Dr. Sol Taylor

Coins, Medals of Our World's Fairs and Expos

By Dr. Sol Taylor
"Making Cents"
The Signal
Saturday, May 5, 2007

    Second of two parts.

he first Olympic Games in the United States was held in conjunction with the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis. A wide range of souvenirs was issued, including medals in silver and other metals, store cards, elonagted coins, encased cents, pocket mirrors and two $1 gold coins issued by the U.S. Mint — one featuring Jefferson and the other McKinley. The 1904 World Series was also held in St. Louis at the time, and various souvenirs were issued for that event.
    Following the 1904 event, the Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition was held in Portland, Ore., in 1905. Another pair of one dollar gold coins was issued — one dated 1904 and the other 1905. A wide array of souvenirs was also issued including various medals, store cards, elongated cents, encased cents, encased tokens and pocket mirrors.
    In 1907 the Jamestown Tercentennial Exposition was held in Jamestown, Va. It marked the first settlement in North America in 1607. A variety of souvenirs was issued including the usual array of earlier fairs.
    In 1909 two expos were held on opposite coasts: the Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition in Seattle, and the Hudson-Fulton Celebration in New York City. Each event issued the usual array of souvenirs of the era.
    In 1915, honoring the opening of the Panama Canal set off a huge Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco to also celebrate the renewal of the earthquake-devastated city in 1906.
    With the leadership of the Pacific Numismatic Society and Farran Zerbe, the Mint issued a dazzling set of commemorative coins: a silver half dollar, a $1 gold coin, a $2.50 gold coin and a pair of huge $50 gold coins — one round and the other octagonal. Today a set of these five coins in the original copper frame would bring $1 million or more at auction. The high cost of such coins meant that very few were sold. Many souvenirs were issued typical for the era.
    As a tie-in to the Pan-Pac Expo, the Panama-California Exposition was held in San Diego, 1915-16. The usual variety of medals and souvenirs was issued as in earlier expos.
    In 1926 Philadelphia hosted its sesquicentennial, the U.S. Sesquicentennial Exposition. The centerpiece was Independence Hall, and the surrounding mall filled with exhibitors, along with the nearby Philadelphia Mint. Two coins were issued for the event: a half dollar and a $2.50 gold coin. Silver and bronze medals were issued along with various elongated cents and pocket mirrors.
    In 1933, the largest expo to that time was the Century of Progress International Exposition held in Chicago. Many kinds of souvenirs were issued including the first of "Giant Penny" souvenirs; no commemorative coins were issued due to the Great Depression and the slowdown in U.S. Mint production. Commemorative issues resumed in 1935-36 with a half dollar for the California Pacific International Expo, followed by another half dollar for the Great Lakes Expo of 1936. With that, the tradition of Mint issues to commemorate our national expos ended.
    A brief list of other fairs and expos since then include: Golden Gate International Exposition, 1939-40 in San Francisco, New York World's Fair, 1939-40 in Queens, N.Y. (I went in 1940); Century 21 in Seattle, 1962; New York World's Fair, Queens, N.Y., 1964-65; Expo 67 Montreal, Canada (I went), San Antonio Hemisphere, 1968; Expo '74 Worlds Fair, Spokane, 1974; The 1982 World's Fair, Knoxville, Tenn.; Louisiana World Exposition, New Orleans, 1984.
    A good starter collection would include at least one medal from each of these events. More serious collectors vie for complete collections from a single large fair. Several of these expos have definitive reference books that can help the collector.

    Dr. Sol Taylor of Sherman Oaks is president of the Society of Lincoln Cent Collectors and author of The Standard Guide to the Lincoln Cent. Click here for ordering information.