Princeton displays coin collection

While growing up in the New York City area, my mother felt that her children should go out and see the area which we lived. New York has a lot to see and do, but many do not visit the attractions even though many are a short subway ride away. Vacations were the same, whether it was to the Pennsylvania Dutch Country or Cooperstown, the destination was always something more than just seeing the sights.

After I started collecting coins, one of the trips was to the Chase Manhattan Bank Money Museum. Before the museum closed in 1974 and its assets were donated to the Smithsonian Institute for a tax deduction, the Money Museum was something for a wide-eyed pre-teen to see. I remember there was a Chinese Money Tree, a bronze tree structure with holed coins attached to its structure. Although I later learned it was a symbol of good luck, the image was important since my parents used to tell me, “Money doesn’t grow on trees.” Of course, the precocious child in me used the image to contradict that claim!

Museums tell the story of our history with props. With notable exceptions, numismatics are amongst the props used to tell the stories. Hollywood-themed museums have checks signed by the producers of major motion pictures and endorsed by actors. Political exhibits display the medals used to entice voters to vote for them. Colonial recreations use scrip that looks like paper money of the time to allow you to buy in their shops—Colonial Williamsburg used to do this many years ago.

Princeton University's Firestone Library

Princeton University’s Firestone Library

To add to the stories, Princeton University reported that part of Princeton’s collection of ancient and medieval coins will be on permanent display at the Firestone Library on the Princeton campus. Princeton boasts a collection of over 110,000 pieces including coins, tokens, paper money, medals, and military decorations.

In 2015, members of the Princeton University Art Museum Student Advisory Board (SAB) proposed that the library created the exhibit to supplement their education into ancient and medieval history. Constantin Weickart, a member of the SAB said, “I got interested in coins through courses in Late Antiquity, and basically all my professors used coins in their lectures. I saw how important coins are not only as objects but also as historical sources. Princeton has one the best coin collections in the world.”

SAB members Weickart, Daniel Elkind, and Hannah Baumann designed the exhibit including writing the labels that were associated with the coins and other images. They worked with Dr. Alan Stahl, the University curator of numismatics.

“[The coin collection] is there primarily for educational use. A lot of classes visit the coin collection during the course of the year,” Stahl said. “Students come to do research for term papers or get images of coins to use in presentations.”

Stahl added that the exhibit is also open to outside scholars for their research, especially since the coin collection will not be part of the rotating exhibit hall but part of the permanent display.

Although the collection is maintained for research, the Princeton Library is open to the public allowing anyone to visit the exhibit. Outside researchers can contact the library to gain access to their collection and some of the collection can be viewed online.

Sample of Princeton Collection
Credits

ANA members should visit Colorado Springs

I am in Colorado Springs attending meetings at the American Numismatic Association Headquarters about updating the technology that is being used to support the education mission of the ANA. I will talk about my time in Colorado Springs over the weekend, but let me talk about being at the ANA Headquarters.

After walking into the reception area, to the right of the reception desk is the museum store that leads to the Rochette Money Museum. Even with the current exhibition about the history of the Civil War in numismatics, the first floor also has the first steam press used by the U.S. Mint, the McDermott/Bebee specimen 1913 Liberty Head nickel, and an 1804 silver dollar. There is also a balance from the Denver Mint.

On the other side of the main level is the Harry W. Bass, Jr. collection of gold coins and rare patterns. Bass put together the finest and most complete set of gold coins ever assembled. After Bass died, his foundation donated a portion of the collection to the ANA. I posted some of the pictures to Twitter and Pintrest and will post more when I return home, but pictures do this collection justice. You have to come here to see it for yourself.

If you are an ANA member, you should make a trip to Colorado Springs to see the Money Museum. Aside from being a benefit of your membership, the ANA has an impressive collection that is nicely displayed and worth spending the time seeing. Numismatically, there is not a display like this in the United States, especially since the Smithsonian’s National Numismatic Collection was taken off of exhibit. The ANA Money Museum is the only place you can see a real half-union pattern, typesets of every gold coin ever struck by the U.S. Mint, and even the oldest known surviving currency note.

