific expansion as well, which was really emphasized in the archaeological field. Archaeologists, who hoped to uncover the mysteries of ancient Egypt and its treasures, had begun their trek as early as the late nineteenth century. By the 1920s several tombs that had been uncovered by thieves long before the scientists arrived had been rediscovered, but of course empty. Several of the original archaeologists who had made their way out to the barren desert years earlier had given up the search since they assumed all tombs in the Valley of the Kings had been discovered. Howard Carter, however, knew of a pharaoh whom little had known of since his death in 1324 B.C.E. and hoped to find the fabled King Tutankhamun’s tomb. Unfortunately for Carter, his sponsor Lord Carnarvon felt his search was futile and decided to cease funds early in 1922. Carter, sure of his knowledge and expertise, convinced the Lord to provide one more year of funds- which surely paid off. Late in 1922 Carter found a hidden set of stairs under some rubble alongside another tombs entrance, after it was cleared Carter and his team stumbled upon the most intact tomb discovered to date. Exploration of the young pharaoh’s tomb took several months, since it was well hidden and still maintained many of his material possessions. By February 1923, the fourth and final chamber was opened to reveal King Tut’s sarcophagus with his well-preserved mummy encased inside. This was the first time in history an actual, fully-intact mummy had been discovered in a well-preserved burial from an Ancient Egyptian era. Carter made news headlines throughout the world in 1923 and Lord Carnarvon truly earned his investment back.
No one really seemed to enjoy the work of Charles Barber in his time, so when 1913 rolled around it was time to say goodbye to his Liberty Head five cent. Since Barber’s initial design, Teddy Roosevelt had since entered office, where he showed a vested interest in U.S. coinage. Roosevelt, a fan of the classic coins of Greece, set out to change the designs across the board. Even after he left office, his desire for a full run of classic-styled coins was alive and well throughout the treasury and mint. Secretary of the Treasury, Franklin MacVeagh, wanted to avoid another design from Barber at all costs to keep his appointer’s dream alive. To do this MacVeagh turned to James Earl Fraser, a mentee of Augustus Saint-Gaudens and well known for his monumental “End of the Trail” tribute sculpture to Native Americans. Fraser’s design turned out truly remarkable and just in Roosevelt’s taste. The obverse featured a true-to-race Native Chief who donned a feather in his hair. The reverse featured a buffalo, modeled after a Bronx Zoo bison, on a prairie along with the date and motto. The Buffalo Nickel was so different and captivating that the mint distributed some of its first strikes to thirty-three Native chiefs, President Taft, and the coin was honored at the National Memorial to the North American Indian. Unfortunately the first design proved to wear the date down rapidly, so Barber got his hand on the coin to modify the mound upon which the buffalo stood. However, Barber also took his greedy hand and smoothed the chiefs face, which took away some of the artistic merit Fraser had incorporated. Still, the nickel has remained a truly historical feat in the numismatic world for its artistry, historic importance, and its finesse.