Going through the Smithsonian's artifacts can sometimes yield big surprises. For instance, the recent discovery of a design for a $100 gold coin.
Jeff Garrett, a numismatist, or coin expert, was examining the Smithsonian's National Numismatic Collection when he discovered an original sketch by George T. Morgan, an artist often considered America's greatest coin designer. Morgan wasn't designing a special-edition quarter or cent, but an entirely new coin -; the $100 Union.
But the notion was that most Americans wouldn't want to carry a $100 gold coin in their pockets -; the proposed piece would have weighed one-third of a pound.
The $100 Union would not have entered general circulation, but would have been used in international transactions. Morgan seemed to have designed the coin with that fact in mind -; the sketch depicts a seated Lady Liberty. To her right, Morgan drew a harbor with an incoming ship that symbolizes global commerce.
But the U.S. Mint never made the $100 Union -; in fact, Morgan's sketch is the only proof that a coin so large was ever considered.
Why wasn't the coin ever produced? By 1877, the United States faced a paper currency shortage in California, prompting the government to consider minting large-denomination coins. The government did make two experimental $50 Half Union gold coins, though neither was produced for circulation. The problem was that 1877 proved to be one of the worst years of the 1873-79 economic depression -; few people had jobs, much less a need for large-denomination gold coins.
Ironically, the current recession has prompted many investors to take an interest in coin collecting -; gold and silver retain their intrinsic value no matter the state of the nation's economy. For this reason, the New York Mint, a private mint, partnered with the Smithsonian to strike Morgan's $100 Union. The coins can't be used as currency -; only the U.S. Mint can make U.S. coins -; but they are a stunning collectible based on a historic design. A portion of the proceeds goes to the Smithsonian's National Numismatic Collection.
For more information, visit www.NewYorkMint.net, or call 800-642-9160 ext. 4391.
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