Do you like Hobo Nickels? It’s here. Assortment of Confederate currency? They’re here, too. Examples of world currency? That’s in the lower level gallery. It is near examples of colonial currency including two Maryland notes I have in my collection.

But wait, there’s more. Do you want to learn more about what you’re looking at? On the other side of the lobby is the Dwight Manley Library. In the Manley Library you can find nearly every book ever printed on numismatics including government reports, price guides, specialty books, and books on nearly every topic of numismatics.

The library also has the oldest known illustrated coin book, dating back to the 16th century. It uses images of ancient coins to talk about the various rulers of the time. This book and the oldest book about numismatics, which does not have images, written in Latin.

Before you leave the library, stop at the old card catalog case and see the printing press that ANA founder, Dr. George F. Heath, used to print the first six editions of The Numismatist.

Yes, you can check out books from the library and have them mailed to you. Yes, you can see the traveling exhibits at various shows around the nations. But to get the full impact of what the ANA has to offer, you have to come to Colorado Springs and see for yourself.

Aside from figuring out when I can schedule a return trip, I want to know why I received three, new 2013 White Mountain quarters struck in Philadelphia when I am 70 miles away from the Denver mint.

Catching Up On Whitman’s Baltimore Show

Those following the weather-related events around Washington, DC have seen how a little wind can set the local electric companies into a tizzy. Most of us in the effected areas feel that the restoration experience more represents the Keystone Cops rather than a responsible utility company. The last few blog posts have been previously scheduled. Now that power is restored and the refrigerator has been cleaned and restocked, it is time to talk numismatics.

Before the storm, I attended the Whitman Baltimore Expo. While their June show may be the smallest of the three shows that are put on in Baltimore, it still remains a premier show on the east coast, only rivaling its other two shows and F.U.N. for being amongst the best of non-A.N.A. shows. This may be a biased view since the Baltimore Show was the first show I attended when I returned to numismatics following the untimely passing of my first wife. But I am still amazed how Whitman can put on a good show three-times per year!

Friday, after a morning appointment and a delay in leaving, I backed out of my garage and headed to the highway. Over the last year, there is a new highway that will bring me to I-95 a lot quicker than driving down to the Capital Beltway. The ride was a pleasure since it new highway is a toll road and people seem to be allergic to tolls. My problems began when I exited to I-95 North. An accident and two major construction projects extended the usual one-hour trip to nearly two-and-a-half hours! I should be used to this type of traffic living in the D.C.-area, known as the worst on the east coast, but Capital Hill is not the only place where one could find mindless acts.

I could not park in my usual location because it was full, so I was further delayed by trying to find parking near the convention center. Thankfully, my new hip allows me to walk further distances and I was only 35 minutes late for the talk by Don Kagin. While I did arrive in time to take some pictures (a very small sample are on Pinterest), I wish I could have been there for his entire talk.

Before walking the bourse floor, I did have business to conduct, some of which I will discuss at another time. Suffice to say that I took the opportunity to see some people, shake hands, and show my appreciation for their work. Amongst the people I was able to see was Michelle Coiron, Director of sales for Star-Spangled 200 and David Crenshaw, General Manager of Whitman Expos. Both do a great job for their organizations and deserve a sign of appreciation.

Then it was time to hit the bourse floor. As opposed to other times I was at the show, there seemed to be quite a bit activity even as the day wore on. I was pleased to see quite a number of people attended the show that late on a Friday. It keeps the dealers happy and at their tables. I really did not see an exodus begin until about 5:30, about a half-hour before closing.

