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Spotlight on So-Called Dollars


By Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker for CoinWeek …..

What is a So-Called Dollar?

It is said that New York coin dealer Thomas Elder first coined the term “So-Called Dollar” to describe a medal sold at the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition – an event better known as the St. Louis World’s Fair. Coin-like souvenirs such as that medal had been a staple at the many great expositions of the 19th and 20th centuries, not only capturing moments in time, but also telling the story of American industrial, technological, and cultural development.

These so-called dollars were diverse in design and theme, and for many Americans, they were a physical embodiment of the memories that they would take from these great spectacles.  For those that experienced these expositions, souvenirs like so-called dollars symbolized hope, optimism, and participation in the success and growth of America.

As the age of the Great American Expo came to an end, a growing sentiment for these souvenirs began to take shape. And for some, the emphasis was on so-called dollars. Their profile was greatly elevated with the publication in 1963 of So-Called Dollars: An Illustrated Standard Catalog, written by Harold E. Hibler and Charles V. Kappen.

The volume, which remains the most comprehensive study of dollar-sized, public and private medals and tokens, carved out a niche for future collectors and created a new market for these collectibles. To be considered a so-called dollar (and therefore warrant inclusion in the book), a medal had to meet certain criteria set by Hibler and Kappen: the pieces had to be struck in, or struck for, the United States; they had to measure between 33- and 45mm; and they had to focus on national and regional celebrations or numismatic themes. The book, virtually the Rosetta stone for this branch of exonumia, was updated in 2008 by four experts on so-called dollars: Tom Hoffman, Dave Hayes, Jonathan Brecher, and John Dean. Hubert and I wholeheartedly recommend the purchase of this book, which can be found here.

Now that we’ve briefly introduced the concept of the so-called dollar and its connection to American history, we’d like to use the next couple of columns to take a fresh look at this niche area of numismatics, approaching the subject from the perspective of the collector of classic commemoratives. For the so-called dollar breathes new life into the classic commemorative series and places it in the proper context, as both competitor for the consumer’s attention and the logical next step in the development of these numismatic souvenirs.

Before we begin, we’d like to acknowledge and thank Jeff Shevlin and Tom Hoffman for their scholarship and assistance in this project.

Early American Commemoratives, Part 1: Commemoratives and So-Called Dollars Relating to Expositions

In this first part of our three-part feature on so-called dollars, Hubert and I look at the similarities and differences in theme and composition of so-called dollars and their legal tender commemorative coin counterparts that were authorized and produced to commemorate America’s great expositions. Starting with the World’s Columbian Exposition, held in Chicago in 1892-1893, and ending with the United States Sesquicentennial Exposition, held in Philadelphia in 1926, this period saw five significant publicly and privately funded events of national import. To defray the cost of holding these events, Congress issued commemorative coins, while a variety of so-called dollars (some struck on site, some commissioned) were also sold at the events.

World’s Columbian Exposition (1892-1893), Chicago, IL

The many temporary pavilions at the World’s Columbian Expo represented the height of American design.

World’s Columbian Exposition (1892-1893), Chicago, Illinois

Date Coin Designer Distribution
1892 Columbian half dollar Barber/Morgan 950,000
1893 Columbian half dollar Barber/Morgan 1,550,405
1893 Isabella quarter Barber 24,191
Total Pieces So-Called Dollar Theme(some overlap) Tie-In
49 Exposition Architecture
44 Christopher Columbus Columbian half dollar
4 Patriotic, Columbia
8 Aluminum
4 Ferris Wheel
2 Bertha Palmer Isabella quarter
2 Cyrus McCormick
1 “Baby” Ruth Cleveland

Government issued coins focused on Columbus and Isabella, So-Called Dollars also celebrated architectural achievements, Ms. Potter-Palmer, the newly versatile aluminum alloy, and the child of the President and Mrs. Grover Cleveland.


The classic commemorative period began in 1892 with an Act of Congress authorizing the production of specially-designed half dollars made with the likeness of Christopher Columbus, to be sold at $1 apiece, with the proceeds going to help fund the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Illinois.

