Monday, August 09, 2010

Numismatic Bucket List: 3 Famous Coin Exhibits You Must See

Most of my encounters with great coins or collections have been at large coin shows such as Long Beach or the ANA's World's Fair of Money. They were temporary exhibits of individual rarities, or they were great collections in the process of being broken up as the coins were auctioned off one by one.

So I thought I'd put together a bucket list of 3 coin exhibits that I'd like to see before my time is up. This list is not in any particular order as my hope is to one day make it to all three of them.

#1 The Smithsonian National Numismatic Collection

The National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. has to be on any collector's must see list. With over 450,000 coins, medals, and decorations, and over a million pieces of paper currency, the collection is the largest in North America and one of the largest in the world.

The collection includes coins and currency from all over the world going back to the first coins produced about 2,700 years ago.  There is a large collection of ancient coins from Greece, as well as over 12,000 Russian coins from the collection of Willis DuPont.

The main part of the U.S. collection came from the U.S. Mint's Coin Cabinet that was started in 1838. It contained over 18,000 items when it was transferred to the Smithsonian in 1923. It contains some of the great rarities in U.S. numismatics, including a Brasher half doubloon, two 1933 $20 gold double eagles, the unique 1849 $20 gold double eagle, and the first gold nugget discovered in 1848 at Sutter's Mill that kicked off the California Gold Rush.

#2 The American Numismatic Society's Numismatic Collection

The numismatic collection of the American Numismatic Society (ANS) consists of around 800,000 coins, medals, and other numismatic related items. Like the Smithsonian's collection, the ANS numismatic collection also consists of coins from all over the world including one of the finest ancient coin cabinets.  Great rarities also abound in this collection.

While their headquarters usually has only small, frequently changing coin exhibits, there are larger exhibits of their items on display at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York (read my article on the FRBNY gold vault). It is the main exhibit at the FRBNY that is on my bucket list.

The main ANS exhibit at the FRBNY is called "Drachmas, Doubloons, and Dollars: The History of Money."  The exhibit is a well diversified display of coins from ancient and medieval times through U.S. coins of the 20th century. It also includes among other items, paper money from around the world.

This exhibit also has some great rarities on display, including the famous 1787 New York Brasher doubloon, an 1804 silver dollar, and 1 of only 4 existing Confederate 1861 silver half dollars.

#3 The American Numismatic Associations Money Museum

While the collection at the ANA's Money Museum is smaller than the other two with about 250,000 items, it is no less significant. Plus I like the focus on numismatic history which includes items like the first steam press at the Philadelphia Mint from 1836.

As a collector of U.S. gold coins, what really puts this museum on my bucket list is the Harry W. Bass Collection.  It is one of the finest collections ever assembled of U.S. gold coins, patterns, and paper money. Some of the highlights of the Bass Collection include a unique 1870-S $3 gold piece, 1 of the 4 existing 1804 proof eagle restrikes, and a complete type collection of U.S. gold coins from 1795 through 1933.

There's a Hole in My Bucket

These 3 coin exhibits make up my current bucket list, but visiting and checking these exhibits off my list may not be so simple. While each of these collection have some core items that will probably always be on display, their collections are so large that items being exhibited frequently change.

Major exhibits at the ANA's Money Museum change each and every year, and an ANS exhibit on counterfeit money, currently on display at the FRBNY, is only scheduled through the end of 2010.

So while I may be able to check off the more permanent coin exhibits from my list, the ever changing temporary displays may wind up changing my list from that of a bucket, into more of a bottom-less pit.


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