I spoke with a few dealers who said that business was steady. Most of the coin dealers seemed to be happy while most of the currency dealers called the show a little slow. If anything, I was a little disappointed with some of the currency dealers. With my interest in Maryland colonial currency, I was looking at their inventory for something I could add to my collection. I did not find much colonial currency and what I did was not from Maryland. The only dealer who had any currency in stock from Maryland had 1774 notes, which are the easiest to find.

Since I was late, I passed a number of dealers I spoke with in the past so I could cover as much of the floor as possible. I was not in much a buying mood but I was able to find the 2012 silver one-ounce Chinese Panda and Australian Koala. Both beautiful coins and will be added to what I call my “silver dollar” collection—silver coins 38-40 millimeters in size, like the American Silver Eagle, British Britannia, and Canadian Maple Leaf.

Being in a good mood and wanting to do some thing different, I did spend a lot of time with the exonumia dealers. I saw some really wonderful medals, tokens, and encased coins that really piqued my interest. Rather than buying just anything, which I could have done given my good mood, I applied a little personal discipline and stuck to my goal of finding something neat at every show but limit it to fit in my collection of New York City-related numismatics.

While searching through one dealer’s stock I found my “oh neat” item from New York. What I found was made of pewter, 35½mm in diameter, 3⅓mm thick, and holed on the top. It became irresitable after reading the obverse that says, “Two Cities As One/New York/Brooklyn.” On the reverse in true Victorian style, it says “Souvenir of the Opening of the East River Bridge/May 24th, 1883/1867-1883.” In 1915, New York City renamed it the Brooklyn Bridge.

On May 24, 1883, thousands of people crowded lower Manhattan and Brooklyn for the grandest of all ceremonies from all over the area—even as far away as Philadelphia. The list of dignitaries was a Who’s Who of the political America that included President Chester A. Arthur, New York Governor Grover Cleveland, and New York City Mayor Franklin Edson. The carriage carrying President Arthur and Mayor Edson lead the parade surrounded by a very large cheering crowd.

At 1:50 PM, the processional arrived at the entrance of the new bridge, President Arthur and Mayor Edson left their carriage and crossed what was the world’s longest suspension bridge arm-in-arm to a cheering crowd who paid $2 for tickets to watch from the bridge. The band played Hail to the Chief as ships who came to the ceremony and anchored around the East River blew horns to honor the President. Navy ships who were invited to the ceremonies took turns giving 21-gun salutes.

When they arrive in Brooklyn, they were greeted by Brooklyn Mayor Seth Low The three men locked arms and marched to the Brooklyn Pier (today, the area of Brooklyn Bridge Park) to complete the ceremony dedicating the bridge to the people of the New York City and Brooklyn.

Growing up on Long Island, my late mother insisted that during some of our breaks from school that we play tourist and visit various places in and around New York City to learn about where we are from. During the trips to Rockefeller Center, a place I would work in the 1990s, we would visit the Chase Manhattan Bank Money Museum. Up until it was closed in 1977, it held one of the best collection of numismatic items outside of the Smithsonian Institute. Ironically, the Smithsonian was the recipient of some of the items in the museum following its closure. Another beneficiary was the American Numismatic Society who still retains their part of the Chase Manhattan Collection.

This museum was source of fascination, especially after I learned about collecting while searching through the change I made delivering the afternoon Newsday on Long Island. Somewhere, buried in a box, I have a pamphlet from one of my visits to the Chase Money Museum. I remember the cover was blue and it had a “money tree” on the front. As a youngster, that was significant because my father would lecture me by saying, “money doesn’t grow on trees.” Although the item was made to look like a tree with coins coming off the branches, it was a source of comic relief at home. Otherwise, I do not have a souvenir from the museum. Until now!

Searching through boxes from the same dealer I bought the Brooklyn Bridge medal, I found an encased Lincoln Cent from the Chase Money Museum. In fact, I found several from various dates. Of the ones I found, I bought one with a 1956-D Lincoln Cent that still had its red luster! Even though I could not have visited the museum in 1956—it was before I was born—it was the only coin that looked uncirculated. Rather than try to find one that would have been from the time I could have visited, I picked the better looking coin. Now if I could find my pamphlet, it would make a great part of my New York City collection.