Seizing the opportunity for publicity, Wyckoff, Seamans, and Benedict, manufacturers of Remington typewriters, publicly offered $10,000 (just shy of $256,500 in today’s dollars) for the first coin struck. This turned the actual striking of the coins into a media event. In an account of the festivities reprinted by Swiatek and Breen, Chief Engraver Charles Barber, along with other Government and Exposition representatives, was on hand to see Chief Coiner William Steele strike the famous first coin.

Unfortunately, due to a planchet flaw, the first coin was rejected. The $10,000 specimen was successfully struck on the second try.[2]

The Remington Company reveled in the publicity. Mainstream America saw for the first time the potential for financial gains through coin collecting. The Columbian half dollar sold well, although it did not meet its authorized mintage limit. A second coin struck for the exposition was the Isabella quarter, the only quarter of the classic series, and a coin lobbied for and distributed by Bertha Palmer’s Board of Lady Managers. Coined from reclaimed silver from obsolete coins, the Isabella quarter was considered a worse value as it was also offered at $1 each. A little more than half of the authorized mintage sold, making the Isabella one of the more coveted of the classic commemoratives.

Thus begins the story of the classic commemoratives. However, these two legal tender issues cannot possibly capture the spirit of the event like the more than 100 medals and tokens issued by the many different vendors and pavilions. These so-called dollars vary greatly in design and style and come in a variety of compositions, including aluminum, which at the time was a novelty. Many of the pieces celebrate the architectural beauty of the pavilions, including one designed by Louis Sullivan, a founding member of the Chicago School. Others depict Christopher Columbus.

Of great numismatic significance is the so-called dollar pictured below featuring a Beaux-Arts rendition of Columbus newly ashore in the New World. This elegant piece was designed by the great Augustus Saint-Gaudens, with a reverse designed by Mint Chief Engraver Charles Barber. The pair teamed up to create this medal, which was reproduced by Chicago pillow manufacturer C. Emmerich & Company. It was struck at the Philadelphia Mint, and would not be their last collaboration. The use of Roman numerals should catch the attention of collectors familiar with the first year issue of the Saint-Gaudens double eagle.

HK:223 Augustus Saint-Gaudens and Charles Barber teamed up to create this fantastic medal commemorating the World’s Columbian Exposition.

Fans of the Isabella quarter may also consider adding the Board of Lady Managers so-called dollar to their collections. This 38mm piece was struck on Aluminum and features Mrs. Bertha Honoré Palmer, Chicago socialite and wife of Hotel Magnate Potter Palmer. Her so-called dollar comes in two configurations, one with scalloped fan ornamentation in the field and one without. One would assume that these medals would have been sold side by side with the legal tender quarter. Fewer than 100 of each variety are known to have survived.

HK-243c: Bertha Honoré Palmer, depicted above, served as the President of the Board of Lady Managers, which oversaw the creation of the Woman’s Building as well as the distribution of the 1893 Isabella quarter.

There are nearly fifty so-called dollars which celebrate the various buildings constructed for the Fair. Four pieces commemorated what many people considered the Exposition’s signature architectural achievement: the 264 foot tall Ferris wheel. Named after its designer George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr., the Ferris wheel was America’s answer to the Eiffel Tower, which was built just four years prior to serve as the centerpiece of the 1889 Paris Exposition.[4]

U.S. Government Building, Louisiana Purchase Exposition, 1904

Louisiana Purchase Exposition (1904), St. Louis, Missouri

Date Coin Designer Distribution
1903 Louisiana Purchase Exposition: Jefferson Gold Dollar Barber 17,500
1903 Louisiana Purchase Exposition: McKinley Gold Dollar Barber 17,500
Total Pieces So-Called Dollar Theme(some overlap) Tie-In
12 Architecture
5 French Regents For design aesthetics: Isabella quarter (1893)
2 Thomas Jefferson Jefferson Gold dollar
1 Missouri
2 Louisiana Purchase
1 Theodore Roosevelt
1 Chicago World’s Fair Columbian half dollar (1892-1893)

Jefferson and McKinley get the nod for the government issued coins. So-Called dollars focus on architecture, French rulers, and even recall the preceding Chicago fair.

Eleven years after the successful World’s Columbian Exposition, the great city of St. Louis celebrated the centennial of Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery Expedition by hosting the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, also known as the St. Louis World’s Fair. The Expo opened on April 30 and ran through December 1, 1904, drawing nearly 20 million visitors, a slight decline from the paid attendance of the World’s Columbian Exposition.

