Facts About Coin Collecting

Wondering what the name is for an individual that collects coins? That would be a Numismatist. (Pronounced new-miss-ma-tist.) It means “someone who studies and collects things that are used as money, including coins, tokens, paper bills, and medals.”

Interested in the art of coin collecting? This type of collection was once called “The Hobby of Kings”. Today, numismatics is a hobby available to anyone. With coins flooding the internet, anyone with access and a desire to hold history their hand is able to join in on this passion. Believe it or not, the origins of this captivating hobby are quite unusual. Until the 20th century, coin collecting was exclusively a pastime of royalty and wealthy.

The first recorded person to have a coin collection was Augustus Caesar, the first emperor of Rome. He lived from 63 B.C. to A.D. 14, and the eighth month of our year is named after him.

Not only did Augustus keep adding coins to his collection, but he also gave them as gifts. Starting this trend, many of the Roman emperors who ruled after Augustus also had large coin collections. The hobby became even more popular during the Middle Ages, when wealthy individuals and royal families built awesome collections.

This question may have crossed your mind from time to time, how long do coins last? And what happens to them once worn out? Most coins can circulate for about 25 years before they become too worn to be used anymore. That’s a long time when you consider that the average dollar lasts for only 18 months.

The United States Mint recycles worn-out coins it receives from a Federal Reserve Bank. The Mint then sends any usable metal that’s recovered to a fabricator, then repurposes for new coinage.

At first glance, many coins may look almost identical, but when you see the difference in the price tag you may think twice about how similar they really are. The things that affect the value of the coin most are age, rarity, condition, and precious metal. The value of any one coin can be surprising. For example, you can buy some Roman coins that are more than 1600 years old for less than $10.  But then there are some worn 1909 wheat pennies that sell for hundreds of dollars, or more!

Usually, the harder a coin is to find and the more people who want it, the more it’s worth. This is known as the law of supply and demand. It holds true no matter what the collectible.

The motto IN GOD WE TRUST first appeared on a U.S. coin in 1864, during the Civil War. In particular, the two-cent piece; first minted in that year, was the first coin with the slogan.

Since gaining independence, the U.S. has minted coins in denominations that today may seem odd. For example, the U.S. has minted half cents (1793-1857), two-cent pieces (1864-1873), three-cent pieces (1851-1889), twenty-cent pieces (1875-1878), $2.50 gold pieces (1796-1929), $3.00 gold piece (1854-1889), $4.00 gold pieces (1879-1880), $5.00 gold pieces or half eagles (1795-1929), $10.00 gold pieces or eagles (1795-1933), and $20.00 gold pieces (“double eagles”) (1849-1933). Currently, the only coin denominations for circulation being minted are the penny, nickel, dime, quarter, half dollar, and dollar.

Coin collecting is a pastime that has been around for thousands of years. It can grow with you as you find interest in different time periods in history, art-work of a particular coin and culture. There are as many avenues in coin collecting as you wish to travel, and with coins you can venture virtually anywhere around the world and to any period of time back to early human civilization right from the comfort of your home. Coin collecting can be a journey into history that lasts a lifetime – and the first coin to strike your interest may be sitting in your pocket or local coin shop right now.

Enjoy your journey in this very exciting hobby!

The History of St. Patrick’s Day

Saint Patrick’s Day is a cultural and religious celebration held on 17 March, the traditional death date of Saint Patrick (c. AD 385–461), the foremost patron saint of Ireland.

Patrick was a 5th-century Romano-British Christian missionary and bishop in Ireland. What is known about Saint Patrick comes from the Declaration, which was allegedly written by Patrick himself. It is believed that he was born in Roman Britain in the fourth century, into a wealthy Romano-British family. His father was a deacon and his grandfather was a priest in the Christian church. According to the Declaration Patrick was kidnapped by Irish raiders and taken as a slave to Gaelic Ireland when he was sixteen years old. It says that he spent a total of six years working as a shepherd and that during this time he found God. The Declaration says that God spoke to Patrick, and told him to flee to the coast, where a ship would take him home. After making his way home, Patrick went on to become a priest.

Irish Government Ministers travel abroad on official visits to various countries around the globe to celebrate St Patrick’s Day and promote Ireland. The most prominent of these is the visit of the Irish Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) with the U.S. President which happens on or around St. Patrick’s Day.

Saint Patrick’s Day was made an official Christian feast day in the early 17th century and is observed by the Catholic Church, the Anglican Communion, the Eastern Orthodox Church, and the Lutheran Church. The day commemorates Saint Patrick and the arrival of Christianity in Ireland, and celebrates the heritage and culture of the Irish in general. Celebrations generally involve public parades and festivals, céilís, and the wearing of green attire or shamrocks. Christians who belong to liturgical denominations also attend church services and historically the Lenten restrictions on eating and drinking alcohol were lifted for the day, which has encouraged and propagated the holiday’s tradition of alcohol consumption.

Saint Patrick’s Day is a public holiday in the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador, and the British Overseas Territory of Montserrat. It is also widely celebrated by the Irish diaspora around the world, especially in the United Kingdom, Canada, United States, Brazil, Argentina, Australia and New Zealand. Saint Patrick’s Day is celebrated in more countries than any other national festival.

According to the tale, Patrick returned to Ireland to convert the pagan Irish to Christianity. The Declaration says that he spent many years in the northern half of Ireland and redesigned the religious beliefs of thousands. Patrick’s efforts against the religious leaders were eventually turned into a legend in which he drove “snakes” out of Ireland.

Tradition holds that he died on 17 March and was buried at Downpatrick. Over the following centuries, many legends grew up around Patrick and he became Ireland’s most memorable saint.

