NGC-certified Elongated Coins from the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition

Posted on 9/12/2023

Explore varieties from the Expo as listed in Martin & Dow’s “Yesterday’s Elongateds.”

The World’s Columbian Exposition was one of the most glitzy and marvelous places ever created. The fairgrounds covered 690 acres and lured over 27 million visitors from 46 countries. Many new ideas were debuted at the Columbian Expo, such as advances in electric lighting, elevators, the Ferris wheel and voice recording. But one of the most endearing for collectors is perhaps the elongated coins produced there.

While the idea of creating souvenirs from coins was not new, the concept of rolling them between steel dies with a new design was. Six machines were stationed around the expo grounds, and each charged 5 cents for a souvenir, in addition to the coin the participant would have to surrender for flattening. Visitors likely got to choose what coin the design was pressed over — probably whatever change happened to be in their pocket at the time.

Pictured here are the Grand Basin and Court of Honor. The exposition featured over 200 buildings, islands, lagoons and gardens showcasing Neoclassical architecture and Venetian waterways.
Click image to enlarge.

These first machines were incredibly versatile, as they were generally able to elongate coins up to the size of a half dollar and as small as a 3 cent silver. NGC recently certified an extremely rare elongated silver dollar from the Columbian Expo. The now remarkably large piece was rolled over an 1877 Trade Dollar!

1893 World's Columbian Expo on an 1877 Trade Dollar, certified by NGC in September 2023.
Click images to enlarge.

It is a wonder the presses were capable of such force, or how the press was able to accommodate such a large coin. Although they were demonetized in 1876, Trade Dollars were eventually redeemed at face value by the US government in 1887. In 1893, a single silver dollar had the purchasing power equivalent to about $34 in 2023, no small price to pay for an exciting souvenir.

The presses used at the Columbian Expo were similar to the vintage-style roller washing machines. However, presses designed during the 20th century are typically only “squishing” smaller, softer copper cents.

Despite the new concept, the people operating the machines knew what they were doing. The vast majority of elongated coins made at the Columbian Exposition were oriented to preserve the obverse on the opposite side of the design. As we know today, this is the “proper” way to elongate a penny, making the date of the piece easily discernable. Perhaps there were signs at each station instructing the participants to do so, but it is more likely that each machine was operated by a specialist who would make the souvenir for a patient visitor. This was because the earliest machines likely took some measure of skill to operate and to obtain a well-centered impression.

While the designs from the Columbian Expo were text or non-picturesque, they are special because they were the first elongated coins, the idea of which exploded in the 20th century. The target denomination used at the fair was the “V” nickel. Since a nickel's composition is so hard, it must have presented a challenge to develop a machine powerful enough to roll them. As pointed out in "Yesterday’s Elongateds," the stomping foot of an elephant would cause minimum damage to a coin, and even a train-track coin is not flattened to the degree of even the earliest presses. The machines themselves, although capable of enormous pressure, are small by comparison.

Today, the one cent coin is the standard coin to elongate. This precedent likely started at the 1901 and 1904 world’s fairs, where the popularity of elongated cents surged in the wake of highly detailed designs and portraits.

In the 1960s, a small group of dedicated collectors came together and began cataloging these elongated pieces by design. They formed a society called The Elongated Collectors (or TEC), founded by Dottie Dow. The book "Yesterday’s Elongateds" by Lee Martin and Dow is based upon her original reference published in 1965. The book, first released in 1981, is the definitive reference and is extensively researched. It is said that Dow herself spent 600 hours researching the Lord’s Prayer varieties alone. However, the pieces from the Columbian Expo are still some of the most revered examples, earning number 94 in Jaeger and Bowers' "100 Greatest American Medals and Tokens."

Below are high-resolution images of the varieties cataloged in Martin and Dow’s reference. Varieties 1 through 2D have the date centered between the words COLUMBIAN and EXPOSITION, while varieties 3 and 4 have the date positioned below the text. Additional varieties illustrated in the reference are either modern “rerolls” or likely unintended duplicate listings. The following descriptions of each variety have been adapted from the reference. The star figure here illustrates the context for which each star point is described.