There is a great deal of folklore surrounding the Louisiana Purchase Exposition; some say the waffle ice cream cone was invented for the fair, while others claim the event saw the birth of the hot dog and hamburger. These claims are likely dubious, but we do know that the popular soft drink Dr. Pepper made its mass-market debut here along with puffed wheat breakfast cereal. Also, the common health maxim, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away” was first uttered by fruit researcher, Dr. J. T. Stinson, in a speech given in front of fair goers.[8]

It is also notable that the Exposition hosted the 1904 Olympic Games as well, the third Olympics of the modern era. In a contemporary context, it’s hard to imagine an Exposition dwarfing an international event such as the Olympics, but these were different times and the Olympic movement was still in its infancy.

In order to fund the fair, the state of Missouri guaranteed $1,000,000, while Congress authorized an additional $5,000,000. Congress again turned to the idea of producing commemorative coins as a way to offset the cost. This time, Congress decided on the creation of two dime-sized commemorative gold dollars. One bore the likeness of Thomas Jefferson and the other featured the recently assassinated President William McKinley (who, coincidentally, was shot by anarchist Leon Czolgosz at the Pan-American Exposition, which took place in Buffalo from May to November of 1901). The choice to honor McKinley with a gold dollar was likely due to the fact that McKinley had signed legislation authorizing the Louisiana Purchase Exposition.

(It’s also somewhat fitting that McKinley would be honored with a gold dollar as he pushed for and signed the Gold Standard Act of 1900, which put an end to American bimetallism.)

Unfortunately for event organizers and the government, the gold coin commemorative program was a total failure. 125,000 of each coin were authorized but only 17,500 of each were sold, bringing in just over $100,000 before expenses were taken out. A number of tie-ins were tried to move the coins, including a stamp and a “gold souvenir” token set offered by noted numismatist Farran Zerbe.[9] Many of the coins were sold only because they were infused into a number of non-numismatic products, such as jewelry and stickpins – which ruined many of the coins accounted for in the final distribution totals.

The event also saw a decline in the number of so-called dollars offered. Nearly all of these were available to fair-goers at a fraction of the cost of the two gold dollars. Perhaps this accounts for the surprising lack of interest in the gold coins, or maybe there were more interesting tchotchkes available at the fair’s many shops (such as the dog figurine pictured above).

For those interested in purchasing medals, there was an Official Souvenir Medal featuring the busts of Jefferson and Napoleon, left-facing and in jugate, along with the inscription LOUISIANA PURCHASE EXPOSITION – OFFICIAL SOUVENIR. The medal’s reverse depicts a map of the present-day United States with the land apportioned in the purchase in raised relief along with the inscription LOUISIANA TERRITORY 1803, 1,000,000 SQUARE MILES – $15,000,000, ST LOUIS 1904.

This medal was struck on the grounds at the Mint Exhibit, using machinery that was to be shipped to the newly established Denver Mint at the conclusion of the fair.

The Jefferson/Napoleon medal was sold in a number of metal configurations, the rarest being a single medal struck in gold; others were struck in gilt (which was offered at a price of 25 cents), a quickly tarnishing yellow-bronze, and a .600 fine silver alloy (which was offered for $1.00-$1.25)[10].

The official souvenir medal (HK-299-304). Confusion reigned when limited edition medals struck by a fly-by-night firm calling itself the Louisiana Purchase Souvenir Coin Co. began selling round and octagonal medals featuring the crowned head of French monarch Saint Louis done in the style of the Isabella quarter.

Despite the prominence of the official medal, many souvenir-seekers wound up with a handsome but unofficial piece featuring the likeness of Saint Louis IX (1214-1270), the French monarch after whom the city was named. These serial-numbered medals may have looked official – after all, there was that serial number, and the obverse said SOUVENIR COIN OF ADMISSION – but the “coins” were the product of a shadowy group calling themselves the Louisiana Purchase Souvenir Coin Company. Buyers of Hibler and Kappen’s book will be treated to an amusing anecdote about the marketing strategy this group employed to sell the coin as well as the “official” reaction to their scheme.

