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The Louisiana Purchase Exposition Gold Dollars

With the precedent set by the World’s Columbian Exposition, the management of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, held at St. Louis, Missouri, in 1904, requested Congress to make part of the general appropriation of $5,000,000 into commemorative gold dollars, the issue to be limited to 250,000 pieces. The special Act of Congress, authorizing these pieces, reads as follows:

[EXTRACT FROM]

[PUBLIC—NO. 182—57TH CONGRESS]

“SEC. 12. That the national commission hereby authorized shall cease to exist on the first day of July, nineteen hundred and five: Provided. That upon the approval of this Act the Secretary of the Treasury shall cause to be coined at the mints of the United States two hundred and fifty thousand gold dollars of legal weight and fineness, to be known as the Louisiana Exposition gold dollar, struck in commemoration of said exposition. The exact words, devices, and designs upon said gold dollars shall be determined and pre-scribed by the Secretary of the Treasury, and all pro-visions of law relative to the coinage and legal-tender quality of all other gold coin shall be applicable to the coin issued under and in accordance with the pro-visions of this Act. And in payment of so much of the five million dollars appropriated by said Act of March third, nineteen hundred and one, to aid in carrying forward said Louisiana Purchase Exposition, the Secretary of the Treasury shall pay said two hundred and fifty thousand gold dollars so coined as aforesaid to the said Louisiana Purchase Exposition Company, subject to all the provisions of said Act, except that payment of said gold dollars may be made at any time upon the request of said exposition company, and upon said company filing with the Secretary of the Treasury a bond in the sum sufficient to protect the Government and satisfy him as to the future performance of all the conditions under which said five million dollars so appropriated is to be paid to the said exposition company … “

Approved, June 28, 1902.

These pieces, the first of our souvenir coins to be struck in gold, were of the value of one dollar and were sold for three dollars each. They were especially adapted for mementoes, since regular gold dollars had not been struck since 1889 and for many years had been treated more as keepsakes and souvenirs than coins. There are two varieties—one, with the head of Thomas Jefferson, who, while President, made the Louisiana Purchase from France for $15,000,000; the other, with the head of the martyred President McKinley, who signed the bill giving the sanction of the Government to the Louisiana Purchase Exposition.

Of each variety, 125,000 were struck and de-posited in the Sub-Treasury at St. Louis. The dies were engraved by C. E. Barber and are excellent examples of die-cutting. The Jefferson portrait was taken from an old mint-medal engraved by John Reich, who during Jefferson’s term of office was employed at the Mint. The McKinley portrait was taken from a medal for which the President gave special sittings.

According to Mint records, exactly 250,238 pieces were struck at the Philadelphia Mint and 250 of the 258-piece excess were later melted down. As on the Lafayette dollar, the date was partly an anticipated one as 75,080 pieces were struck in December 1902, and the remaining 175,178 were struck in the following month. All, however, bear the date 1903.

This issue did not attract public attention as did previous commemorative issues, and until recently they were unknown to most people. Only about 35,000 out of the 250,000 coins were sold, and the remainder were destroyed about 1914—an undeserved fate considering the general excellence of the pieces.

Obv. Bust of Thomas Jefferson to left; around border: UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, all within beaded border.
Rev. In field: ONE / DOLLAR, olive branch, 1803 / 1903; around border: LOUISIANA PURCHASE EXPOSITION; in exergue:•ST. LOUIS•All within beaded border.

Edge.Reeded.14½mm. Gold.

Lettering. Roman.

Same as above, but with bust of President McKinley to left.
The Louisiana Purchase commemorative postage stamps have portraits of Jefferson and McKinley on the two-and five-cent denomination, respectively.

The Jefferson and the McKinley gold dollar at times appear to have been struck in brilliant proof condition. The first hundred pieces were placed in official frames, and duly signed and sealed by Mint officials.

During the period of the Exposition, in order to facilitate the sale of these pieces, quantities of them were mounted for jewelry purposes. Small cardboard boxes were made especially and appropriately printed for these coins.

No record beyond the total number of the pieces which were melted was kept by the Treasury Department. Consequently, as an equal number of each type was coined, probably the same number of each type was melted, It has been estimated, however, that about ten per cent more of the McKinley portrait gold dollars were sold.

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