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HomeMedals and Tokens1876 Centennial Exposition Medals Struck by the U.S. Mint

1876 Centennial Exposition Medals Struck by the U.S. Mint

By Vic Bozarth for PCGS ……
Regardless of what you like to collect, knowing the particulars about your collectibles is often beneficial in terms of understanding both its historical interest and why your item is valuable to others too. If you don’t understand the “whys” of your coin, how can you place or value that item in terms of relevance to other collectibles? How do you connect the dots?

Horticulture Hall at the 1876 World's Fair.
Horticulture Hall at the 1876 World’s Fair.

In this seven-part series, I will explain the genesis of the coins and medals issued by the United States Mint for the World’s Fairs and Expositions that took place in the United States, from the 1876 Centennial Exposition through and including the 1926 Sesquicentennial Exposition – both of which were held in Philadelphia, the site of our nation’s first mint.

Beginning with the Centennial Exposition in 1876, and continuing with each successive Exposition, I plan on detailing the U.S. Mint-made coins and medals produced in conjunction with the seven largest world’s fairs and expositions held during that 50 year period.

Reference material dealing with only U.S. Mint-made medals is pretty thorough for the first century the Mint was in operation, thanks to R.W. Julian’s amazing book Medals of the U.S. Mint: The First Century 1792-1892. When possible, the PCGS spec number will be used in these articles to identify these U.S. Mint exposition medals. However, other industry-standard catalog numbers, such as Julian and or HK (So-Called Dollars), will be referenced as necessary to further differentiate these issues. While inclusion is always the goal, omissions are not intentional.

Connecting the Dots

Two relatively common food items were introduced at the 1876 Exposition. Heinz ketchup and Hires root beer, both popular commercial brands for decades, were a big hit at the fair. While most of us seldom ride the rails these days, the Pennsylvania Railroad and the Philadelphia & Reading Railroad ran dedicated trains from nearby areas. The Centennial National Bank was chartered in January 1876 as a financial agent for the Centennial Board, with charter number 2317.

These products, services, and especially the Centennial Bank National Bank Notes serve to connect the dots in terms of giving us a glimpse into the multitude of numismatically related and crossover collectibles world’s fairs and expositions provide us. Many of our world’s fairs and expositions had U.S. Mint-struck coins and medals issued to commemorate the event. Some were even made on the grounds of the exposition themselves. The first U.S. coins produced to commemorate a world’s fair were the 1892 and 1893 Columbian Exposition Half Dollars and the 1893 Isabella Quarter Dollar.

Although no coins were produced to commemorate the 1876 Centennial of the United States, the nation did make medals. This production of medals for the Centennial Exposition was a success and very possibly laid the foundation for later (exposition-related) U.S. Mint coin and medal issues. Interestingly, several of the Mint’s medal designs used for the Centennial Exposition were created by William Barber, Charles Barber’s father.

The 1876 Exposition: A Gala Event

An 1876 Nevada So-Called Dollar struck for the 1876 U.S. World’s Fair in Philadelphia. Courtesy of PCGS TrueView.
An 1876 Nevada So-Called Dollar struck for the 1876 U.S. World’s Fair in Philadelphia. Courtesy of PCGS TrueView.

The 1876 Centennial Expo honored the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia in 1776. The Philadelphia Centennial Expo, which was officially named the International Exhibition of Arts, Manufactures, and Products of the Soil and Mine, was the first international exhibition and world’s fair to be held in the United States.

The event was held May 10 to November 10, 1876, in Fairmount Park along the Schuylkill River. The fairgrounds were designed by Herman J. Schwarzmann and the attendance reached nearly 10 million people–equivalent to nearly a quarter of the total U.S. population at that time. An event of that scale was the perfect venue for the Philadelphia Mint to showcase its wares to the world.

The 1876 Centennial Exposition U.S. Mint medals include an Assay Commission Medal, three award medals, and four different commemorative medals. The eight Centennial Exposition medals are classified as follows with Julian cataloging numbers:

Commemorative Medals:

  • CM-10
  • CM-11
  • CM-29
  • CM-36

Award Medals:

  • AM-10
  • AM-11
  • AM-12

Assay Commission Medals:

  • AC-15

The three So-Called Dollar medals for the Centennial Exposition were all engraved by William Barber. The three designs, the Nevada Dollar and both Official Centennial Medals, were struck in silver, but there are other metal strikings of the three designs. Let’s look closer at these cool U.S. mint produced medals.

The So-Called Dollars of the 1876 Expo

The Nevada Dollar is an intriguing medal.

The obverse design shows the Liberty Bell flanked by a Minuteman and soldier, inscribed with the prayer “Let God be with us as He was with our fathers.” The reverse carries an intricate Nevada mining scene with the text “Made from Nevada ore at International Exposition” circling the top and “All for our country” below.