Controversy aside, the largest portion of so-called dollars from St. Louis focused on the many fantastically designed temporary structures that made up the fairgrounds. Most of these medals were struck in aluminum and feature perspectives of the different buildings with identifying inscriptions written in the exergue. The U.S. government building (shown in the black and white photograph above) is featured on so-called dollar HK-322e.

The Louisiana Purchase Exposition would prove to be the final fair where so-called dollars would focus so heavily on architecture. This could have something to do with the period. The 1890s to early 1900s was a critical time in American architecture, seeing not only the advent of the skyscraper, the prominence of the Chicago School, and the ascension of Frank Lloyd Wright, but it also marked the beginning of a new era in urban design that would make the bombastically ornamental palaces of the early fairs seem outmoded and unworthy of special commemoration. Or perhaps the pieces weren’t all that profitable for fair organizers. It’s hard to know for sure.

For commemorative collectors, the Louisiana Purchase Exposition offers the challenge of trying to put together a complete set of fair-related so-called dollars. Several issues, including one featuring Theodore Roosevelt, are quite rare. The official medal makes a great accompaniment to the Jefferson gold dollar, and the Pax so-called dollar (HK-314), which references the World’s Columbian Exposition on the reverse, features a ship motif that bears a striking resemblance to the reverse of the Columbian half dollars of 1892-1893.

Lewis & Clark Centennial Exposition (1905), Portland, Oregon

Exposition buildings surrounding Guild’s Lake

Lewis & Clark Centennial Exposition (1905), Portland, Oregon

Date Coin Designer Distribution
1904 Lewis & Clark Exposition Gold Dollar Barber 10,025
1905 Lewis & Clark Exposition Gold Dollar Barber 10,041
Total Pieces So-Called Dollar Theme(some overlap) Tie-In
4 Lewis & Clark Lewis & Clark Exposition Gold Dollar
3 Exposition Architecture
1 Columbia

An aligning of coin and medal themes mark this regional celebration.

Continuing with the Louisiana Purchase theme was a fair held in Oregon in 1905, the site of the completion of the Corps of Discovery journey across the Louisiana and Oregon territories.  The Lewis & Clark Centennial Exposition was held in Portland, Oregon, and was decidedly low key when compared to the St. Louis fair held the year before. This was intentional.

Congress authorized the Exposition and the minting of 250,000 gold dollars honoring Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to pay for the event in an Act of Congress passed on April 13, 1904[12]. Charles Barber designed the coins, which have the distinction of being the only coins minted by the United States to feature a head on both sides. Don Taxay believed that Barber modeled the two explorers’ likenesses from a painting by Charles Wilson Peale.[13]

Issued in 1904 and 1905, the coins were initially offered for sale at $3.00 each, but well-connected dealers were able to offer the coins through The Numismatist and direct mail catalogs for less. Ultimately, despite efforts to promote the coins, the public was unmoved and only a hair over 10,000 dollars from each date sold, which was a little more than 8% of the authorized mintage. Because of this, the Lewis and Clark Exposition dollars are highly prized, with gem-quality examples selling for upwards of $8,000-$10,000 when certified MS-65 or MS-66.[14]

As far as so-called dollar output is concerned, the fair produced only a handful. The one pictured below features Columbia, arms spread out and walking in-between figures representing Lewis and Clark, and is perhaps the most striking. The inscription on the reverse (WESTWARD THE COURSE OF EMPIRE TAKES ITS WAY) is most telling of the national sentiment concerning Manifest Destiny and America’s philosophical slide into Imperialism (which the authors of this piece regard as a rejection of America’s founding principles).

Flag-draped Columbia accompanies Lewis and Clark to the shores of the Pacific Ocean in HK-327, one of three metal varieties of this striking so-called dollar.

The remaining medals from this event riff on the same design, one which features jugate portraiture of Lewis and Clark on the obverse with the inscription LEWIS AND CLARK CENTENNIAL EXPOSITION (some have the date 1905, others do not), and a reverse that highlights the U.S. Government building constructed for the fair. One variation features the Washington state building.

It is estimated that between 1.6 and 2.5 million visitors attended the fair. Despite being dwarfed by other fairs of the period and failing to sell through its authorized allotment of gold coins, the Lewis & Clark Centennial Exposition did turn a profit.

