Lewis and Clark Gold Dollars

Numismatists love the artifacts associated with the Lewis and Clark expedition, which departed from Missouri in 1804, journeyed northwest to the Pacific Ocean at the outlet of the Columbia River, then returned. Along the way they distributed peace medals to the Native Americans, including the Washington Seasons medals and medals with the portrait of Thomas Jefferson.

Some time ago the Wall Street Journal ran a front page article, “Lewis and Clark Are Met With a Yawn After 200 Years.” Brooks Barnes delineated a string of observances scheduled along the original route, all of which drew disappointing attendance. The state of Washington made plans for 10 million people to show up to help celebrate, but fewer than a million showed any interest. Great Falls, Montana, expected a lot of activity, but its celebration laid an egg, saddling the city with $535,000 in debt.

Today in 2007, new coins produced for the celebration, such as the nickel five-cent pieces with “Ocean in View” and other motifs, remain very popular, even if the public does not appreciate the history involved—or at least does not appreciate it enough to pack up and go to the Pacific Northwest to help celebrate.

The Centennial of 1904-1905

It seems that the situation wasn’t all that much different a century ago when the centennial of the expedition was being celebrated. There were two commemorative coins, but they created a yawn with both numismatists and the public. A bit of background, drawing upon the writer’s 1992 Commemorative Coins of the United States: A Complete Encyclopedia:

On April 13, 1904, a congressional act provided the following:

“The secretary of the Treasury shall, upon the request of the Lewis and Clark Centennial and American Pacific Exposition and Oriental Fair Company, cause to be coined at the mints of the United States not to exceed 250,000 gold dollars, of legal weight and fineness, to be known as the Lewis and Clark Exposition gold dollar, struck in commemoration of said exposition.”

The name Lewis and Clark Centennial and American Pacific Exposition and Oriental Fair Company probably takes the booby prize for the title of any American fair. Today, not even the most studied numismatist is apt to remember it.

Farran Zerbe, the entrepreneur who facilitated the issuance of the 1903 Louisiana Purchase Exposition gold dollars, was the moving force behind this legislation as well, although his name did not officially appear in connection with it. The authorized quantity of a quarter million pieces was identical to that approved earlier for the Louisiana Purchase Exposition and reflected Zerbe’s hopes and aspirations for widespread sales. In early 1904 Zerbe was still dreaming that the 250,000 gold dollars struck for the 1903 event and sold then and at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair would be a hit. Offered at $3 each and vastly overhyped, only 35,000 were eventually sold, with the rest returned to the Philadelphia Mint and melted.

Now with the new coins, Zerbe was dreaming again. In his 1938 study for the American Numismatic Society, The Commemorative Coinage of the United States, David M. Bullowa told what happened. It is seen that the Mint was wiser this time around and did not make 250,000 coins in advance.

“Although the Mint records state that 60,069 pieces were struck, 25,028 dated 1904 and 35,041 dated 1905, these figures do not tell the true story. Of the 25,028 struck in September 1904 at the Philadelphia Mint, 10,025 were sold, and 15,003 were melted down at the San Francisco Mint. The fair management ordered from the Philadelphia Mint 10,000 pieces dated 1905. This mint, prior to its summer closing, struck an additional 25,000 during March and June, to meet possible orders; and as none of these were needed subsequently, the entire 25,000 were melted. In other words, about 10,000 of each date were distributed, and 40,000 of the 60,000 pieces struck were returned to the melting pot.”

It is seen that even with only 60,069 struck, the sales were an unmitigated disaster.

In the Numismatic Press

Very little information concerning the 1904 and 1905 Lewis and Clark gold dollars appeared in the numismatic press, and it can be supposed that the editor of The Numismatist, Dr. George F. Heath, who had condemned the folly of the earlier 1903-dated Louisiana Purchase Exposition gold dollars, simply elected not to print any publicity notices that Zerbe may have sent in. In any event there was very little said about the 1904 and 1905 Lewis and Clark coins in contemporary publications. However, the July 1904 issue of the American Journal of Numismatics noted that the first 25,000 of the new souvenir dollars had been received by the First National Bank of Portland, Oregon from the Philadelphia Mint. “They will be sold for $2 each, and to the purchaser of five an additional one will be presented,” the account related.

