Friday, May 8, 2009

Coin Friday: Silver Spoon, Gold Dollar

May 8, 2009
Posted by John Dale

(No worries, Coin Monday will still be where it's supposed to be, right on schedule. Today, though, it’s a Friday, it’s hot and muggy in Dallas, and our own John Dale Beety has consented to give your humble host blogger a day off from the blog. It gives me a break and you an extra taste of his skill as a writer and his knowledge of numismatics. John Dale’s coin posts have been very popular on this blog so I am happy to give our readers a little bit extra John Dale this week and thankful to him for letting me jump his post ahead in the queue. Enjoy, and have a good weekend. – Noah)

I was sitting at my keyboard, clicking away, when I heard a small sound to my left.

I turned my head and glanced at my box of coins. The stem of a spoon was sticking up from it. I was instantly suspicious. I knew there had not been a spoon in my box before, and unless my job duties had changed since that morning, I didn’t belong to the Silver and Vertu department! Then I noticed my manager nearby.

“Hey, wait a minute!”

“No takebacks!”

There was little I could do but pick up the spoon and take a look. To my surprise, it was well within the realm of U.S. coins: a commemorative spoon from the Louisiana Purchase Exposition with a 1903 Jefferson gold dollar mounted in the bowl.

The Louisiana Purchase Exposition, more popularly known as the St. Louis World’s Fair, honored the centennial of the Purchase, which added vast amounts of territory to the fledgling United States, including the land on which the fair was held. A slight delay in the celebration, from 1903 (the actual centennial year) to 1904, allowed for a wider range of states and nations to send exhibits. Offered to fairgoers were thousands of different souvenirs, including commemorative coins. The World’s Columbian Exposition, held in Chicago in 1892 and 1893, had established a precedent for silver commemoratives, and with the influence of Farran Zerbe, a noted dealer-promoter of the time, the Louisiana Purchase Exposition marked the nation’s first gold coinage with commemorative designs.

The gold dollar denomination, not struck since 1889, was resurrected for the Exposition’s commemorative coinage. All pieces shared the same reverse, but there were two obverse portraits created: one for Thomas Jefferson, the president who agreed to the Louisiana Purchase, and William McKinley, who would have been president at the time of the Exposition had he not been assassinated. As has often been the case with American commemoratives, hopes for sales far exceeded reality; few people were willing to trade three paper dollars for a single gold one, and a majority of the pieces struck went unsold and were melted.

The commemorative gold dollars were sold on their own, but also mounted in a variety of objects; most often noted are jewelry – such as stickpins and brooches – and commemorative spoons. This spoon has the gold dollar (with Jefferson portrait) mounted in the middle-lower part of the bowl, below a domed building and surrounded by sculpted walkways and water; a caption above describes the area as the “Festival Hall and Cascades.”

On the stem, figures appear on a leftward march toward the bowl, starting with two bison and progressing through horses-and-riders, a covered wagon, and a locomotive; these figures are flanked by commemorative dates, 1803 to the left of the bison and 1903 to the right of the locomotive. The back of the stem shows a notation for silver and text that describes the spoon as an official souvenir of the Exposition. The back of the bowl is engraved “Martin,” but with no surname.

The gold dollar, though lightly worn with minor scratches and hairlines that might indicate a past cleaning, has a pleasing look that suits the spoon well. Exposition souvenirs with their gold dollars inside are elusive and draw plenty of attention when they appear at auction. Look for this spoon, as well as a whole host of other fascinating items, in our online catalog for the Long Beach auction, up now!

Click on the title of this post to leave a comment.

-John Dale Beety


  1. Interesting item!

    A minor point--Chicago's Columbian Exposition was held solely in 1893, not 1892 and 1893, although the commemorative halves were issued in both years.

  2. John Dale here. The point is well taken. Since the Exposition was dedicated in October 1892, I counted that year. The Exposition did not open to the public until May 1893, though, so in that sense it was held only in 1893.