For collectors of the Lewis and Clark commemorative gold coins, the exposition offers a manageable array of accessible so-called dollars to round out their collections.

Panama-Pacific Exposition (1915), San Francisco, California

The grounds at the Panama-Pacific Exposition illuminated at night.

Panama-Pacific Exposition (1915), San Francisco, California

Date Coin Designer Distribution
1915 Panama-Pacific Half Dollar Barber/ Morgan 27,134
1915 Panama-Pacific Gold Dollar Keck 15,000
1915 Panama-Pacific Gold Quarter Eagle Barber/ Morgan 6,749
1915 Panama-Pacific Gold $50 Round Aitken 483
1915 Panama-Pacific Gold $50 Octagonal Aitken 483
Total Pieces So-Called Dollar Theme(some overlap) Tie-In
12 State Medals
10 Ships
8 Exposition Architecture
7 Female Figures, Mythological Panama-Pacific Half Dollar, Quarter Eagle, $50 Slug
3 California Bear
3 Assay
1 Cornucopia Panama-Pacific Half Dollar
1 Caduceus Panama-Pacific Quarter Eagle

California went big for this celebration, the number of So-Called dollars declines from its late 19th century heights. The mythological and beautiful make Pan-Pac So-Called Dollars the most dramatic and interesting.

Not even ten years after a major earthquake devastated the city, killing upwards of 3,000 people and forcing the largely undamaged San Francisco Mint to become an emergency shelter, local residents and the state of California used the completion of the Panama Canal and the 400th Anniversary of the “discovery” of the Pacific Ocean by Vasco Nunez de Balboa (even though the logical date would have been 1913) to host the Panama-Pacific International Exposition of 1915.

For numismatists, the Panama-Pacific Exposition five-coin commemorative set ranks as one of the most visually arresting and desirable U.S. special issue coins in history. Blending classical motifs with a naturalist eroticism that was one hallmark of the Art Nouveau period, the Pan-Pac half dollar, quarter eagle, and fifty dollar slugs are among the most beautiful commemorative coins in U.S. history, and for contemporary collectors, among the most desirable.

Perhaps feeding off of the artistic zeitgeist, the event’s many privately and publicly issued medals rival the commemorative coins in terms of design. As the last big Exposition of the so-called dollar era, the Panama-Pacific International Exposition marks the end of the souvenir medal bonanza that started in Chicago. The Expo saw the release of 27 so-called dollar designs in various configurations, many of them approaching the pinnacle of American medallic design.

The Panama-Pacific International Exposition’s official medal (pictured below), was authorized by Congress and struck using Mint equipment onsite. The piece was designed by Robert Aitken, the designer of the Pan-Pac $50 coins. It features a semi-nude winged Mercury (coincidentally released a year before the Winged Liberty dime), caduceus in hand, opening the Panama Canal’s locks. To his side, the ship Argo passes through. In the exergue, the inscription reads ON! SAIL ON!

Cornucopias and semi-nude figures: American medallic sculpture and coin design from this period was infused with now-unthinkable eroticism.

The medal’s reverse features two female figures intertwined, representing Earth’s two hemispheres, cornucopias in hand. This same “land of plenty” motif was carried forth in the commemorative half dollar design. Aitken, who also designed the two $50 slugs, sticks with the classical mythological theme. The caduceus appears on the commemorative quarter eagle, designed by Barber and Morgan. Columbia is holding it while astride the back of a hippocampus.

We can’t look at the reverse of this medal without thinking of Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo (1982).

Also of note is HK-404, featuring the headless Winged Victory of Samothrace standing atop a ship, passing through the Canal. On the reverse is an indigenous Panamanian watching a ship steaming along the waterway, a mountainous scene in the distance. Of minor note, the motto IN GOD WE TRUST appears at the bottom of the Florida Exposition medal, the first such instance where the motto appears on a so-called dollar.

HK-405: A medal commissioned by the State of Georgia valorizes California’s bountiful crops.


HK-405, another beautiful piece, features a female figure inspired by Oscar Roty’s The Sower, carrying a cornucopia as she walks toward the sunrise. This so-called dollar was commissioned by the State of Georgia. This piece, along with Aitken’s official medal, are logical complements to the Pan-Pac half dollar.

And speaking of sensual, HK-417-418a: ¡ Aye Carumba!