My next show will be the American Numismatic Association’s World’s Fair of Money in August at the Philadelphia Convention Center. I will have a lot planned for those few days and should make for an interesting story. Stay tuned!

Honoring Our Veterans

On the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” in 1918, hostilities were ended on the Western Front of World War I. Although this is accepted as the end of the “War to End All Wars,” fighting continued across the Russian Empire and in areas of the old Ottoman Empire. A year later, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed November 11 Armistice Day as a national holiday to celebrate those who served and honor those that died.

Alvin King, a shoe repair shop owner in Emporia, Kansas, had the idea to celebrate all veterans on November 11. King lobbied the city of Emporia to close in honor of all veterans. Representative Ed Rees of Emporia shepherded a bill through congress to rename the holiday Veterans Day to honor all who have served. President Dwight Eisenhower signed the bill into law in 1954.

On Veterans Day, we pay tribute to our veterans, to the fallen, and to their families. To honor their contributions to our Nation, let us strive with renewed determination to keep the promises we have made to all who have answered our country’s call. As we fulfill our obligations to them, we keep faith with the patriots who have risked their lives to preserve our Union, and with the ideals of service and sacrifice upon which our Republic was founded.

If you are looking for a way to honor veterans, consider supporting The Army Historical Foundation and their effort to build The National Museum of the United States Army. You can support their efforts by donating to the organization or by purchasing a 2011 United States Army Commemorative Coin. Available as a $5 gold coin, $1 silver coin, and half-dollar clad coin, the surcharges ($35 gold, $10 silver, and $5 clad) will be paid to The Army Historical Foundation to support the construction of the museum.

Take this opportunity to honor the nation’s veterans and support this worthy effort.

To all that have served…
To all that have given the ultimate sacrifice…
To the families of these honored service members…

THANK YOU!

 From the Veterans Day, 2011 Presidential Proclamation signed by President Barack Obama.
Veterans Day 2011 poster courtesy of the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Coin image courtesy of the U.S. Mint.

Exploring Charlotte Numismatically

Many years ago, my father accepted a job with a company named North Carolina National Bank in Charlotte. Growing up on Long Island, I knew this was going to be a culture shock. What I knew about the south was printed in the newspapers. No matter how my parents tried explain that living in Charlotte was not that bad, I was skeptical. It did not help when my parents bought a house just beyond the city limits in a neighborhood with no street lights and was very quite. A sharp contrast from an area that was across Jamaica Bay from JFK Airport!

Charlotte is an interesting city with some interesting quirks. For as long as I remember, Charlotte has always been concerned with its image. Charlotteans are so worried about what the rest of the world thinks of them that they lose sight with the concept of “just be yourself.” While this attitude continues, Charlotte has moved up in the “major leagues” by concentrating on itself and building itself into something more than a 2½ horse town and Atlanta’s little sister.

One thing that Charlotte has going for it is that it is really the financial capital of the south. Charlotte is second to New York as being the largest banking centers in the U.S. Charlotte was the home of that little bank named North Carolina National Bank. Today, that bank operates under the name of Bank of America. It also was the home of First Union before being bought by Wachovia which was later purchased by Wells Fargo. Charlotte is the home of Wells Fargo’s east coast operations.

I bring this up after reading a Charlotte Observer story, “Museums of Money”that appeared last week on their website. The story begins by reminding us that Charlotte has had a long financial history dating back to the 1799 discovery of gold of Conrad Reed’s farm along Little Meadow Creek in nearby Cabarrus County. Conrad’s son John further explored the area in 1802 and began mining operations in 1804. The Reed Gold Mine is now a privately owned historic landmark open year round to visitors. You can still pan for gold to find the slivers still floating in the waters.