[[fig1]]

These pieces were sold for $1.25 each at the Nevada Building on the fairgrounds with a card including the following message: “Was commissioned for the Centennial Exposition to be struck at the Philadelphia Mint with Nevada silver ore crushed at the quartz mill located on the Centennial Expo grounds,” while they were refined and struck at the Philadelphia Mint.

  • PCGS #642050: HK-19, Julian-CM-36; Silver* – Mintage: 2,526 (Rarity-5)
  • PCGS #642051: HK-19a; Copper BN – Mintage: N/A (R-9)
  • PCGS #642052: HK-19a; Copper RB – Mintage: N/A (R-9)
  • PCGS #642053: HK-19a; Copper RD – Mintage: N/A (R-9)

*Planchet weights and fineness vary. According to Julian, the planchet weights and fineness varied possibly because the mint ran short of the “genuine Nevada silver” and continued production with silver obtained through conventional channels.

The copper issue of the Nevada Dollar is designated as HK-19a in So-Called Dollars by Harold E. Hibler, Charles V. Kappen, Tom Hoffman, et al. PCGS has graded none of the copper Nevada Dollars, and the coin is listed as R-9 in So-Called Dollars. No mintage figures were found for the copper issue and it was quite possibly a trial.

There are two Official Centennial Medal designs which, like the Nevada Dollar, were both designed by William Barber. I’ll describe each separately.

The obverse of the CM-10 Centennial Medal example features the Genius of American Independence portrayed by Lady Liberty, sword in hand, rising to enforce her demands with 13 stars blazing above. The obverse has the inscription “These United Colonies are and of right ought to be, free and independent states” and 1776 below Miss Liberty. Within the wreath on the reverse is stated, “In commemoration of the HUNDREDTH anniversary of AMERICAN INDEPENDENCE.” Surrounding the wreath circling the coin are the date 1876 at six o’clock and “By authority of the Congress of the United States.”

Commemorative Medals

The Official Centennial Medal was minted in two sizes and in several metals. The smaller CM-10 38-millimeter medal is pictured about in silver while the larger CM-11 57-millimeter medal is pictured below.

[[fig2]]

PCGS classifies the different issues of the Centennial Medal as follows with their mintages and rarity ratings as listed in So-Called Dollars or in Julian’s mint medals book:

CM-10 Medals:

  • PCGS #642054: HK-20; Silver – Mintage: 10,133 (Total PCGS Pop. 31, R-4)
  • PCGS #642055: HK-21; Bronze BN – Mintage: 13,000 (Total PCGS Pop. 11, R-3)
  • PCGS #642056: Bronze RB – Mintage: N/A (R-3)
  • PCGS #642057: Bronze RD – Mintage: N/A (R-3)
  • PCGS #642058: HK-22; Gilt – Mintage: 10,500 (Total PCGS Pop. 8, R-4)
  • PCGS #642059: HK-22a; White Metal – Mintage: 3 (R-9)

The CM-11 larger-sized medal of 57-millimeter diameter is pictured below.

[[fig3]]

CM-11 Medals:

  • PCGS #568830: CM-11; Copper
  • CM-11b; Silver
  • PCGS #705511: CM-11c; Bronze
  • PCGS #660320: CM-11d; White Metal
  • PCGS #515568: CM-11e; Gilt

Another Centennial Medal of U.S. Mint production is classified as Julian CM-29. This large 58-millimeter medal depicts Memorial Hall on the obverse and Independence Hall on the reverse. This commemorative medal sold at the fair was commissioned by Nichols, Pickering, and Company in 1875. The engraver is unknown, but the United States Mint struck 20 silver and 500 bronze examples between July 1875 and the middle of 1876. These 520 examples were delivered, but an additional 400 bronze specimens (neither sold nor paid for) were later melted in 1891.

CM-29 Medal:

  • PCGS #N/A; Silver
  • PCGS #N/A; Bronze

Nevada and Centennial Medals are available in silver, and both bronze and gilt examples of the Centennial Medal can be located, too. Curiously, the white metal example of our Centennial Medal, with a mintage of only three pieces, has a neat story. Evidently all three examples can be traced back to the Barber family.

Auction prices realized for the Silver Nevada Centennial Exposition Dollar in MS63 have ranged from $1,320 in March of 2019 and most recently $3,705 in October of 2020. The Centennial Dollar price ranges are more modest in silver, bronze, and gilt. If you can locate them, all three metal examples, all graded MS63, have recently taken prices ranging from $168 to $408.

These U.S. Mint Commemorative Medals are historically significant and beautiful, and both the copper Nevada Dollar and Centennial Dollar (except for WM) are both available and affordable.