The striking Exposition City Dollar, perhaps the most erotic of the so-called dollars, is also a likely complement to the Pan-Pac half dollar. Depicted on the obverse are the many structures built for the fair. The reverse features two nude females laying a wreath across the Panama Canal. The 1923 Monroe Doctrine Centennial half dollar revisits this theme but instead uses female figures to form the shapes of the two American continents.

Souvenir medal made to look like California gold.

There were also three octagonal releases, made to resemble California territorial gold pieces of 1852.

Several faux-gold pieces were struck in the form of California gold. A few variations on the octagonal piece pictured above contain the motto IN GOD WE TRUST. The above piece has the curious inscription OOO THOU in its place. Hibler and Kappen note that these pieces were struck by a company called Irvine & Jachens of nearby Daly City, California[22].

Of all of the major Expos, the Panama-Pacific International Exposition boasts the finest commemorative coins and the most beautiful and diverse assortment of so-called dollars. While the extremely low mintage $50 gold pieces are likely out of reach for most collectors, many of this event’s so-called dollars are approachable. Putting together a complete set, however, will pose quite a challenge.


U.S. Sesquicentennial Exposition (1926), Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

A giant Liberty bell, seen beneath scaffolds, was imbued with electric lights.

U.S. Sesquicentennial Exposition (1926), Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Date Coin Designer Distribution
1926 Sesquicentennial of American Independence Half Dollar Lewis 141,120
1926 Sesquicentennial of American Independence Quarter Eagle Sinnock 46,019
Total Pieces So-Called Dollar Theme(some overlap) Tie-In
8 George Washington
1 Independence Hall Sesquicentennial of American Independence Quarter Eagle
1 Pegasus
1 Exposition Architecture
1 Swastika, Lucky Token

Marking an end to a period of coins struck for great national expositions, this Pennsylvania affair disappointed at the box office and in the selection of medals.

The U.S. Sesquicentennial Exposition of 1926 was a disaster on many levels. Held as a celebration of the 150th Anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the fair was met with immediate controversy over budget cuts and the sudden retirement and unexpected deaths of senior officials. The event failed to draw sufficient crowds to cover costs and ultimately, the Exposition and its organizing company went bankrupt.

Despite the tumultuous start of the fair and its sad ending, the fair did feature a brilliant display of electric lights, and a title bout between Gene Tunney and Jack Dempsey. Tunney outlasted Dempsey for ten rain-soaked rounds and won the World Heavyweight Title. Dempsey, one of the greatest fighters of the twentieth century, would never reclaim his belt.

In order to defray the costs of the fair, Congress authorized the production of a commemorative half dollar and quarter eagle. The authorizing legislation dated March 3, 1925, legislated the striking of no more than one million half dollars and no more than 200,000 gold quarter eagles. Sales of the coins proved to be just as disappointing as ticket sales for the exposition, with 85% of the struck half dollars and 77% of the quarter eagles returned to the mint for melting (as the fair was held in Philadelphia, it was a short return trip).

Commemorative collectors probably already know this, but the relief on the half dollar and quarter eagle is so low that finding gem-quality examples has proven to be very tough. The half dollar in MS-65 is one of the priciest half dollars in the classic commemorative series. Attractive examples sell for $4,000 or more.

In addition to the coins, four so-called dollar designs were manufactured and sold at the Exposition. An official medal (pictured below) was struck on the grounds on Mint equipment at a Mint exhibit.

The official medal, in copper, bronze, brass, and nickel, features Washington on the obverse and Columbia riding Pegasus above the clouds.

The official medal was designed by Albin Polasek, a noted Czech-American sculptor whose work married the Beaux-Arts style with an erotic, askew naturalism. The Pegasus on the reverse of the medal is a tame motif, more representative of his style than the staid, inscription-heavy obverse.

The State of Connecticut issued a medal in silver, bronze, and gold. Mint Engraver Adam Pietz designed a so-called dollar that features a beautiful female head on the obverse as well as an eagle with a swastika covering its breast on the reverse (more on this in Part Three). Pietz would see only one of his coin designs utilized 20 years later in the form of the Iowa Centennial half dollar.

Wrapping up the Expo’s so-called dollars is a piece commemorating the Medal of Honor. The obverse features a wreath; the reverse shows an eagle overlooking Independence Hall.