The story was prompted by the opening of the new Wells Fargo History Museum in the building they purchased from Wachovia in downtown Charlotte. The museum pays tribute to the gold and banking heritage of the area along with the history of Wells Fargo dating back to its founding in 1852. You can read about Wells Fargo’s history on line and see some the artifacts at their museums nationwide at www.wellsfargohistory.com.

Another museum mentioned is Mint Museum of Art. With the discovery of gold in the Charlotte area, congress authorized the first branch mints outside of Philadelphia. The U.S. Mint in Charlotte was opened in 1837 and was the first mint ousted of Philadelphia to strike gold coins. The Charlotte Mint produced over $5 million in gold coins until it was taken over by the Confederacy after North Carolina seceded from the Union in 1861. After the war its status was changed to an assay office. When the building was set to be demolished in 1931, a group of private citizens bought the building and moved it a few miles south of its downtown Charlotte location. The building was rededicated in 1935 as the Mint Museum of Art. Today, the museum has expanded to a new location in downtown Charlotte and the location of the original Mint building is called Mint Museum Randolph. The Randolph location has a small gallery dedicated to when it produced coins including a model of the layout showing where the coins were struck and stored along with examples of the half and quarter eagles struck at the old Mint.

Not to be outdone, Bank of America has a its flagship museum at its corporate headquarters in Charlotte. The Bank of America Heritage Museum does focus more on its heritage from its founding as North Carolina National Bank in 1961, but does recognize the full history of all the banks that it acquired over the years which dates its history back to The Massachusetts Bank founded in 1784. If your interest leans to the Bank of America before being purchased by Nations Bank, their museum in San Francisco will provide you with that opportunity. For those not in either location, the Bank of America Heritage website provides some information of interest.

One museum of note was the Levine Museum of the New South and its permanent exhibit “Cotton Fields to Skyscrapers.” This award willing museum concentrates more on the growth of Charlotte and the area from the end of Civil War until today. One of the exhibits shows one of the first ATMs developed by IBM in Charlotte first used by First Union bank.

So if you are in, near, or traveling to Charlotte, these are all good places for a numismatist to go and explore.

Famous Coin Collections

As collectors progress in their collecting pursuits, we begin to think about the great collections and how we compare. To give you an idea of what some of the most famous and extensive collections are like, the following is a list of current, past, and two special government collections.

National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian Institute
The only way to start this list is with the National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian Institute, the world’s largest numismatic collection. With over 1.6 million coins, tokens, medals, and other numismatic objects, the collection includes United States, world, and ancient coins. The collection contains rare coins and patterns not seen anywhere else in the world. Amongst its holdings are famous rarities include all varieties of the 1804 Draped Bust Silver Dollar, a 1913 Liberty Head Nickel, and two 1933 Saint Gaudens $20 Double Eagle coins. Also in the collection is a Brasher Doubloon, sometimes called the United State’s first gold coin, and a 1974 aluminum Lincoln Cent created by the U.S Mint to try to convince congress to allow for its production.

Unfortunately, the Smithsonian Institute has taken the National Numismatic Collection off display. Curators are incorporating the coins into other displays and creating travel exhibitions that have appeared in other museums and at large coin shows. You can visit the Smithsonian’s online virtual coin exhibits and read more about the collection online.

Edward C. Rochette Money Museum
The Edward C. Rochette Money Museum at the American Numismatic Association headquarters in Colorado Springs is the largest museum dedicated to the study of United States coins and currency that also covers the history of numismatics. With over 250,000 pieces, the collections contains famous rare coins including the George O. Walton specimen 1913 Liberty Head Nickel, an 1804 Draped Bust Silver Dollar, and one of the three known 1866 No Motto Seated Liberty Silver Dollars.