Conventionally, the Taoiseach presents the U.S. President a Waterford Crystal bowl filled with shamrocks. This ritual began when Irish Ambassador to the U.S. John Hearne sent a box of shamrocks to President Harry S. Truman in 1952. From that moment, it became an annual tradition for the Irish ambassador to present the St Patrick’s Day shamrock to an official in the U.S. President’s administration. However, it was only after the meeting between Taoiseach Albert Reynolds and President Bill Clinton in 1994 that the presenting of the shamrock ceremony became an annual event for the leaders of both countries for St Patrick’s Day.

Needless to say, St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated in many countries and one of the longest-running and largest St. Patrick’s Day parades occurs each year in Montreal, Canada, whose city flag includes a shamrock in lower right corner. The yearly celebration has been organised by the United Irish Societies of Montreal since 1929. The parade has been held yearly without interruption since 1824. St Patrick’s Day itself, however, has been celebrated in Montreal since as far back as 1759 by Irish soldiers in the Montreal Garrison following the British conquest of New France.


In present day, celebrations generally involve public parades and festivals, Irish traditional music sessions, and wearing green clothing, accessories and/or shamrocks. There are also formal gatherings such as banquets and dances, although these were more common in the past. St Patrick’s Day parades began in North America in the 18th century, but did not spread to Ireland until the 20th century. The events have participants from all walks of life, they generally include marching bands, the military, fire brigades, cultural organizations, charitable organizations, voluntary associations, youth groups, fraternities, and so on.

St. Patrick’s Day celebrations have been criticised, particularly for their association with public drunkenness and disorderly conduct. Some argue that the festivities have become too commercialized and have become somewhat cut-rate and have strayed from their original purpose of honouring St Patrick and Irish heritage. Journalist Niall O’Dowd has criticised attempts to recast St Patrick’s Day as a celebration of multiculturalism rather than a celebration of Irishness.

St. Patrick’s Day celebrations have also been criticized for fostering offensive stereotypes of Ireland and the Irish people themselves. An very well known example is the people who partake in dressing in ‘leprechaun outfits’, which are based on derogatory 19th century caricatures of the Irish. On St. Patrick’s Day in 2014, the Ancient Order of Hibernians successfully campaigned to stop major American retailers from selling novelty merchandise that promoted negative Irish stereotypes. This year consider your celebrations and the way you can honor Ireland and Ireland’s beloved Saint Patrick.

The Life of Senator Francis Cockrell

We have a lot of things laying around our shop and today we wanted to delve a bit more into a letter we have here written by Francis Marion Cockrell in which he discusses his reelection as Senator in 1886.

Francis Marion Cockrell was an American politician from the state of Missouri and a Confederate military commander. He served as a United States Senator from Missouri for five terms. He was a prominent member of the famed South–Cockrell–Hargis family of Southern politicians.

Cockrell was born in Warrensburg, Missouri to Nancy (Ellis) and Joseph Cockrell, the sheriff of Johnson County. He had an older brother named Jeremiah Vardaman Cockrell, who was a congressman in the 1890s. Francis Cockrell attended local schools and Chapel Hill College in Lafayette County, Missouri. He studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1855, practicing law in Warrensburg until the outbreak of the Civil War.

At the beginning of the American Civil War in 1861, Cockrell joined the Missouri State Guard as a Captain. After being mustered into the Confederate States Army in the 2nd Missouri Regiment in early 1862 he was promoted to colonel. Cockrell commanded a brigade in the Vicksburg Campaign. He distinguished himself at the Battle of Champion Hill, launching a counterattack that temporarily ousted troops of XVII Corps off the hill. He also took part in the Battle of Big Black River Bridge. His brigade was able to escape just before federal troops seized the bridge.

Cockrell was promoted to brigadier general on July 18, 1863. He went on to fight in many of the battles of the Atlanta Campaign, and participated in Hood’s Tennessee Campaign later that year. In 1865 Cockrell commanded a division in defence of Fort Blakely, Alabama. On April 9, 1865, shortly before the war ended, Cockrell was captured there but was paroled on May 14. After the war Cockrell returned to his law practice in Missouri.

In 1874, Cockrell, who became a member of the United States Democratic Party, was elected to the U.S. Senate from Missouri by the state legislature. His first and only elected office, he served in the Senate from 1875 to 1905, when he retired. He held several committee chairmanships, including the chairmanships of the Claims Committee, Engrossed Bills Committee and Appropriations Committee during his senate career. He received 42 votes for President of the United States at the 1904 Democratic National Convention, but was defeated by Alton B. Parker.

He was appointed to the Interstate Commerce Commission by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1905, serving in that capacity until 1910. In 1911, he was appointed commissioner to negotiate the boundaries between the state of Texas and the New Mexico Territory, which was about to become a state. In 1913, Woodrow Wilson appointed him as the civilian member on the Board of Ordnance and Fortifications for the War Department, where he served until his death in Washington, D.C.

The letter we have reads:

July 10th 1886

E. M. Davidson, Esq.,

My Dear Sir: –

I shall be detained here till after your nominations are made. I must rely upon friends to care for my interests. I have tried to do my whole duty honestly and faithfully and if reelected shall continue to do so. I will gratefully appreciate and remember the valuable services and influence you and render and exert in securing for my reelection the votes of your County Representative and State Senator. All I ask is a free and fair and full expression of the preferences of our Democratic voters and for them to decide whether it is for their best interests to reelect me or to choose a new man. The people are the sovereigns and have the right to require their agents – their County Representative and State Senator – each by his vote to reflect the preference of those who elect them. I had hoped that the question would have been left to voters at the primaries when and where each Democrat would have declared his will and preference. Please see our Democratic voters and get them actively and earnestly so that they will make known to the candidates their preference and will learn the views of the candidates. I shall be glad to hear from you and to serve you when I can.