Numismatists, burned by the collapse of the market of the 1903 Louisiana Purchase gold dollars, now available for less than the $3 issue price with few buyers in sight, largely ignored the new 1904 and 1905 Lewis and Clark coins.

The Lewis and Clark Exposition took place in Portland, Oregon in 1905, so the idea of producing pieces dated 1904 is subject to question. In any event, Zerbe, who did not have a permanent address and who at the time was constantly traveling around the United States, utilized the firm of D.M. Averill & Company, 331 Morrison Street, Portland, to handle orders by mail, whereas Zerbe himself sought to sell quantities to dealers by mail and at the fair in 1905 to the general public. Other coins were sold locally through banks and other outlets.

In early 1905 Averill offered 1904-dated dollars by mail at $2.50 each and 1905 pieces for $2 each, falsely noting concerning the 1904 coins: “These are nearly exhausted.” Relatively little else is known concerning the distribution of the Lewis and Clark gold dollars, and although approximately 10,000 of each 1904 and 1905 were saved from the melting pot, today the coins are much rarer than these figures indicate. Lewis and Clark Exposition gold dollars are at least several times rarer than the 1903-dated Louisiana Purchase Exposition issues. The present writer supposes that relatively few were sold to numismatists or moved in bulk to dealers such as B. Max Mehl. Instead, judging from the condition of most examples known today, the majority must have gone to the general public—if not at the Lewis and Clark Exposition itself, then additionally at later fairs and expositions in which Zerbe maintained concessions.

Today the 1905 Lewis and Clark gold dollar is far and away the rarest commemorative gold dollar in Mint State, simply because very few were purchased by numismatists who would have preserved them carefully. Runner up in rarity is the 1904. In contrast, of the 1922 Grant Memorial commemorative gold dollars, 5,000 were struck with a “plain” obverse field and 5,000 were struck with a five-pointed star, the last to create a variety for collectors. Virtually all of these were sold to numismatists, with the result that each of these 5,000-mintage gold dollars is a dozen or times more plentiful in gem preservation than is the 10,000-mintage 1905 Lewis and Clark.

Also, the 1904 and 1905 commemoratives are dearly loved today by numismatists who know the story (as related above). Those who simply consult mintage figures probably wonder why these issues are higher priced!

Our Congratulations to Chet Krause

Numismatic News, first issue dated October 13, 1952 was a single sheet of newsprint measuring 11 ½ by 17 inches. Chet Krause, in Iola, Wisconsin, had a dream. The mailing was sent to 600 people. A mission statement, sort of, was included in the first issue:

“Far away from the coin clubs, far away from coin shops, live thousands of collectors who rarely see another person whose interests are in harmony with his. His collecting is known only to a few, and these are not especially interested except that he has so much money. This collector has been neglected…”

“It will be through the columns of this paper that all collectors will have an opportunity to trade and correspond with one another from coast to coast. We shall be able to buy or sell or trade with collectors who have duplicated accumulations, etc., which they would gladly part with to get hold of something they might like to add to their collections.”

This was the beginning, and as the years went by, Numismatic News evolved into a weekly, filled with timely news, advertisements, editorials, articles, and more. In the meantime, Krause Publications grew beyond Chet’s or anyone else’s expectations. Cliff Mishler joined the organization, which by that time had included Ed Rochette (who moved to Colorado Springs when the American Numismatic Association Headquarters building was constructed there in the 1960s, and remained to become “Mr. ANA” for a generation later) and other talent. As more years passed, the company published dozens of books and magazines, as it does today, becoming a giant in the business. In numismatics, its current publications include the tried and true Numismatic News plus The Bank Note Reporter, World Coin News, and Coins magazine, not to overlook a veritable shelf of reference books.

Recently, in New York City on the evening of January 11th, the American Numismatic Society honored Chet Krause at its annual Gala. The ballroom of the Waldorf-Astoria was filled with hobby leaders and friends who came to be a part of what proved to be a truly memorable occasion.

Chet has been a great friend of Stack’s and our staff ever since the 1950s. We were delighted to be among the prime sponsors of the recent Gala and recognize Chet for his unique contributions to numismatics.