The Rochette Money Museum is the home of the Harry W. Bass, Jr. Collection. Bass was interested in United States gold coins and had built the most complete collection ever assembled, including many one-of-a-kind specimens, of gold coins from 1795 through 1933. Bass’s collection includes the only complete set of $3 gold pieces including the rare 1870-S, complete set of gold coins and patters from 1834-1933, and a set of 1896 “Educational Series” silver certificates including test printings and uncut sheets.

Read more about the Rochette Money Museum and all of their collection on the ANA’s website.

Coin and Currency Collections at the University of Notre Dame
University of Notre Dame Libraries Department of Special Collections boasts one of the largest collections of colonial coins and currencies in the United States. The coin collection includes an Oak Tree one-shilling coin, a Continental dollar, and a 1792 half disme—the first coin-type struck by the newly established United States Mint. The colonial currency collection includes samples from nearly every emission (issue) from all thirteen colonies and lottery tickets that were used to raise money to pay the costs of the Revolutionary War.

The collection also includes Washington Tokens and Confederate Currency and our Nineteenth Century American tokens. You can visit the colonial collection on line at www.coins.nd.edu.

Penn Museum Archaeology and Anthropology Coin Collection
The University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology has one of the most complete collections of ancient coins. But rather than display them as a coin collection, the curators at the museum keep the coins with the various sections. Visit the ancient Roman section, and you can see the coins that defined the rule of the Roman Empire and the ancient Greek collection is very impressive. All coins were found during archaeological visits to the regions of ancient civilizations. You can read more about the Penn Museum at www.penn.museum.

The Fitzwilliam Museum Coin Collection
The Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, England has a nearly complete collection of ancient Roman coins issued after the murder of Nero. Amongst it collections are British and other Campaign and Gallantry Medals, European Renaissance medals, unique copper tokens handed out by the Cambridge chandler in 1668, and coins found casually and archaeological discoveries throughout England. The Fitzwilliam boasts of ongoing research into areas such as Indian and Islamic coinage. If you cannot visit The Fitzwilliam in Cambridge, you can see parts of their collection on line.

Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
The collection at the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (National Museums in Berlin) is well known as being very comprehensive and diverse covering the beginnings of coinage through the coins of today. With over 500,000, it is one of the largest collections in Europe. Staatliche Museen boasts large collections of Greek, Roman, and European coins from the Middle Ages to today. They also have an extensive collection of art medals dating from 1400.

In addition to the coins and medals, the collection also contains an extensive collection of paper currency primarily from Europe and items used as money from all over the world. The non-coin collection includes tools and dies that were used to strike coins in Berlin since the 17th century. The Staatliche Museen online English version of their online catalog can be found here.

Numismatic Museum, Athens
One of Greece’s oldest museums, the Numismatic Museum located in the Heinrich Schliemann mansion in downtown Athens, Greece. The Numismatic Museum collections has over 500.000 pieces of mostly coins but includes medals, lead seals, gems, weights, and minting objects dating from the 14th century BC until today. The collection includes a remarkable display of Greek coinages from Athens, Macedonia and Alexandria, Magna Graecia, and other Greek leagues and alliances. Modern coin galleries include coins from the Ottoman Empire through Greece joining the European Union. Read about their collection online at www.nma.gr.

State Hermitage Museum
Located in Saint Petersburg, Russia, the collection at the Sate Hermitage Museum is one of the most popular coin exhibits in Europe. With over 1.2 million pieces, it is the largest collection known outside of the United States. The largest segment of their collection tracks this history of money in Russia from the ninth century through today.

The Hermitage Museums’ Oriental collection boasts of coins, money ingots, dies, coin-shaped amulets and primitive currency of Asia, Africa, and neighboring Atlantic and Pacific islands. The collection includes a collection of very rate Sassanian coins and the 19th century Chinese silver money ingots that are considered amongst the finest collection in the world.

The Coin Room is in the main museum building at Palace Square in Saint Petersburg, which is closed on Mondays. Discover more about their collection on their website at www.hermitagemuseum.org.