With best wishes, your obedient servant and friend,

Deliberation of Art or Fraud

James Stephen George Boggs was born in Woodbury, New Jersey on January 16, 1955.

James Boggs began drawing currency in 1984, sitting in a Chicago diner the artist began drawing on a paper napkin as he consumed his breakfast. He began with sketching the number 1, easily recognized on the $1 denomination. Boggs then transformed the image into a piece of art similar to the dollar bill. Eagerly, his waitress offered to buy it. Mr. Boggs refused, but instead payed for his 90 cent tab with the drawing and the waitress gratefully handed him 10 cents in change. Needless to say, at that very moment an idea sparked that would change the path of his life. His drawings of currency, illustrating only one side of the note, came to be known as “Boggs notes”. James Boggs notes were considered to be art. He would tell a collector where he spent the note and the details of the transaction, but he would never sell the notes directly. The buyer would then hunt down the person in possession of the note in order to purchase it. Boggs noted that after the initial transaction the notes would be resold for much more than their face value, it is said that one Boggs notes resold for $420,000.

One of his well known pieces are a series of bills done for the Florida United Numismatists’ annual convention. Denominations from $1 to $50 (and perhaps higher) feature designs taken from the reverse sides of U.S. currency, making minor changes to captions such as: “The United States of America” is changed to “Florida United Numismatists” and the denomination wording is occasionally replaced by the acronym “FUN”. Also changes to the imagery; the mirroring of Monticello on the $2, the Supreme Court building, as opposed to the U.S. Treasury, on the $10 and an alternate angle for the White House on the $20 bill. They were printed in bright orange on one side and featured Boggs’s autograph and thumbprint on the other.

 Boggs viewed his “transactions” as a type of art, but the authorities often viewed him and his work with speculation. Boggs wanted his audience to question and investigate just what it is that makes “money” valuable in the first place. 

“I create images that say things and ask things,” Mr. Boggs said in the 2013 Discovery Channel documentary “Secret Life of Money.” “I take them out into the real world and try to spend them, not as counterfeits, but as works of art that ask us about the nature of money.”

He firmly denied that he was a counterfeiter or forger, but rather maintained that a good business model between informed parties that this performance was certainly not fraud, even if the item transacted happens to resemble currency. Boggs was first arrested for counterfeiting in England in 1986, and was successfully defended by the human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson QC & Mark Stephens and acquitted. As detailed in Geoffrey Robertson’s book The Justice Game, all Bank of England notes now carry a copyright message on the face as a direct result of Boggs’s activities, the idea being that if they cannot secure a counterfeiting charge, then they can at least secure a copyright violation. He was arrested for a second time in Australia in 1989, acquitted and awarded the equivalent of US$20,000 in damages by the presiding judge. Boggs home was raided three times between 1990 and 1992 by the United States Secret Service on suspicion of counterfeiting. Resulting in the raids, 1300 items were confiscated, although no legal case was brought against him. In September 2006, Boggs was arrested in Florida and charged with possession of methamphetamine, possession of drug paraphernalia, and carrying a concealed weapon. He failed to appear in court a few months later.

Police bust Boggs at the Young Unknowns Gallery, London, 1986

“They said I was a counterfeiter,” an indignant Mr. Boggs told The Associated Press in 1992, when agents in the counterfeiting division of the Secret Service raided his apartment near Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, where he was an artist in residence, and took possession of more than 100 of his artworks. “They don’t understand the difference between art and crime.”

With the immense talent he held, it is no wonder prestigious museums sought after this work. Some of the artwork can be found in numerous places, including the Art Institute of Chicago, Smithsonian Institution, Babson College, Wellesley, Massachusetts, Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach, Florida Tampa Museum of Art, Tampa, Florida Spencer Museum of Art, Lawrence Kansas and the British Museum in London, England. Boggs died on January 22, 2017 in Tampa at the age of 62, but his story will live on forever through his work and his legacy.

New Year’s Good Luck Cake

Vasilopita is a New Year’s Day bread or cake in Greece and many other areas in eastern Europe, which contains a hidden coin that is believed to bring luck to the one who obtains the coin. It is associated with Sainr Basil’s day. (Saint Basil’s Feast Day is observed on January 1, the beginning of the New Year and the Epiphany season known as the Vasilopita Observance) January 1, in most of Greece, but in some regions, the traditions surrounding a cake with a hidden coin are associated with Epiphany or Christmas The dough in which the coin is placed varies immensely depending on personal preference and location/region. In some families, instead of dough, it is made from a custard base. The pie is known as Chronópita, meaning New Year’s Pie.

On New Year’s Day families cut the vasilopita to bless the house and bring good luck for the new year. This is usually done at the midnight of New Year’s Eve. A coin is hidden in the bread by slipping it into the dough before baking. At midnight the sign of the cross is etched with a knife across the cake. A piece of cake is sliced for each member of the family and any visitors present at the time, by order of age from eldest to youngest. 

In older times, the coin often was a valuable one, such as a gold sovereign. As time went on, the tradition of a costly coin (in most cases) changed. In more modern times, a gift, money or prize is given to the coin recipient. Many private or public institutions, such as societies, clubs, workplaces, companies, etc., cut their vasilopita on New Year’s Day and the beginning of the Great Lent, in celebrations that range from impromptu potluck gatherings to formal receptions or balls.

How did this tradition start you may ask? In popular belief, vasilopita is associated with a legend of Basil of Caesarea. According to one story, Basil called on the Roman citizens of Caesarea to raise a ransom payment to stop the enemy forces from surrounding the city, cutting off essential supplies with the aim of compelling the surrender of those inside. Each individual of the city gave what they had in gold and jewelry. When the ransom was raised, the  adversary was so embarrassed by the people’s cooperation that he called off the siege without taking a thing. Basil was then tasked with returning the unpaid ransom, but had no way of knowing which items belonged to which family, so he baked all of the jewelry into loaves of bread and distributed the loaves around the city, and by a miracle each citizen received their exact share.

