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4-cent Theodore Roosevelt Centennial

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4-cent Roosevelt Medal and Canal Zone Map plate proof

The 4-cent Theodore Roosevelt commemorative stamp (Scott 150) was issued on November 15, 1958, on the centennial of the birth of ‘The Man Who Made the Panama Canal.’ This stamp was part of the huge celebrations in the Canal Zone to honor Roosevelt and the canal he made possible. Besides his backing of the Panama Canal enterprise itself, he was also the first president to visit a foreign country during his term of office. He visited Panama and the canal in November 1906. During an event on the eve of his departure, his farewell comments led eventually to the design of the 4-cent stamp, which is a replica of what is termed ‘The Roosevelt Medal.’ The medal was awarded to Americans who worked for a minimum of two consecutive years on the canal between May 4, 1904, and December 31, 1914. He said, "I shall see if it is not possible to provide for some memorial, some mark, some badge, which will always distinguish the man who for a certain space of time had done his work well on the Isthmus.”

Back in Washington, Victor D. Brenner, who designed the Lincoln penny, prepared the dies for the medal. The actual medals were struck on dies made from old French scrap staybolts. The first awards were made on December 23, 1907. The medal's obverse features a portrait of Roosevelt, and the reverse features a depiction of the finished Panama Canal at Gaillard Cut on the Continental Divide. Over 7,000 canal employees earned the basic medal. Another 3,648 first bars were awarded to those who completed four years uninterrupted service. Some 1,661 earned a second bar for six years. Only 561 third bars were awarded, and a mere forty-two fourth bars, indicating ten years, were awarded. One of the four-bar winners was the man Roosevelt appointed as Chief Sanitary Officer on the Isthmus, Dr. William C. Gorgas, who had been honored on a Canal Zone stamp the year before. Today Panama Canal collectors consider Roosevelt’s ‘memorial-mark-badge’ to be the very acme of a collection since they are quite scarce. Many have been ‘lost’ through the years or are treasured by the descendants of the men who won them and are thus not sold.

A total of 1,200,000 Roosevelt stamps were shipped to the Canal Zone. Of these, over 119,000 were sold the first day, and some 34,500 first day covers serviced. There are about twenty different cachets known to be associated with this stamp, but by far the most often seen is the one by local artist/producer Elmer Smith. All of the Roosevelt Centennial stamps were eventually sold.

The 4-cent denomination was useful for seamail letters to the United States as well as locally in the Canal Zone. Large numbers of the stamps were set aside, and it is often seen on covers. Usages incorporating other stamps are less often seen and are avidly sought by collectors interested in American presidents as a category of collecting.

Robert J. Karrer