“Gold,” a Memorable Exhibit in New York City

The American Museum of Natural History, New York City, has mounted a wonderful exhibit, “Gold,” which has been on display since November 18, 2006, and will continue until August 19th of the present year. Banners heralding “Gold” are on displayed along Broadway to the west of Central Park.

A large gallery has been set aside for one of the finest displays of gold ever put together, a grand and even larger successor to the gold-themed show at the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show (the world’s largest such gathering) several years ago, showcasing “The Ship of Gold” and more, and the exhibit last year at the Houston Museum. For the general public the new show is sure to be highly educational. For anyone with a numismatic inclination it will be even more so.

The walk-through at the New York City display begins with showcases exhibiting gold in its natural forms, with stunning clusters of native metal on view along with gold ores. Then comes a section on the geology of gold, its discovery, mining, and famous gold rushes of the past (we all know about California, but several others were important as well). Beyond that a room is devoted to the “golden ages” of mankind, featuring objects of art, beauty, utility, and worship crafted in gold over a period of thousands of years, and from many different parts of the world. Nearly all items are loan exhibits, with the list owners reading like a Who’s Who in American Arts.

Of commanding numismatic importance is the long room titled “Lost and Found,” which showcases gold as treasure coins, ingots, and other artifacts from shipwrecks. Treasure from the S.S. Central America comes to the fore, with a full set of different types of ingots from the various assayers, on loan from Dwight Manley and Q. David Bowers, who also sponsored related Central America items from private sources (the treasure was completely sold as of several years ago), including the unique “Eureka” bar, the largest ever found, as well as displays of coins, a section of wooden chest immersed in water, with clusters of double eagles attached to each other, still numismatically unexamined. (Wonder if there are any of the 1854-O or 1856-O?)

The fifth room in the Gold exhibit describes the gold standard as part of the monetary system and has a fortune in solid ingots belonging to the United States Treasury Department, stacked like so much cordwood. Cases of gold coins from the collection of the American Numismatic Society are on view, including pieces from ancient times down to the 20th century, the last including, as might be expected, a pair of MCMVII Saint-Gaudens twenties, so as to show the obverse and reverse.

Then comes the “golden achievement” gallery, where gold plated trophies such as the Oscar and Emmy are displayed, along with gold records of famous recording artists, and other items in which gold forms a part of the title, showcasing accomplishments and value. A gift shop completes the tour, and offers a selection of historical as well as numismatic books relating to gold, together with carrying bags, shirts, caps, mugs, and other souvenirs, not to overlook a DVD with images and information.

“Gold” is well worth seeing—perhaps as Guide Michelin might suggest, even worth a special trip!


This issue’s quiz endeavors to be comprehensive—touching on coins, tokens, medals, and paper money. Get six or seven right and you are doing fairly well. Anything higher than that ranks you in the expert class.

  1. Certain Vermont copper coins dated 1788 bear on the obverse the portrait of:
    1. Alexander Hamilton
    2. George Washington
    3. King George III of England
    4. Ethan Allen
  1. The seated goddess on the reverse of many British coins was derived from:
    1. A portrait of Queen Victoria
    2. A sculpture by Thorvaldsen
    3. A motif on ancient Roman copper coins
    4. A sketch by W.T. Wyon
  1. After the Civil War, serious discussion was given to opening a branch mint in this particular location. A building was constructed, but the facility never went into operation. The location was:
    1. The Dalles, Oregon
    2. St. Louis, Missouri
    3. North Tonawanda, New York
    4. New York City
  1. A numismatic item from the far side of the world, dated 1935, has long been a favorite with collectors. It is the:
    1. Kangaroo half penny
    2. Hong Kong trade dollar
    3. Bird of Paradise crown
    4. Waitangi crown
  1. In the summer of 1862, in the East and Midwest all coins were hoarded, and not even one-cent pieces were seen in circulation. However, in this location there were huge quantities of American copper and silver coins:
    1. San Francisco, California
    2. Cuba
    3. Montreal, Canada
    4. Denver, Colorado
  1. The American Numismatic Society, New York City, was:
    1. Founded in 1858 by teenager Augustus B. Sage and his friends
    2. Advisor to Theodore Roosevelt and Augustus Saint-Gaudens concerning the new gold coinage of 1907
    3. Founded in Philadelphia in 1857, then relocated to New York City
    4. Limited in membership to those interested in ancient coins, until the policy was changed in 1908
  1. Dr. George F. Heath, who established The Numismatist in 1888, and assisted with the founding of the American Numismatic Association in 1891, was a physician in Monroe, Michigan. He was also:
    1. The inventor of the phenakistoscope, a magic lantern projecting device
    2. A founder of the American Philatelic Society
    3. An author of novels and film scenarios
    4. Mayor of his city
  1. Washington quarter dollars dated 1975:
    1. Were distributed only in Mint sets
    2. Were never struck
    3. Were coined to the extent of over 100,000,000 pieces and are common today
    4. Designed by Frank Gasparro
  1. In 1957, Dwight D. Eisenhower was in the White House and:
    1. Bank Note Reporter was first published in Camden, South Carolina.
    2. IN GOD WE TRUST first appeared on small-size paper money.
    3. An 1861 Confederate “Montgomery Note” sold for the record price of $10,000
    4. The Bureau of Engraving and Printing went from intaglio to offset printing.
  1. Not a great deal was known about mintmarked coins in 1859 when M.W. Dickeson’s American Numismatical Manual was published, a handsome volume with color illustrations. Certain coins of a C mintmark were attributed to having been minted in:
    1. Cincinnati
    2. Chicago
    3. California
    4. Cleveland