World’s Columbian Exposition

The World’s Columbian Exposition was a world’s fair held in Chicago in 1893 to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival to the New World in 1492. The fair was open for 6 months from May 1, 1893 to October 30, 1893 and boasted a total of 27,300,000 visitors.

The layout of the Chicago Columbian Exposition was, in large part, designed by John Wellborn Root, Daniel Burnham, Frederick Law Olmsted and Charles B. Atwood. It was the prototype of what Burnham and his colleagues thought a perfect city should be. It was designed to follow Beaux Arts principles of design, namely French neoclassical architecture principles based on symmetry, balance, and splendor. The color of the material generally used to cover the buildings façades gave the fairgrounds its nickname, the White City. Many prominent architects designed its 14 “great buildings”. Artists and musicians were featured in exhibits and many also made depictions and works of art inspired by the exposition.

The exposition covered 690 acres and featured nearly 200 new (but deliberately temporary) buildings of predominantly neoclassical architecture, canals and lagoons, and people and cultures from 46 countries. The World’s Columbian Exposition’s scale and grandeur far exceeded the other world’s fairs.

Exposition entry tickets

The fair was planned in the early 1890s during the Gilded Age of rapid industrial growth, immigration, and class tension. World’s fairs, such as London’s 1851 Crystal Palace Exhibition, had been successful in Europe as a way to bring together societies fragmented along class lines.

The first American attempt at a world’s fair in Philadelphia in 1876, drew crowds but was a financial failure. Nonetheless, ideas about distinguishing the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ landing started in the late 1880s. The exposition corporation and national exposition commission settled on Jackson Park and an area around it as the fair site in Chicago.

The fair opened in May and ran through October 30, 1893. Forty-six nations participated in the fair, constructing exhibits and pavilions and naming national “delegates”. The fair was originally meant to be closed on Sundays, but the Chicago Woman’s Club petitioned that it stay open. The club felt that if the exposition was closed on Sunday, it would restrict those who could not take off work during the work-week from seeing it.

The World’s Columbian Exposition was the first world’s fair with an area for amusements that was strictly separated from the exhibition halls. This area, developed by a young music promoter, Sol Bloom, concentrated on Midway Plaisance and introduced the term “midway” to American English to describe the area of a carnival or fair where sideshows are located. It included carnival rides, among them the original Ferris Wheel, built by George Washington Gale Ferris Jr. This wheel was 264 feet tall and had 36 cars, each of which could accommodate 40 people.

Other attractions at the fair included:

  • Life-size reproductions of Christopher Columbus’ three ships, the Niña, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria
  • A series of lectures on the Science of Animal Locomotion in the Zoopraxographical Hall. A zoopraxiscope was used to show moving pictures to a paying public, the hall was the first commercial movie theater.
  • An Anthropology Building featured “The Cliff Dwellers” a rock and timber structure that was painted to recreate Battle Rock Mountain in Colorado, a stylized recreation of American Indian cliff dwelling with pottery, weapons and other relics on display.
  • The “Street in Cairo” included the popular dancer known as Little Egypt. She introduced America to the suggestive version of the belly dance known as the “hootchy-kootchy”.
  • The first moving walkway or travelator. It had two different divisions: one where passengers were seated, and one where riders could stand or walk. It ran in a loop down the length of a lakefront pier to a casino.
The Viking, a replica of the Gokstad ship
  • Norway participated by sending the Viking, a replica of the Gokstad ship. It was built in Norway and sailed across the Atlantic by 12 men, led by Captain Magnus Andersen.
  • Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, where historian Frederick Jackson Turner gave academic lectures reflecting on the end of the frontier which Buffalo Bill represented.
  • The electrotachyscope of Ottomar Anschütz was demonstrated, which used a Geissler tube to project the illusion of moving images.
  • The German firm Krupp had a pavilion of artillery, which apparently had cost one million dollars to stage, including a coastal gun and a breech-loaded gun.
The Krupp Pavilion
  • Architect Kirtland Cutter’s Idaho Building, a rustic log construction, was a popular favorite. The building’s design and interior furnishings were a major precursor of the Arts and Crafts movement.
  • Horticultural exhibits at the Horticultural Hall included cacti and orchids as well as other plants in a greenhouse.
John Bull Locomotive
  • The John Bull locomotive was displayed. It was only 62 years old, having been built in 1831. And a Baldwin 2-4-2 locomotive was showcased
  • Among the other attractions at the fair, several products that are well known today were introduced: Juicy Fruit Gum, Cream of Wheat, and Pabst Blue Ribbon beer

Architecture was also an incredible draw for the Exposition. Most of the buildings of the fair were designed in the neoclassical architecture style. The area at the Court of Honor was known as The White City. Façades were made not of stone, but of a mixture of plaster, cement, and jute fiber called staff, which was painted white, giving the buildings their “gleam”. Architecture critics derided the structures as “decorated sheds”. The buildings were clad in white stucco, which, in comparison to the tenements of Chicago, seemed illuminated. It was also called the White City because of the extensive use of street lights, which made the boulevards and buildings usable at night.

