Description and Analysis

Gold Commemoratives

Description & Analysis

The Louisiana Purchase was one of the biggest events in American history. It effectively doubled the size of the country overnight. Additionally, the land that was acquired included some of the richest farmland in the country. To give an idea of the scope of the land area obtained, it contained all or part of the following states: Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, and Wyoming, In celebration of the centennial of this momentous event, a huge celebration was planned for 1904 in St. Louis, Missouri. Congress appropriated five million dollars for the Exposition, and also authorized the minting of up to 250,000 commemorative gold dollars.

The exact design of the coin was left open-ended, and it was eventually decided that there would be two different obverse designs which would share a common reverse. The obvious first choice for the obverse was Thomas Jefferson, who was President in 1803 and was responsible for the purchase of the Louisiana Territory from France. The choice for the second coin, however, was not as obvious. It was logical that Theodore Roosevelt, who was the President at the time of the exposition would be on the second obverse, but that was not to be. Instead, President McKinley was chosen as he actually signed the original appropriations bill for the exposition just six months before his assassination.

U.S. Mint Chief Engraver Charles E. Barber modeled both obverses and the shared reverse of the coins. On both the Jefferson and Roosevelt varieties, the portrait is encircled at the periphery by the inscription UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. The reverse of the coins featured a safe and uninspired layout, with ONE DOLLAR 1803-1903 in the center, surrounded by LOUISIANA PURCHASE EXPOSITION ST. LOUIS at the edge. The only decorative device on the reverse is a single olive branch that separates the denomination from the centennial years. Presumably it symbolizes the peaceful means by which the 828,000 square mile territory was acquired.

The entire 250,000 mintage authorized by Congress was minted from December 1902 through January 1903. When the Exposition finally opened on April 30th of that year, the coins were offered by numismatic promoter Farran Zerbe for $3 each. Unfortunately sales fell very flat, and most coins remained unsold. In fact, the coins were readily available for many years after the exposition for less than issue price. In 1914, the remaining 215,000 coins were melted, leaving a net mintage of 35,000 total between the two types. Detailed records were not kept on sales of each type, so it is generally accepted that the numbers were about even, with 17,500 for each design.