Examples of all of the coins and medals struck for the U.S. Sesquicentennial Exposition can be found without too much trouble. Silver and Gold versions of the Connecticut so-called dollar are particularly rare. The Pietz piece is interesting on a number of levels, especially for those who wish to add a companion piece to their Iowa half dollars.


That wraps up Part 1 of our Spotlight on So-Called Dollars. In Part 2, Hubert and I will talk about other interesting so-called dollars, focusing on unusual themes, symbols, events and people, and further discuss the place of so-called dollars in American numismatics.

But before we go, we’d like to point out one very fascinating fact. All of the Expos we talked about in this article took place after the invention of the cinema. As a consequence, there is footage available to us today. Especially noteworthy is film from the Panama-Pacific Expo, which you can watch here.

Special Thanks: Hubert and I would like to thank Tom Hoffman, who, on behalf of his team, provided us with a copy of the 2nd Edition of Hibler & Kappen’s So-Called Dollars: An Illustrated Standard Catalog, which we recommend without reservation. We’d also like to thank American Numismatic Association Executive Director Jeff Shevlin for lending his expertise as we were writing this piece. His book on Charbneau is available here.

Flip of a Coin:

Ever wonder why the term pennyweight is associated with the purity of precious metals? During the reign of King Offa in Dark Ages England, the Mercians began to mint a coin that contained 24 grains of silver. This coin was the very first penny. While the days of making pennies out of silver are long gone, jewelers and assayers still use the term. A pennyweight is the equivalent of 1/20th troy ounce.

Aren’t most mint marks RPMS? Well, not anymore, since mint marks are now part of the digital die. But in the period when mint marks were hand punched, there were lots of opportunities for things to go awry. Some engravers liked to punch and repunch mint marks a number of times to make sure they struck up. Multiply this exercise by hundreds of dies a day and the possibilities for a slightly off-kilter mint mark are staggering. We still like RPMs that make you think Oh my God, how did this get through quality control?… but your run-of-the-mill, microscopically-doubled mint mark – which is only visible in very early die states – isn’t all that special or rare.

Did clad Proof planchets intended for 1971 Eisenhower dollars end up at Denver? The Ike Group thinks so. After scores of brilliant 1971-D Eisenhower dollars have shown up over the years, the Ike Group speculates that these burnished planchets were probably earmarked for Proof coinage. The Mint did not release its first clad Eisenhower dollar Proof until 1973. One has to wonder: Why the delay? And why did so many prooflike planchets enter into circulation in the first year of the coin’s production?

Updated and Re-posted from the original August 2013 article

[2] Swiatek, Anthony and Walter Breen. The Encyclopedia of United States Silver & Gold Commemorative Coins: 1892-1954. New York: Arco, 1981.

[3] HK-223: Photos courtesy of Jonathan Brecher

[5] Photos courtesy of Tom Hoffman

[6] http://www.pabook.libraries.psu.edu/palitmap/bios/Ferris__George.html

[7] Francis, David R. The Universal Exposition of 1904. St. Louis: Louisiana Purchase Exposition Company, 1905. Print. 91

[9] Swiatek, Anthony and Walter Breen. The Encyclopedia of United States Silver & Gold Commemorative Coins: 1892-1954. Arco: New York, 1981.

[10] Hibler, Harold E. and Charles V. Kappen. So-Called Dollars: An Illustrated Standard Catalog. New York. The Coin & Currency Institute, 2008.

[11] http://pauldorpat.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/10/lewis-clark-expo-then-web.jpg

[12] Swiatek and Breen. 131.

[13] Taxay, Don. An Illustrated History of U.S. Commemorative Coinage. New York: Arco, 1967.

[14] Source 2013 Red Book.

[15] Photos courtesy of Tom Hoffman

[17] Photos courtesy of John Dean

[18] Photos courtesy of Tom Hoffman

[19]Photos Courtesy of Robert Mayer

[20] Photos courtesy of David King

[21] Photos courtesy of Fred Holabird

[22] Hibler & Kappen, p. 79.

[24] Photos courtesy of John Dean


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  1. Usage quibble: Various coins complemented each other, not “complimented”

    > “compliment” = congratulation or praise
    > “complEment” = something that adds to or completes another


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