The White City

Other great architectural installments include:

  • The Administration Building, designed by Richard Morris Hunt
  • The Agricultural Building, designed by Charles McKim of McKim, Mead & White
  • The Manufactures and Liberal Arts Building, designed by George B. Post. If this building were standing today, it would rank second in volume and third in footprint on list of largest buildings (130,000m2, 8,500,000m3).
  • The Mines and Mining Building, designed by Solon Spencer Beman
  • The Electricity Building, designed by Henry Van Brunt and Frank Maynard Howe
  • The Machinery Hall, designed by Robert Swain Peabody of Peabody and Stearns
  • The Woman’s Building, designed by Sophia Hayden
Golden Arch at Louis Sullivan’s Transportation Building
  • The Transportation Building, designed by Adler & Sullivan
  • The Fisheries Building designed by Henry Ives Cobb
  • Forestry Building designed by Charles B. Atwood
  • Horticultural Building designed by Jenney and Mundie
  • Anthropology Building designed by Charles B. Atwood

Almost all of the fair’s structures were designed to be temporary; of the more than 200 buildings erected for the fair, the only two which still stand in place are the Palace of Fine Arts and the World’s Congress Auxiliary Building. Three other significant buildings survived the fair. The first is the Norway Building, a recreation of a traditional wooden stave church. After the Fair it was relocated to Lake Geneva, and in 1935 was moved to a museum called Little Norway in Blue Mounds, Wisconsin. In 2015 it was dismantled and shipped back to Norway, where it was restored and reassembled. The second is the Maine State Building, designed by Charles Sumner Frost, which was purchased by the Ricker family of Poland Spring, Maine. They moved the building to their resort to serve as a library and art gallery. The third is the Dutch House, which was moved to Brookline, Massachusetts.

The White City on Fire

Since many of the other buildings at the fair were intended to be temporary, they were removed after the fair. The White City so impressed visitors (at least before air pollution began to darken the façades) that plans were considered to refinish the exteriors in marble or some other material. These plans were abandoned in July 1894, when much of the fair grounds was destroyed in a fire.

The fair garnered many famous visitors and performers such as:

  • Helen Keller, along with her mentor Anne Sullivan.
  • Dr. Alexander Graham Bell, visited the fair in summer of 1893.
  • A Wellesley College English teacher named Katharine Lee Bates visited the fair. The White City later inspired the reference to “alabaster cities” in her poem “America the Beautiful”.
  • The Exposition was extensively reported by Chicago publisher William D. Boyce‘s reporters and artists.
  • There is a very detailed and vivid description of all facets of this fair by the Persian traveler Mirza Mohammad Ali Mo’in ol-Saltaneh written in Persian. He departed from Persia on April 20, 1892, especially for the purpose of visiting the World’s Columbian Exposition.
  • Pierre de Coubertin visited the fair with his friends Paul Bourget and Samuel Jean de Pozzi. He devotes the first chapter of his book ” Souvenirs d’Amérique et de Grèce ” (1897) to the visit.
  • Scott Joplin, pianist, from Texarkana, Texas; became widely known for his piano playing at the fair.
  • Swami Vivekananda visited the fair to attend the Parliament of the World’s Religions and delivered his famous speech “Sisters and Brothers of America!”.
  • Sissieretta Jones, a soprano known as “the Black Patti” and an already-famous opera singer performed at the fair
  • Kubota Beisen was an official delegate of Japan. As an artist, he sketched hundreds of scenes, some of which were later used to make woodblock print books about the Exhibition.
  • Serial Killer Herman Mudgett (H. H. Holmes) attended the fair with two of his victims, Annie and Minnie Williams.
  • Joseph Douglass, classical violinist, who achieved wide recognition after his performance there and became the first African-American violinist to conduct a transcontinental tour and the first to tour as a concert violinist.

The fair also had hundreds of artists featured. From painters, sculptors, and a feature on women’s artists. To list or delve into those talents is beyond the scope of this post.

Mayor Carter Harrison

The fair ended with the city in shock, as popular mayor Carter Harrison, Sr. was assassinated by Patrick Eugene Prendergast two days before the fair’s closing. Closing ceremonies were canceled in favor of a public memorial service.

After the fair closed, J.C. Rogers, a banker from Wamego, Kansas, purchased several pieces of art that had hung in the rotunda of the U.S. Government Building. He also purchased architectural elements, artifacts and buildings from the fair. He shipped his purchases to Wamego. Many of the items, including the artwork, were used to decorate his theater, now known as the Columbian Theatre. Although not available for purchase, The George Washington University maintains a small collection of exposition tickets for viewing and research purposes. The collection is currently cared for by GWU’s Special Collections Research Center, located in the Estelle and Melvin Gelman Library.

Examples of exposition souvenirs can be found in various American museum collections as a way for everyone to remember the incredible World’s Columbian Exposition. One example, copyrighted in 1892 by John W. Green, is a folding hand fan with detailed illustrations of landscapes and architecture. Charles W Goldsmith produced a set of ten postcard designs, each in full colour, showing the buildings constructed for the exhibition. Columbian Exposition coins were also minted for the event. Similarly, the first pressed penny souvenir was a featured exhibit.

The Columbian Exposition has celebrated many anniversaries since the fair in 1893. The Chicago Historical Society held an exhibition to commemorate the fair. The Grand Illusions exhibition was centered around the idea that the Columbian Exposition was made up of a series of illusions. The commemorative exhibition contained partial reconstructions, a video detailing the fair, and a catalogue similar to the one sold at the World’s Fair of 1893.


For More Posts on the World’s Fairs:
The World’s Fair | A History
Seattle’s Architectural Icon: The Space Needle
A History of Pressed Pennies
The Columbian Exposition Coin that Challenged the Way a Nation Views Women
The First Commemorative Stamps
T
he 1933 Chicago World’s Fair Through Vintage Postcards
The 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair Exposition Seen Through Vintage Postcards


Coins of Black History Month

Each February, the United States recognizes, remembers and celebrates the important people and events that have shaped the African-American experience in our country. To commemorate Black History Month this year, we’re celebrating with some of our favorite coins.

