By Vic Bozarth for PCGS ……
In part four of this series, we arrive at the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis, for which the United States Mint struck two commemorative gold dollar coins and a slew of medals. We’ll also touch on a couple of the myriad of medals, tokens, and other items historically tied to the 1904 World’s Fair
The Significance of the 1904 St. Louis Exposition
In 1803, Napoleon Bonaparte of France sold the massive piece of land in North America involved in the Louisiana Purchase to Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States. Comprising some 827,000 square miles of land, the purchase nearly doubled the geographical size of the U.S. at that point in time. Jefferson was a forward thinker who had long-term goals of acquiring the Louisiana Territory, which secured the Port of New Orleans and access to the entire Mississippi River basin. Jefferson was also enamored with the possibility of an inland water route to the West Coast through the interior of the continental United States.
A Centennial Exposition celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Louisiana Purchase was proposed as early as 1898. Both Kansas City and St. Louis vied for the honor, given their central location in the nation in the territory consumed by the purchase. Strong local backing in St. Louis and early planning were crucial, but $10 million of the $15 million needed to host the expo was in place by 1901!
Ironically, one of the biggest proponents of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition was President William McKinley, who actively supported the St. Louis World’s Fair project after organizers visited him at the White House in February 1901. Later that year, on September 6, 1901, McKinley was shot while attending the Buffalo Pan-American Exposition in New York. He died of his injuries eight days later.
With widespread backing and sufficient funding, organizers were able to plan for the fair relatively early compared to other expos. City planner George Kessler created the master design for the fair, which sprawled across a fairground nearly two square miles in size and went on to draw some 20 million visitors. The formal opening of the fair occurred on April 30, 1904, with the 1904 Olympic Summer Games, the 1904 Democratic National Convention, and the 1904 American Numismatic Association (ANA) convention held concurrently with the expo.
St. Louis Exposition Commemorative Coins and Medals
Coins produced for the expo included the 1903 Jefferson Gold Dollar and the 1903 McKinley Gold Dollar, which were sold at the fair in a booth helmed by prominent numismatist Farran Zerbe.
In addition to these commemorative gold dollars, the United States Mint also struck an amazing souvenir medal design across seven different metals. Engraver George T. Morgan designed the souvenir medal, most of which were struck on the grounds of the expo. While the obverse rightly portrays both Jefferson and Napoleons’ busts, Morgan’s reverse work is exceptional, depicting the continental U.S. with the Louisiana Purchase superimposed in high relief on the amazingly detailed map.
Also produced were five different award medals, some of which were struck in various metals. Adolph A. Weinman’s designs for all five award medals were exceptional in both aesthetic appeal and subject matter. Weinman’s later work on the Walking Liberty Half Dollar would be evident especially on the exceptional award medals for the Louisiana Purchase Expo.
Most of the medals were struck at and sold in the Government Building at the fair by Treasury Department employee Charles Stouthard Muir. Of the seven different metal issues of the Official Souvenir Medal, HK-299 through HK-304, are all obtainable with rarity ratings between R-3 and R-6, but for the unique gold issue HK-299a which is classified as R-10.
A total of nearly 90,000 of these medals were produced on the fairgrounds and most (copper and bronze) sold for 25 cents each. The exceptions were for the silver, which was originally priced at $1 and later $1.25 (evidently, 6,002 pieces were struck at the mint in 1905 and 1906), with the gilt and gold-plated bronze versions selling for 50 cents apiece.
- PCGS #642693, HK-299 – Silver (Rarity-4)
- PCGS #642694, HK-299a – Gold
- PCGS #642695, HK-300 – Gold-Plated Bronze
- PCGS #642696, HK-301 – Copper BN
- PCGS #642697 – Copper RB
- PCGS #642698 – Copper RD
- PCGS #642699, HK-302 – Yellow Bronze
- PCGS #642700, HK-303 – Bronze BN
- PCGS #642701 – Bronze RB
- PCGS #642702 – Bronze RD
- PCGS #642703, HK-304 – Gilt
St. Louis World’s Fair Award Medals
The award medals produced for the Louisiana Purchase Exposition comprise a highly impressive group of medallic art for the period. There were five levels of award medals given, all designed by Weinman and struck at the U.S. Mint.
Produced in several unique shapes, there were Grand Prize, Gold Medal, Silver Medal, Bronze Medal, and Commemorative Award Medals. All five of these award medals were made in “government bronze”, although the “gold” and “silver” medals were issued with a gilt and silvered finishes, respectively.
- Grand Prize Medal, PCGS #910671 – Five-Point Shield Design, 74 x 60 millimeters; H-30-90 (Mintage: 3,300)
- Gold Award Medal, (PCGS #910670 Gilt Silver, PCGS #888062 Gilt Copper) – Three-Point Shield Design, H-30-70
- Silver Award Medal, Square design, 2.625” x 2.625”; H-30-50 (PCGS #804837, Bronze)
- Bronze Award Medal, Round Design, 2.5” diameter; H-30-40
- Commemorative Award Medal, Three-Point Shield Design, 3” x 3”; H-30-110
Among the many commercial medals and tokens produced at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, a “Souvenir Coin of Admission” was issued by the Louisiana Purchase Souvenir Coin Company and is not related to the exposition company itself. The round and octagonal issues comprise So-Called Dollar numbers HK-305/305a for the round issues and HK-306 and 307 for the octagonal issues.
Both sizes of the medal were struck in brass, and while many are serial numbered on the medals themselves, there are also examples of each size without serial numbers. The round examples are under #25000 and the octagonal examples are all over #25000.
- PCGS #642705, Round
- PCGS #642707, Octagonal
These privately struck commercial issues were confused with official Mint issues, and the company itself disappeared. While many of the first 25,000 round St. Louis Expo medals had been sold, another order for 25,000 octagonal examples was placed without the vendor obtaining official recognition either as an official souvenir or concession dealer. Most of these octagonal issues were purchased by souvenir and coin dealers.
Other Collectibles Relating to the 1904 World’s Fair
There were many other interesting items produced that tie into the Louisiana Purchase Exposition. To be sure, anything presidential in nature demands attention, and President Theodore Roosevelt was prominently featured on numerous advertising items from the fair.
Postcards were also immensely popular in terms of both communication and advertising. Today, when many of us take an exciting trip or see something interesting, some of us post a photo of it on social media. In 1904, countless people shared these intriguing experiences via postcards. Postcards both conveyed a message and served as bragging rights, especially when sent from a famous location or event, such as the Louisiana Purchases Exposition.
Meanwhile, Zerbe, who was selling 1903 Jefferson and McKinley Commemorative Gold Dollars at his expo booth, also had other novelty items for sale there. Among them was a wooden postcard picturing the obverse of both Commemorative Gold Dollars. He offered to mount either coin or both in a pendant or stick pin as a marketing feature, though most purchasing these coins passed on the mounting.
The Louisiana Purchase Centennial was commemorated in virtually every medium available at that period in time. And isn’t it human nature to want to bring a souvenir home? Decades later, many people still find Louisiana Purchase Exposition items fascinating and highly collectable. Someone who found them especially exciting was well-known coin dealer and collector Robert L. Hendershott, who authored fair guidebook 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair Mementos and Memorabilia (1994). Hendershott’s book lists and has images of hundreds of items from the fair. Why was he so fascinated with the Louisiana Purchase Exposition? He attended as a child in 1904!
* * *
For more information from PCGS, the sponsor of this article, click on the image below.
* * *