As I note at the start of each of these "Melting Pot" posts, I've written multiple times about the subject coin(s) - this time the Louisiana Purchase Exposition (LPE) Gold Dollars - and prefer not to repeat too much of those previous posts here, so check out the links below for my previous posts on the topic coin(s) which provide more detail about the LPE, the coins themselves and the involvement of the US Congress that brought about their creation.
The United States purchased the Louisiana Territory from France in 1803. To help celebrate the centennial of the purchase, a World's Fair/Exposition was planned to be held in St. Louis, Missouri. Originally, the Exposition was scheduled to open in 1803 - the centennial year - but various delays caused the opening to be pushed into 1904. Ultimately, the Exposition ran from April 30 through December 1, 1904.
Congress made appropriations for the participation of the US Government in the Exposition and for the LPE Gold coins via Public Law during the 57th Congress in 1902. The LPE provisions were included among many others in the Civil Sundry Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 1903 - the coins did not have a standalone Act. The Act authorized a maximum of 250,000 Gold Dollars, to be paid as part of the $5 million Exposition appropriation made by Congress.
The Act became Public Law in June 1902 (Public Law 57-182) which provided ample time for the Exposition Company to work with the Treasury Department / US Mint on finalizing the designs for its coin and getting them produced for the Exposition. It was decided to strike two different coins within the Authorization; though their reverse design was shared. On the obverse, one coin presented a portrait of Thomas Jefferson, US President at the time of the Louisiana Purchase, with the other coin depicting William McKinley, the US President who signed the Exposition's authorizing legislation into law about six months before he was assassinated at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo in 1901.
Overall, essentially an equal number of each design was struck by the Mint between December 1902 (75,080 coins) and January 1903 (175,178 coins) - including 258 assay pieces. The complete authorization of 250,000 was struck by the Mint for the Exposition Company. Farran Zerbe, coin dealer, future American Numismatic Association ( ANA
) president, enthusiastic promoter of numismatics and alleged (by some) huckster, was awarded the numismatics contract for the LPE and established a booth at the Exposition from which to sell the coins. His booth featured his exhibit "Money of the World."
The coins, priced at $3 each, did not sell nearly as well as expected. Zerbe, to his credit, tried a variety of methods to increase sales, including creating gold jewelry (e.g., brooches, pins) that featured the coins, but he could not drive sales to the desired goals. Ultimately, 215,250 of the coins were returned to the Mint to be melted. Records were not kept for the distribution between the two design types that were melted, but it is generally assumed that the net distribution of each type is approximately 17,500 (~50% of remaining coins) though some believe the Jefferson type to be slightly more plentiful.
The return of the coins to the Mint took place roughly a decade after the Exposition closed (i.e., 1914 vs. 1904). Zerbe continued to promote the coins in the interim, with examples available in the marketplace on a regular basis, sometimes at prices of just $2 each (sometimes less).
IMO, it's a sad story for coins marking a seminal event in US history - the US essentially doubled in size with the purchase - 15 states, in whole or in part, were formed from the Louisiana Territory. Coins recalling its purchase should have done better IMO!1903 Louisiana Purchase Exposition Gold DollarsThomas Jefferson Type William McKinley Type
For other of my posts about commemorative coins and medals, including more on the Louisiana Purchase Exposition gold coins, see: Commems Collection.
For a list of posts specifically about the Design Details of the 1903-04 Louisiana Purchase Exposition Gold Dollars, see:
- Design Discussions - 1903-04 Louisiana Purchase Exposition Gold Dollars
For a look at the souvenir commemorative medals struck by the US Mint for the LPE, check out:
- 1903/04 Louisiana Purchase Exposition - Medal