1995 $5 Civil War Gold Coin
Housing and commercial development was being urged toward American Civil War battlefields increasingly in the 1990s. Surcharges from the sale of commemorative coins were seen as one means of funding these sites’ preservation as public trusts. Toward this end Congress approved a three-denomination coin set consisting of a copper-nickel-clad half dollar, a silver dollar and a gold half eagle, each of which would be offered in both uncirculated and proof editions.

The obverses of all three coins were designed by Connecticut artist Donald Troiani. The San Francisco Mint struck both editions of the half dollar, as well as proofs of the silver dollar. The uncirculated strikes of the silver dollar came from Philadelphia, while West Point provided both issues of the gold half eagle.

Despite competition from the vast 1995 coin program for the Atlanta Olympics, the Civil War Battlefields commemoratives sold reasonably well. The notable exception was the half eagle, which posted the lowest sales figures yet for this denomination in the modern commemorative series. The half dollar was selected for inclusion in that year’s Prestige Proof Set, which helped its overall sales considerably.

American Liberty 225th Anniversary Coin
The American Liberty 225th Anniversary Coin is a one-ounce gold coin minted to commemorate the 225th anniversary of the U.S. Mint. It was released on April 6th, 2017. A companion series of one-ounce silver medals bearing the same designs was released on October 6th later that year.

The design of the coin, which was the first minted depiction of Lady Liberty portrayed as an African-American woman, sparked a national conversation as a record-high number of viewers watched the U.S. Mint’s live-streamed unveiling in January 2017. The 2017 coin was a result of the exploration of concepts for a new and modern Liberty and was directly inspired by the controversial 2015 African American Liberty designed by another AIP artist.

The usage of an African-American woman on the design sparked a minor controversy within the numismatic community, as some coin collectors voiced their disapproval There is a mintage limit of 100,000 for the gold coins. 14,285 pieces, or 14.3% of the total possible, were sold on the first day that the coin became available on the US Mint catalog.

Booker T. Washington Memorial Half-Dollar
In 1946, the U.S. Mint made history when it released the Booker T. Washington Memorial Silver Half-Dollar — the first-ever U.S. coin to honor an African-American individual. Since that time, groundbreaking leaders and events in African-American history have been featured on 90% silver commemorative coins.

The half dollar was designed by Isaac Scott Hathaway. The obverse depicts Booker T. Washington and the reverse shows the cabin in which Washington was born (now the Booker T. Washington National Monument) and the Hall of Fame for Great Americans with the words “From slave cabin to Hall of Fame.” It was minted in silver between 1946 and 1951.

2009 District of Columbia Duke Ellington Quarter
In release of the Duke Ellington quarter the  U.S. Mint Director Ed Moy said: “Like many great Americans who succeed in what they love doing, Duke Ellington was equal parts talent, hard work, passion and perseverance,”

Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington was born and raised in Washington. He and other black music legends, such as Ella Fitzgerald, helped establish the city’s U Street as an entertainment corridor.

The Ellington coin beat out designs featuring abolitionist Frederick Douglass and astronomer Benjamin Banneker. The coin with Ellington resting his elbow on a piano was officially released Jan. 26 2009.

“With Duke on the coin, we are sending an important message to the world that D.C. is a lot more than a government town,” D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton said.

Prior to the Ellington quarter, the only U.S. coin to depict a black person was a 2003 Missouri state coin that featured explorers Lewis and Clark with a black slave named York, Mint spokeswoman Carla Coolman said. Commemorative coins have also featured black figures but those coins weren’t put into circulation.

Shinplasters

A shinplaster was a common name for paper money of low denomination circulating widely in the frontier economies of the 19th century. These notes were in various places issued by banks, merchants, wealthy individuals and associations, either as banknotes, or circulating IOUs. They were often a variety of token intended to alleviate a shortage of small change in growing frontier regions. They were sometimes used in company shop economies or peonages in place of legal tender.

Shinplasters circulated in the United States from 1837 to 1863, during the period known as the “Free Banking Period.”  According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the name comes from the quality of the paper, which was so cheap that with a bit of starch it could be used to make papier-mâché-like plasters to go under socks and warm shins.

During the “Free Banking Period”, only state-chartered banks existed. They could issue bank notes against specie (gold and silver coins) and the states heavily regulated their own reserve requirements, interest rates for loans and deposits, the necessary capital ratio etc. These banks had existed since 1781, in parallel with the Banks of the United States. The Michigan Act (1837) allowed the automatic chartering of banks that would fulfill its requirements without special consent of the state legislature. This legislation made creating unstable banks easier by lowering state supervision in states that adopted it. The real value of a bank bill was often lower than its face value, and the issuing bank’s financial strength generally determined the size of the discount. By 1797 there were 24 chartered banks in the U.S.; with the beginning of the Free Banking Era (1837) there were 712.

During the free banking era, the banks were short-lived compared to today’s commercial banks, with an average lifespan of five years. About half of the banks failed, and about a third of which went out of business because they could not redeem their notes.

In Canada, the term shinplaster was widely used for 25-cent paper monetary notes which circulated in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The first design was printed on March 1, 1870 and the final design was first printed on July 2, 1923 The term likely arose from the previously issued 5 shilling note (1/4 Pound) which also bore the french term “Cinq Piastre” on the face.

Canadian 25¢ shinplaster

In Australia, shinplasters or calabashes (as they were known in southern Queensland) were a feature of the Squatters’ vast pastoral enterprises, and often circulated in the towns of the bush alongside and in place of legal tender. These private IOUs circulated widely, at times making up the bulk of cash in circulation, especially in the 1840s and 50s.

