By Vic Bozarth for PCGS ……
This entry in my series of articles about the World’s Fair expositions held between 1876 and 1926 details the medals and tokens of the 1901 Pan-American Exposition, which was held in Buffalo, New York. While there are only three different Pan-American Medals or So-Called Dollars from the Expo, the tragedy that occurred there mandates its inclusion in any survey of the most important fairs.
Triumph and Tragedy at the Buffalo Expo
The Expo was held from May 1 to November 2, 1901, and drew more than eight million attendees. There were at least 5,300,000 people who paid the 50-cent admission price. Subscriptions of both stock and capital bonds totaling $5,000,000 USD sold out very quickly, and an additional $800,000 was raised between state and federal grants.
Ultimately, the success or failure of these expositions was due to the rail service available for potential attendees. The Chicago and North-Western Railway advertised “through” train service to multiple major cities. Buffalo had won out as the host city versus Niagara because of the rail services they had available.
On the grounds themselves, the miniature railway built and operated by the manufacturer McGarigle Brothers was a big hit. For 10 cents, attendees could ride the train, its nine-foot engine pulling small gondola cars with double seats over a 15-inch track accessible via six locations on the fairgrounds. These miniature railways manufactured by the McGarigle Brothers were quite popular at other fairs as well.
The significance of the Buffalo Pan-American Exposition in U.S. history is pivotal. Electricity lit the fairgrounds, which was still a novel concept at time.
Among the other headlines was an appearance on September 5, 1901, by President William McKinley, who spoke these words in an address at the exposition:
“Expositions are the timekeepers of progress. They record the world’s advancement. They stimulate the energy, enterprise, and intellect of the people; and quicken human genius. They go into the home. They broaden and brighten the daily life of the people. They open mighty storehouses of information to the student.”
Probably no president before or after McKinley did more to promote international expositions and world’s fairs. But his connection to the fair is known for much more tragic reasons. While greeting citizens at the exposition on September 6, President McKinley was shot in what can only be regarded as an act of terrorism. McKinley succumbed to his injuries nine days later and his young vice president, Theodore Roosevelt, succeeded him.
In a pamphlet published for the Louisiana Purchase Exposition of 1904, President McKinley’s “Last Public Address and Proclamation” from the Buffalo Pan-American Exposition was included. The quote cited above from McKinley’s 30-minute address at the 1901 expo is but a snippet of his amazingly prescient speech.
The assassination of McKinley was a tragedy for our nation, and the events that unfolded in the coming days would signal a transition for our nation culturally. While McKinley was a steadfast, conservative product of the 19th century, Roosevelt proved revolutionary in many ways, most notably for numismatists as the catalyst for a redesign of our U.S. coinage. Events like this “connect the dots” in the inevitable march of history.
Pan-American Expo Medals and Tokens
The United States Treasury Department exhibit at the exposition was housed in the U.S. government buildings, situated near where visitors entered from the esplanade. Within the Treasury Department exhibit, the United States Mint struck the official medals for the exposition.
The U.S. Mint official medal was struck on the grounds in silver, copper, and brass. This medal, designed by G.T. Brewster, depicts an Native American figure astride a soaring eagle on the obverse, with a relief map of the Western Hemisphere and the logo from the fair on the reverse.
These official medals are designated as follows:
- PCGS #642671, HK-287 – Silver (Rarity-6)
- PCGS #642672, HK-288 – Copper BN (R-7)
- PCGS #642673 – Copper RB
- PCGS #642674 – Copper RD
- PCGS #642675, HK-289 – Brass (R-8)
Other So-Called Dollars issued for the Pan American Expo include the President McKinley Assassination Dollar and the Buffalo Dollar. These medals are designated as:
- PCGS #642676, HK-290 – McKinley Brass (R-6)
- PCGS #642677, HK-290a – Aluminum (R-6)
- PCGS #642678, HK-291 – Buffalo Brass (R-5)
In addition to the Mint and Treasury Department installation, there was another highly significant numismatic display at the Pan-American Expo. Separate from the Mint exhibit, in a small dedicated building bordering the midway, was an exhibit housing what was dubbed the “First Coin Machine Used By the U.S. Mint” serving as a souvenir concession. This steam press, which was used at the Philadelphia Mint from 1836 through 1874, was earlier displayed at the Centennial and then the Columbian expositions in 1876 and 1893, respectively.
This steam-operated press struck souvenir medals in two designs, including one serving as a Pan-American memento and the other featuring the Lord’s Prayer. They were offered from 25 cents to $2.50 for gold-plated and 14K compositions. The Lord’s Prayer design was offered in sterling silver for 35 cents, in addition to the gold issues.
Lord’s Prayer Medal
- Sterling Silver
- 14K gold
- 14K gold
Each of these souvenir coins included a card describing the press itself and the two souvenir token designs available from Historic Coin Press Co. of Buffalo, NY.
After the Expo
As with most fairs, the majority of the buildings and grounds of the Buffalo Pan-American Expo were cleared afterward. The only major building to survive from the fair is the New York State Building. But in a case of pure happenstance, the souvenir Pan-Am Coin Concession Hut survived the teardown. William Simon of the Simon Brewing family bought the hut and moved it to his property in Gardenville, New York, shortly after the fair.
The hut, used as a gazebo and goat shed, was rediscovered in 1999, although the story of the hut’s history was known to the family. The Werner family, current owners of the Gardenville property, contacted the Buffalo History Museum in 1999, inquiring if they would be interested in having it. Today, the shed has been restored to its original glory and is housed at the Forest Avenue Resource Center of the Buffalo Museum. Incidentally, the original fairgrounds has been a residential neighborhood for more than a century.
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For more information from PCGS, the sponsor of this article, click on the image below.
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