  • No Stars
  • Flat top “3”
  • Wide separation between the last two N's
  • This variety is the most common and is often featured on unconventional denominations.

  • No Stars
  • Flat top “3”
  • Last two Ns close together

  • No Stars
  • “1” of date over center of “P”

  • No Stars
  • “1” of date between “P & O” of EXPOSITION
  • “I” of EXPOSITION between “9” and “3”

  • No Stars
  • “1” in date smaller than previous
  • Die scratch below the “O” of COLUMBIAN
  • “I” of EXPOSITION in line with the tip of the “3”

  • No Stars
  • Center of “3” points down
  • Die scratch runs from the “C” through the top of the date.
  • Die imperfections below “O” in COLUMBIAN and to the left of “N” in EXPOSITION

  • Two Stars
  • Left star point #2 points between “C & E”
  • Right star point #5 points to upper “N”; point #4 points to top of lower “N”
  • Die crack from left star to “C”

  • Two stars
  • Left star, point #2 between “C & E”
  • Die scratch between the Ns
  • “I” of COLUMBIAN almost centered on the “3” of date

  • Two stars
  • Left star, point #2 to the top edge of the “E”
  • Right star, point #5 points to top “N” and point #4 to the lower “N”

  • Two stars
  • Left star, point #2 points to “C”, point #3 to “E”
  • Right star, point #5 points between the N's

  • Two stars
  • Left star, point #2 between “C & E”
  • Right star, point #5 between “Ns”
  • NOTE: In the Martin & Dow guide, die #2D first appeared in 1964 and is not regarded as an original.

Die #2E is probably just a skewed photo of die #2A that was mistakenly added in the reference as a variety

  • Three stars
  • Normal “S” in EXPOSITION
  • “1” of date under “T”
  • Left star directly above “U”
  • Middle star below “S”
  • Right star close to “N” in EXPOSITION

  • Three stars
  • Hanging “S”
  • “1” of date between “I” and “O” of EXPOSITION
  • Middle star weak, distant from date

  • Three stars
  • Hanging “S”
  • Middle star and “1” of date aligned with the I's in EXPOSITION

  • Three stars
  • “E” of EXPOSITION aligned under the “L” of COLUMBIAN
  • Rare

  • Four stars
  • Hanging “S”
  • Long-tailed “9”
  • Right star misses the “N” in EXPOSITION
  • NOTE: In reality, there is no marked difference between this die and #4B listed in Martin & Dow, thus 4B has been omitted.

  • Four Stars
  • Right star partly under the “N” in EXPOSITION
  • NOTE: First appeared in 1964 and not regarded as an original

  • “CE” monogram between “18” and “93”
  • NOTE: This is the only original die for this type from the exposition.

Some of the more interesting coinage rolled at the Columbian Expo includes early large cents and foreign coins from Canada, Mexico and Great Britian. Additionally, there are some pressed key dates and Carson City coinage known. NGC designates the undertype of each coin in the pedigree field of the label.

The piece above, rolled over an 1892-O Barber Half Dollar graded NGC MS 65.
Click images to enlarge.

This piece, identified as M&D-3B, is on an 1888 Canadian Large Cent. It graded NGC MS 64 BN.
Click images to enlarge.

Another grading service recently announced that it would begin to certify elongated coins. This has been a long time coming — that it would recognize such historic items. However, given that NGC has already been certifying elongateds with full attributions for well over a decade, they are a bit late to the game. The nearly full set of varieties featured in this article were all certified at NGC, in addition to hundreds of others. NGC’s census for elongated coins listed in Martin and Dow can be found here. Given NGC’s experience in grading and encapsulating these difficult-to-holder items, and the robust online census tracking every denomination for every variety, it only makes sense for the connoisseur to continue to choose NGC as their preferred certification company.


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