Julian lists four other Centennial-related U.S. Mint medal issues. Of the four additional Centennial Medals, one is an Assay Commission Medal and the other three are Award Medals.

Assay Commission Medals

Assay Commission Medal AC-15 is an interesting piece that sports a bust of George Washington on the obverse and the inscription “Year 100 of American Independence” within a wreath on the reverse. Originally U.S. Mint Director Henry Linderman wanted to celebrate our nation’s centennial with a one-year reverse design change to the Trade Dollar, but Superintendent James Pollock objected.

[[fig4]]

The medal was engraved by William Barber, but the reverse of the AC-15 Assay Medal is much as Linderman suggested for the Trade Dollar.

AC-15 Medals:

  • PCGS #518444: 33 mm; Silver
  • PCGS #785016: Bronze
  • PCGS #972472: Aluminum

Award Medals produced by the U.S. Mint were often completed and delivered near the end of the exposition itself or sometimes even years later. Nevertheless, these Award Medals are of great importance because most were produced in small quantities, the recipients are noteworthy in their own right, and, in many cases, the designs and engraving are exceptional.

AM-10 Medals:

  • PCGS #616302: Bronze BN; 76 mm (3”) – 12,000 distributed total
  • PCGS #616303: Bronze RB; 76 mm (3”) – Included above
  • PCGS #616304: Bronze RD; 76 mm (3”) – Included above
  • Silver; 102 mm (4”) – 27 ordered
  • Bronze; 102 mm (4”) – 123 ordered

AM-11 Medals:

  • Silver; 102 mm (4”) – 27 struck
  • Bronze – 123 struck

AM-12 Medals:

  • Bronze; 102 mm (4”); same as AM-11, but inscription on reverse same as the smaller medal. Few made, probably a pattern.

Both of these larger Award Medals were similar in design to the smaller AM-10 issue, but for the inscription on the reverse. Much like the large-size (4”) AM-10 medal, only 150 total of the AM-11 4” Award Medals were made, but the AM-12 was probably a pattern and few were made. There are no PCGS spec numbers assigned for either issue yet.

The eight different U.S. Mint-produced Centennial Exposition medals are quite amazing in their diversity and scope of production. After all, this was our first centennial and first international exposition. In addition to the U.S. Mint medals, dozens of other souvenir medals were privately minted for the centennial.

Other Centennial Expo Collectibles

Let’s discuss some of the other cool items from the Centennial Exposition. While there are thousands of items out there relating to the Centennial Exposition, I found this souvenir picture album quite illustrative of the connections between different Fair related items. Several decades ago the gold medallic embossing decorating this item convinced me to buy it because it was clearly coin related.

Interestingly, this picture album portrays the CM-11 medal in a gilt finish!

[[fig5]]

Many of the Centennial Exposition related So-Called Dollars produced privately were sold or given away as souvenirs. These, too, while not produced by the U.S. Mint, are certainly tied to the Centennial Exposition as crossover collectibles.

The So-Called Dollars from the Centennial Exposition include these patriotic themes: Liberty Bell and Independence Hall Dollars, Liberty Dollars, Independence Hall Dollars, Liberty Seated Dollars, Centennial Fountain Dollars, George Washington Dollars (especially Lovett’s Eight Battles Dollars), Declaration of Independence Dollars, and Exposition Building Dollars.

Just for the Centennial Exposition, the So-Called Dollars represent HK-19 through HK-118. There are numerous strikes for many in different metals, too. Regardless of what you desire, numismatically related Centennial Exposition items are numerous and historic.

The challenge and difficulty in these desirable medals is apparent to any collector attuned to this niche of obscure and rare pieces. My hope is that the interest this article series may generate will serve to pique interest among numismatists to pursue these highly historic crossover collectibles. The next installment of “Connecting the Dots” will detail the U.S. Mint medals of the 1892 and 1893 Columbian Exposition.

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About the Author

Vic BozarthVic Bozarth is a member of the Professional Numismatics Guild (PNG), FUN, the ANA, the CSNS, and many other regional and state coin clubs and organizations. Vic has extensive experience buying and selling coins into the mid-six-figure range. Vic and his wife Sherri attend all major U.S. coin shows as well as most of the larger regional shows.

For more information from PCGS, click on the image below.

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Vic Bozarth
Vic Bozarth
Vic Bozarth is a member of the Professional Numismatics Guild (PNG), the ANA, the CSNS, FUN, and many other regional and state coin clubs and organizations. Vic has extensive experience buying and selling coins into the mid-six-figure range. Both Vic and his wife Sherri attend all major U.S. coin shows as well as most of the larger regional shows.

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