In some places they formed the core of a company shop economy, circulating as private currencies. They were often of such low quality that they could not be hoarded, and shopkeepers off the property would not take them, as they would deteriorate into illegibility before they could be redeemed.

There are tales of unscrupulous shopkeepers and others baking or otherwise artificially aging their calabashes given as change to travelers so that they crumbled to uselessness before they could be redeemed.

As commerce and trade grew in centres such as Toowoomba, more and more calabashes were issued, and more and more merchants, squatters and others engaged in transactions were forced to give their ‘paper’ in change or as payment for goods and services

Picture via National Library of Australia

Coinage of the Ptolemaic Kingdom

The Ptolemaic Kingdom was a Hellenistic kingdom based in ancient Egypt. The Kingdom’s ruling began with Ptolemy I Soter after the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC and ended with the death of Cleopatra and the Roman conquest in 30 BC.

Hieroglyphic of Ptolemaic Royalty

Coinage of the Ptolemaic Kingdom was in use during the last dynasty of Egypt and, briefly, during Roman rule of Egypt. Ptolemaic coinage was struck in Phoenician weight, also known as Ptolemaic weight (about 14,20 grams). This standard, which was not used elsewhere in the Hellenistic world, was smaller than the most common Attic weight. Consequently, Ptolemaic coins are smaller than other Hellenistic coinage. In terms of art, the coins, which were made of silver, followed the example set by contemporary Greek currencies, with dynastic figures being typically portrayed. The Ptolemaic coin making process often resulted in a central depression, similar to what can be found on Seleucid coinage.

The Ptolemaic Kingdom was the first dynasty to introduce coinage to Egypt. The first Ptolemaic mint was in Memphis and was later moved to Alexandria. The Ptolemaic Kingdom flourished largely due to their success in monetizing the Egyptian society. Before the Ptolemaic period, metals such as copper, and grain, were used as mediums of exchange. Ptolemaic rule brought, in addition to the coinage, banks and tax farming to the country.

For most of its history, the kingdom vigorously enforced a policy of a single currency, confiscating foreign coins and forcing its territories to adopt Ptolemaic coinage. Parallels between Athens and the Ptolemaic Kingdom can be drawn as Athens attempted to introduce a sole currency in its empire. In the rare cases when these territories were allowed their own currency, such as the Jewish community in Palestine, they still had to observe the Ptolemaic weight. These policies and increasing difficulty to obtain silver, caused monetary isolation of the Ptolemaic coinage.

Ptolemaic territories in 200 BC

During the reign of Ptolemy I Soter, the founder of the kingdom, diverse local currencies were allowed to exist. They may even have been encouraged. The exact date of elimination of non-Ptolemaic coinage varies by region. In Egypt and Syria, Ptolemy I discontinued local coinage, which had Alexander the Great’s image struck in them, after feeling secure in power. Such coinage with Alexander on them were very common in the successor states of the Macedonian Empire. Cypriot coinage was eliminated when the local monarchies ceased to exist. In Cyrene it took even longer to eliminate municipal coinage. In Crete the local currency was never suppressed. Uniformity of the currency was sought flexibly, yet opportunistically.


Ptolemy V Epiphanes’ bronze coin.
Ptolemy II Philadelphus and his sister-wife Arsinoe II

Artistically, Ptolemaic coinage closely followed contemporary Greek currencies. A commonplace symbol of the Ptolemaic dynasty was an eagle standing on a thunderbolt, first adopted by Ptolemy I Soter. The more peculiar Ptolemaic coinage included so-called “dynastic issues”. This rare coin featured Ptolemy II Philadelphus who married his sister Arsinoe II; Egyptian rulers had traditionally married their sisters to signify a connection to sacred union between the deities Osiris and Isis. A medal-like coin with one side portraying Ptolemy II and Arsinoe II, and the other side portraying Ptolemy I and Berenice I was struck after the death of Arsinoe II.

Cyprus had many important mints, and the island struck large amounts of Ptolemaic coinage from 200 BC to 80 BC. Cyprus was also richer in silver than Egypt. Most of the coinage from second century BC are easily identifiable and datable because they include abbreviations for mints and dates for both gold and silver coinage. Mints from this period include Salamis (abbr. ΣA), Kition (abbr. KI) and Paphos (abbr. Π, and later as ΠA).

After the demise of the Ptolemaic Kingdom, and annexation into the growing Roman Empire, silver coinage struck by the Ptolemies still continued to circulate. The Ptolemaic silver coinage mostly disappeared by the time of Emperor Nero. It is assumed that by that time, in the first half of the first century, the Ptolemaic silver coinage was probably recycled into a new currency, Roman tetradrachms, struck at mints managed by the Romans. Roman Egypt remained monetarily as a closed system, like it had been under Ptolemaic dynasty. Roman denarii and aurei did not circulate in provincial Egypt.

N. C. Wyeth

Newell Convers Wyeth, known as N. C. Wyeth to the public, was an American artist and illustrator. He learned from artist Howard Pyle and became one of America’s greatest illustrators. During his lifetime, Wyeth created over 3,000 paintings and illustrated 112 books. The first of these books, Treasure Island, was one of his masterpieces and the proceeds paid for his studio. Wyeth was a realist painter and the camera and photography would compete with his craft. Sometimes seen as melodramatic, his illustrations were designed to be understood quickly.


One More Step, Mr. Hands by Wyeth, 1911, for Treasure Island

Wyeth was born in Needham, Massachusetts and was an ancestor of Nicholas Wyeth, a stonemason, whom came to Massachusetts from England in 1645. Later ancestors of Wyeth had prominent participation in the French and Indian Wars, the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, and the American Civil War, passing down rich oral histories and tradition to Wyeth and his family. Many of this stories provided great inspiration for the subject matter of his art. His maternal ancestors came from Switzerland, and during his childhood, his mother was acquainted with literary giants Henry David Thoreau and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. His literary appreciation and artistic talents appear to have come from his Mother.