Louis E. Eliasberg, Sr. Collection
One of the most famous coin in United States numismatic history belonged to Louis E. Eliasberg. Eliasberg was a Baltimore financier who is the only person ever to build a complete set of United States coins. In 1950, he achieved his goal of building a collection of regular issue United States coins comprising all then-known dates and mintmarks when he purchased the last US gold coin and silver dime missing in his collection.

Eliasberg continued to collect turning his attention to rare world coins and medals. When he died in 1976, his collection was divided between his two children. The coins were sold in three auctions in 1982, 1996, and 1997 realizing nearly $44.9 million. Recently, the Eliasberg Collection of World Coins and Medals was auctioned in 2005 for more than $10.1 million.

The John J. Ford, Jr. Collection
John J. Ford, Jr. was a controversial figure in the world of numismatics, but his collection was legendary. Ford’s collection include colonial coins and currency from all 13 colonies, rare confederate pennies, and one of a kind tokens from the earliest days of colonial North America through the Great Depression. As a partner in the New Netherlands Coin Company, the auction catalogs Ford wrote became industry references.

Ford began selling his collection via auction in 2003. It was fitting that Stack’s of New York City handled the auction since Ford started his numismatic career as a youngster delivering coins for the famed company. Ford’s collection was sold in 10,855 lots during 21 auctions over five years bringing in over $56 million in sales. The auction catalogs were so meticulously written using Ford’s previous writings that they have become references.

John J. Ford, Jr. died in 2006 at the age of 81 leaving a numismatic legacy befitting a great collection, but leaving questions as to whether there were other pieces and writings hidden somewhere.

King Farouk I of Egypt
Saying that King Farouk I of Egypt lived in excess would be an understatement. From the time he took the throne in 1936 until his overthrow in 1952, Farouk used the Egyptian treasury to acquire rare works of art, gold, and a phenomenal coin collection. Farouk regularly worked with dealers in the United States and Great Britain to buy the best of the best from around the world.

After his overthrow in 1952, the new military government worked with Sotheby’s of London to sell Farouk’s collections. Farouk had accumulated the finest gold coins and many rarities from around the world. Notably, the collection included 8,500 gold United States coins including the only known complete set of Saint Gaudens $20 Double Eagle coins.

The auction caught the eye of the United States government who noticed that Lot 333 contained a 1933 Double Eagle that was considered illegal to own. The government convinced Egyptian authorities to remove the coin from the auction but it was never returned to the United States government as requested. The entire auction of King Farouk’s items sold for over $150 million.

The 1933 Saint Gaudens Double Eagle turned up again in 1996 when British coin dealer Stephen Fenton tried to sell the coin at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York to an American dealer. Fenton was arrested. This set off a legal battle for the next five years over the coin. The case was settled in 2001 and the coin was removed from its holding place in the World Trade Center, a few weeks before the attack.

In an astonishing one-lot auction on July 30, 2002, Sotheby’s sold what is now called the Farouk-Fenton Specimen for $7.59 million to an anonymous bidder. The auction price was increased by $20 that was paid to the United State Treasury since it issued the coin and had to ensure their books are balanced. To date, that is the highest price spent on one coin.

The United States Mint
Little is publically known about the collection at the United State Mint since the collection is not on display to the public. We do know that each of the U.S. Mint’s branches has a collection of material used at the branch and that this material contains trial pieces, dies, galvanos (artists proofs of coin designs), and medals. In a video recently released by the U.S. Mint, viewers are shown a collection of assay medals. These medals were created for the Assay Commission that used to verify that the coins struck by the U.S. Mint contained the proper metal content.

The U.S. Mint has rarely displayed their collection. At times, parts have been on display in the lobby of the U.S. Mint branches and at national coin shows, but only the employees at the U.S. Mint know the extent of this collection.

