There are a number of interesting side notes about the US commemorative coin series (classic and modern) that don't quite merit one of my deep-dive posts, but may still be of interest to a few folks (other than me!). So, I've decided to post a few of them as I have the time. At this point, I don't know all of the topics that I will cover but I feel comfortable in saying that they'll range from fairly well-known to a bit obscure.
Up first, a bit of "some things never change."
The internet has certainly made it easier for folks to voice their displeasure with the designs/artwork used for US coins
(especially commemorative coins), as well as the prices being charged by the US Mint for its coins, but public criticism of the for-profit model of commemorative coins along with their designs has been around since the very beginning of the series!
In the October 1892
issue of The Numismatist,
the official publication of the American Numismatic Association ( ANA
), the editorial team made it quite clear that they did not support the $1.00 per coin price of the new commemorative souvenir coin:
"The original intention was for their use, primarily as coins of admission, and secondarily, as souvenirs of the Fair.
It is therefore with regret that we note, that the authorities of the Fair are already banking on the cupidity of collectors, curio-seekers, hobby-riders, et hoc.comnes genus
to help them unload these pieces at an enormous profit. We would that in this matter they were doomed to disappointment, but the old adage of Artemus Ward, that "this world contains about thirteen hundred millions of people, mostly fools" needs only the occasion to be verified." [Note: I wasn't familiar with the term "cupidity" - per Merriam-Webster it means "inordinate desire for wealth: avarice, greed." Also, I was completely new to the Latin phrase included in the piece; it means (per Merriam-Webster again) "and everything (else) of this kind." Nice to know, but I don't believe I'll be using the Latin phrase on a regular basis!]
In January and February of 1893
, a syndicated, less-than-flattering editorial was published in several US newspapers. both large and small, including The Boston Globe, The Evening World
(New York, NY) and The Newton Enterprise
(Newton, NC). From the piece:
"The front side of the coin has an elegant likeness of the late Sitting Bull. This, however, is said to be meant for Columbus. The patriotic American can take his choice, and the know-nothings certainly will claim the head to be intended for Sitting Bull because of the gentleman being an American. On the right shoulder appears the letter B. This certainly indicates the location of either a boil or a barnacle." [Note: I did some research, it turns out the "B" actually is the initial of Charles Barber, the designer of the coin's obverse.]
"There is also a likeness of Columbus' ship, under full sail. At first blush the ship seems to be on wheels, but closer examination shows that the two wheels are the eastern and western hemispheres. The ship seems to be surrounded by a herd of porpoises, but probably this is meant for waves." [Note: The origin of the common "ship on wheels" derogatory descriptor of the coin's reverse?]
"There is also a fishing pole rigged out of an after port in the cabin of the ship, and one gathers an idea the venturesome mariner is either baiting his hook and lying about a bite he just had, or has hauled in a fish, for the line is taken aboard ship." [Note: I never realized the pole at the rear of the ship was a fishing pole! I always thought it was a pole for a flag or ensign! You learn something new every day!]
Just a quick pair of examples in support of the sentiment: "Everything old is new again."