Money Talks at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History
Posted on 5/14/2009
A new exhibition at the National Museum of American History invites visitors to explore the development and meaning behind American coinage and currency. "Stories on Money" demonstrates the interplay among people, money and history, from the earliest times to the present day. The display of coins and other related objects will open June 12 in a new first-floor gallery.
"Stories on Money" explores the museum's vast numismatic collections from seven vantage points. The main section shows what money looked like in Colonial America and at pivotal times, including the Gold Rush, Great Depression and in the current era. Visitors will compare the coin designs of the 19th century with those produced during the renaissance of American coinage in the early 20th century. The section called "The Power of Liberty," presents an array of coins from the United States and the world depicting Liberty, the feminine personification of freedom; coins with real and mythological women are also featured.
"American currency is a reflection and a record of our history," said Brent D. Glass, director of the museum. "This display illuminates history in fresh and unexpected ways and will allow visitors to think of how money tells stories about different historical periods."
"Stories on Money" was made possible through the generosity of the Numismatic Guaranty Corporation of America, Numismatic Conservation Services and Monaco Rare Coins.
"Having this wonderful space at the museum is very meaningful to the entire community of numismatists, and we are very proud to be a part of it. ‘Stories on Money' is an especially fitting exhibition since it illustrates the close interplay between coins as objects and the personal history of their use," said Mark Salzberg, chairman of sponsoring organizations Numismatic Guaranty Corporation and Numismatic Conservation Services.
1907 U.S. Liberty pattern $20 Ultra High Relief. Image courtesy National Museum of American History
"The ‘Stories on Money' exhibition explores the importance of our country's sovereignty, heritage and financial independence," said Adam Crum, president of Monaco Rare Coins. "The beauty of the coins speaks for itself, but the history witnessed by these miniature objects is often epic."
The exhibition draws from the museum's National Numismatic Collection, which consists of more than 1.5 million objects, including coins, medals and paper currency and preserves the role of money in economic history. Featured objects include a colonial Massachusetts shilling from 1690—the first paper money in the Western hemisphere, the unique 1849 $20 gold coin and a clam shell used as currency during the Great Depression.
The exhibition uses objects and interactive media to immerse visitors in these stories on money, including an opportunity to view enlarged images and delve further into numismatic history. In "A penny for your thoughts?" visitors can cast their opinion about the future of the most-produced coin in the world.
Two books based on the National Numismatic Collection have been published in conjunction with the exhibition. Exhibition curator Richard Doty's "America's Money, America's Story" and "The Encyclopedia of U.S. Gold Coins" by visiting researcher Jeff Garrett substantiate the scholastic value of the National Numismatic Collection. Doty and Garrett, a lifelong coin collector, have spent their careers working in numismatics and have written several books on the subject.
The National Museum of American History collects, preserves and displays American heritage in the areas of social, political, cultural, scientific and military history. After a two-year renovation and a dramatic transformation, the museum shines new light on American history, both in Washington and online. To learn more about the museum, check americanhistory.si.edu. For Smithsonian information, the public may call (202) 633-1000, (202) 633-5285 (TTY).
Released May 11, 2009, Smithsonian, National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center. Contact (202) 633-1000 or visit americanhistory.si.edu for further information.