By Steve Carr
After a few days of photographing half and large cents, I decided I wanted to explore the rest of the Smithsonian vault. Jim Hughes was happy to accompany me. We first looked at the huge number of Confederate notes. There are about 1.5 million of these notes at the Smithsonian. These notes were seized by Union soldiers in Richmond near the end of the Civil War. Many had been redeemed and one note in particular was interesting. It was signed by Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. While I was at the Smithsonian, several volunteers were organizing these notes, as many were still stored boxes more than 100 years old. Since my visit was more than 10 years ago, I hope their organizing was successful.
Jim also showed me the proofs for all the national bank notes printed at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing since 1875. If printing plates were made for any national bank, a proof was printed before production began. This proof was examined and any problems noted and corrected on the plate. Notations were also added to the proof (see at the bottom of the picture). In all, there are thousands of proof sheets (4 notes per sheet).
There were also a number of “different” items in the vault. There was a stuffed Quetzalcoatl bird, Hard Times and Civil War tokens, $100,00 gold certificates (never issued for circulation) and many of the pattern coins the mint produced. These patterns were fantastic! One was a $10 gold coin that had the diameter of a $5 coin but was twice as thick. I especially liked the “half union” coin, a $50 gold piece. It was huge!
There were also some of the questionable issues that came out of the mint, like the 1913 Liberty Nickel. Only 5 are known, and one is in the Smithsonian.
The rare 1822 $5 half eagle has been a gold collectors favorite for a century. Only three are known, two in the Smithsonian. One is from the Lily collection and one from the mint collection. Here is a picture of the mint collection coin.
Or what about an 1804 dollar? The National Collection has 3!
There were so many neat coins at the Smithsonian that I, an admitted coin collecting addict, was overwhelmed. Next week I will talk more about the coppers in the collection.