Answers: #1 (2), #2 (3), #3 (1), #4 (4), #5 (3), #6 (1), #7 (4), #8 (2), #9 (2), #10 (3).

A Numismatically Unpublished Interview

Richard Winslow III, a long time friend of the firm and long-time contributor of interesting historical matter to the Numismatic Sun and other things we publish, recently sent this item published in the Philadelphia Times in 1884, and reprinted in the Portsmouth Daily Chronicle of December 2, 1884. It provides what seems to be an interview from Col. Oliver Bosbyshell, coiner at the Philadelphia Mint. Bosbyshell was one of many Mint officials who enjoyed lining their pockets and augmenting their personal bank accounts with patterns and other rarities, some discussion of which will be found in Q. David Bowers’ The History of United States Coinage, 1979, where you can read that Bosbyshell had rare patterns for sale, varieties that had never been made available to collectors who did not have special connections.

So far as we know, this interesting item has never been published in a numismatic journal before:

“Outside Work” of the Mint

“Oh, yes,” said Col. Bosbyshell, coiner, at the Mint, “we make a great many medals, and we have manufactured coins for several other countries. In this mint, however, our principal foreign work is the making of dies. For instance, the coinage of the Sandwich Islands. We made the dies and the coins were struck off at San Francisco. I have a set of them.”

Col. Bosbyshell produced a Sandwich Island silver dollar, a pretty coin, the same size as the United States dollar, with the bust of Kalakaua I., king of Hawaii, on the obverse, and on the reverse the arms of the country and the value of the coin.

“These are known as the ‘Spriggins dollars,’ so called because a wealthy sugar-grower in Hawaii found the money to have the coins made. Here is a dime we made for the republic of Bolivia. That is, we made the dies for complete coinage, dollars, halves, quarters, dimes, and half-dimes. They were struck off, I believe, by a private firm in New York. We also make quite a large number of medals. Last year we struck off 111 gold, 877 silver, and 5,725 bronze. These are made for agricultural, mechanical, and horticultural societies, university prizes, and in large numbers for army marksmanship. But the greatest number we made for one society last year were 5,000 bronze medals for the Knights Templars’ pilgrimage to San Francisco.”

“Who supplies the metal for this casting?”

“We supply the gold and silver and the base metals are generally brought here by the people wanting the medals struck off.”

“Do you strike off gold coins for collectors?”

“We keep what are called proof specimens for cabinets and collections. The die is polished carefully and the coin is produced as perfect in every respect as possible. They are not made so careful for circulation. These are as beautiful as medals, and our medals are works of art.”—Philadelphia Times.

A mention of the “Spriggins dollar,” is quite interesting. Either the reporter did not ask for the spelling of the name, or Bosbyshell had no clue. The dollars were in fact sponsored by sugar magnate Claus Spreckels of Hawaii, with the entire coinage of 1883 silver dimes, quarters, half dollars, and dollars amounting to a total face value of $1,000,000.