He was the oldest of four brothers and as children they spent much time hunting, fishing, and enjoying other outdoor pursuits, and doing chores on their farm. His varied youthful activities and his naturally astute sense of observation later aided the authenticity of his illustrations.

His mother often encouraged his early inclination toward art; Wyeth was notably excellent at watercolor paintings by the age of twelve. He went to Mechanics Arts School to learn drafting, and then Massachusetts Normal Art Schoo, where painting instructor Richard Andrew advised him to become an illustrator, and then the Eric Pape School of Art to learn illustration, under George Loftus Noyes and Charles W. Reed.

When two of Wyeth’s friends were accepted to Howard Pyle’s School of Art in Wilmington, Delaware and Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, Wyeth was invited to join them in 1902. Pyle was the “father” of American illustration, and Wyeth immediately meshed with his methods and ideals. Pyle’s teachings often included excursions to historical sites and impromptu dramas using props and costumes, meant to stimulate imagination, emotion, atmosphere, and the observation of humans in action—all necessities for his style of illustration. Wyeth’s exuberant personality and talent made him a standout student. He admired great literature, music, and drama, and he enjoyed spirited conversation. Pyle in his teaching would stress historical accuracy and tinged it with a romantic aura. But where Pyle painted in exquisite detail, Wyeth veered toward looser, quicker strokes and relied on ominous shadows and moody backgrounds.

N.C. Wyeth in his Studio

On February 21, 1903, Wyeth’s first commission as an illustrator appeared on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post. That year he described his work as “true, solid American subjects—nothing foreign about them.” It was a spectacular accomplishment for the 20-year-old Wyeth, after just a few months under Pyle’s tutelage. In 1904, the same magazine commissioned him to illustrate a Western story, and Pyle urged Wyeth to go West to acquire direct knowledge, much as Zane Grey had done for his Western novels. In Colorado, he worked as a cowboy alongside the professional “punchers”, moving cattle and doing ranch chores. He visited the Navajo in Arizona and gained an understanding of Native American culture. When his money was stolen, he worked as a mail carrier, riding between the Two Grey Hills trading post and Fort Defiance, to earn enough to get back home. He wrote home, “The life is wonderful, strange—the fascination of it clutches me like some unseen animal—it seems to whisper, ‘Come back, you belong here, this is your real home.'”

On a second trip to the West two years later, he collected information on mining and brought home costumes and artifacts, including cowboy and Indian clothing. His early trips to the western United States inspired a period of images of cowboys and Native Americans that dramatized the Old West. His depictions of Native Americans tended to be sympathetic, showing them in harmony with their environment, as demonstrated by In the Crystal Depths (1906).

Upon returning to Chadds Ford, he painted a series of farm scenes for Scribner’s, finding the landscape less dramatic than that of the West but nonetheless a rich environment for his art: “Everything lies in its subtleties, everything is so gentle and simple, so unaffected.” One of his paintings,Mowing (1907), created during this time, was among his most successful images of rural life.

In 1908, Wyeth married Carolyn Bockius of Wilmington and settled in Chadds Ford to raise a family on 18 acres near the historic Brandywine battlefield. By then commissions were coming in quickly. His hope had been that he would make enough money with his illustrations to be able to afford the luxury of painting what he wanted; but as his family and income grew, he found it difficult to break from illustration.

Wyeth created a stimulating household for his talented children Andrew Wyeth, Henriette Wyeth Hurd, Carolyn Wyeth, Ann Wyeth McCoy, and Nathaniel C. Wyeth. Wyeth was very sociable, and frequent visitors included F. Scott Fitzgerald, Joseph Hergesheimer, Hugh Walpole, Lillian Gish, and John Gilbert. According to Andrew, who spent the most time with his father due to his sickly childhood, Wyeth was a strict but patient father who did not talk down to his children. His hard work as an illustrator gave his family the financial freedom to follow their own artistic and scientific pursuits. Many of his children and grandchildren carried on lives of art and success.

By 1914, Wyeth loathed the commercialism upon which he became dependent, and for the rest of his life, he battled internally over his capitulation, accusing himself of having “bitched myself with the accursed success in skin-deep pictures and illustrations.” He complained of money men “who want to buy me piecemeal” and that “an illustration must be made practical, not only in its dramatic statement, but it must be a thing that will adapt itself to the engravers’ and printers’ limitations. This fact alone kills that underlying inspiration to create thought. Instead of expressing that inner feeling, you express the outward thought… or imitation of that feeling.”

By the 1930s, he restored an old captain’s house in Port Clyde, Maine, named “Eight Bells” after a Winslow Homer painting, and took his family there for summers, where he painted primarily seascapes. Museums started to purchase his paintings, and by 1941, he was elected to the National Academy and exhibited on a regular basis.

One of Wyeth’s many illustrated books

In 1945, Wyeth and his grandson (Nathaniel C. Wyeth’s son) were killed when the automobile they were riding in was struck by a freight train at a railway crossing near his Chadds Ford home. At the time, Wyeth had been working on an ambitious series of murals for the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company depicting the Pilgrims at Plymouth, a series completed by Andrew Wyeth and John McCoy.

Significant public collections of Wyeth’s work are now on display at the Brandywine River Museum in Chadds Ford, and in Maine, at the Portland Museum of Art and the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland. The Brandywine River Museum offers tours of the N. C. Wyeth House and Studio in Chadds Ford. The home and studio were designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1997. The home and studio are open to the public for tours. His studio is set up as if he has just left — the palette he used on the day of his death sits by his last canvas.