The Bureau of Engraving and Printing
Unlike the their counterparts at the U.S. Mint, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP), the agency responsible for printing our currency, regularly displays parts of their collection when they can. Pieces can be seen in the tour areas of the BEP facility in Washington, DC and at major coin shows. In recent years, BEP has brought its “Billion Dollar Exhibit” to many shows. The exhibit features more than $1 billion of rare U.S. paper currency that includes sheets of $100,000 notes, Treasury bonds and Gold and Silver Certificates.

The BEP collection dates back to the founding of the bureau in 1862. The collection reportedly contains notes, sheets, vignettes, test printings, and printing plates of every note and stamp every printed by the BEP. It is an extraordinary collection that very few have seen.

Coin Collection at the National Museums in Berlin

As I do research for an article on great coin collections from around the world, I was looking into the coin collection at the Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin (National Museums in Berlin). The collectioncollection at the Staatliche Museen is well known as being very comprehensive and diverse covering the beginnings of coinage through the coins of today. With over 500,000, it is one of the largest collections in Europe. Staatliche Museen boasts large collections of Greek, Roman, and European coins from the Middle Ages to today. They also have an extensive collection of art medals dating from 1400.

In addition to the coins and medals, the collection also contains an extensive collection of paper currency primarily from Europe and items used as money from all over the world. The non-coin collection includes tools and dies that were used to strike coins in Berlin since the 17th century. The Staatliche Museen online English version of their online catalog can be found here.

Curators and museum staff made an introductory video about the collection. The narration is in German with English subtitles. Maybe it will entice someone to visit the collection and tell me about it!

Spend Nights at the Smithsonian

When I was a youngster and was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I gave the typical answers of a child too young for the 1960s to have an effect yet unknowing of what the future would bring. After graduating high school and going to college down one road, I was greeted with many forks in that road and ended up programming computers. In those days, it was the beginning of the explosive growth of an industry that set the stage to the Internet revolution. While it has been a fun ride, there are times when I had not travelled so far down this road. This may be one of those times.

The Smithsonian Institution, the museum and research facility founded on the bequeath by James Smithson following his death in 1829, has a job opening for curator of the National Numismatic Collection at the National Museum of American History. According to the job post, the person hired for this job will carry “out the research, collections management, exhibitions development and education mission of the museum.”

What a fantastic opportunity for someone who has an interest in numismatics and history as researched through numismatics. As part of the job, you could potentially handle some of the most priceless coins in history including the 1933 Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle, 1804 silver dollar, and even the Series 1934 $100,000 gold certificate—though not a coin a very significant artifact of U.S. history. The Smithsonian has coins from the Byzantine Empire, the coinage of Spain that played a role in the early economic history of the United States, and gold rush coins.

The job is with the federal government and paid on the general schedule (GS) at grades 12 or 13, depending on previous experience. GS-12 ranges from $74,872 to $97,333 per year including the adjustment for locality pay. If you are hired as a GS-13, the range is from $89,033 to $115,742. As a Fed, you will be eligible for one of the best benefits packages available to all government workers, even members of congress. There is a competition for various insurance programs, the Thrift Savings Plan is a protected retirement plan for government workers, leadership training, and other programs that keeps good people working for the federal government. You can read more about working for the federal government at the website for the Office of Personnel Management.

If you are selected for the job, you would be working in Washington, D.C. on the National Mall where the Smithsonian museums are located. Within the same area are nearly all of the government agencies, monuments, memorials, the capital and the White House. Even for those of us who live here it is cool being able to pass by the U.S. Capital building and the White House on a regular basis.

The downside is that the job is in Washington, D.C., regularly rated as having the worst traffic problems after the Los Angeles area. Although the recession has lowered housing prices, they remain high since the presence of the federal government has kept unemployment low in this area. Good housing can be found in desirable areas of the region including further away from the District with access to mass transportation so you can commute downtown.

If this job was available 15 years ago, I would have applied. The job may will probably not be like Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian but it looks like a fantastic opportunity. I hope that someone with a love for numismatics is able to land this job.

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