Hall of Monetary History and Medallic Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C

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  • Hall of Monetary History and Medallic Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

    The Smithsonian Institutions new hall of Monetary History and Medallic Art is a remark- able departure from conventional numismatic exhibits.

    Prior to March 1961 when the new hall was opened, the Smithsonian Institution used the familiar catalogue type of exhibit for its numis- matic collections. The massive wooden upright and flat-top cases were illuminated by daylight entering through large windows and by over- head tubular fluorescent light fixtures (fig. 67).

    The new hall strikes a bold contrast to the former installation in both conception and design (fig. 68).

    The main display deals with Monetary His- tory and traces the history of money as an integral aspect of cultural development. Bright internally-lit cases illustrate the development of money economy from primitive barter to modern monetary systems. Displays of coins, to- kens, and paper currencies have been arranged in their historical and cultural context, rather than by conventional classifications (fig. 70). Special emphasis has been given to the various forms of currencies in North America and their


    67. SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION, Washington, D.C. The Coin Hall before renovation. 67. La galerie des monnaies avant sa rnovation.

    68. SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION, Washington, D.C. View of the same hall after renovation. The development of money economy. The exhibit cases are internally lit while the windows are covered with dense filters. Overhead light fixtures are used only during cleaning operations or, in this instance, for photographic purposes. 68. Vue de la meme galerie dexposition aprs r&novatio&..Gvolution de litconomie montaire, depuis le troc $?imitif jusquaux systkmes mon- taires modernes. Les vitrines sont clairtes de lintrieur, tandis que les fenstres sont couvertes de hltres &pais. Les plafonniers ne sont allumes que pZdmt les operations de nettoyage ou pour la prise de photographies.

    role in the economic and political growth of the Thited States of America.

    The exhibits not only show the evolution of money (characteristic examples have been selected from the crossroads of history) ; they also convey the spirit of various periods through use of illustrations, appropriate styles of letter- ing, background material, and reproductions of suggestive artifacts.

    The first half of the monetary history display deals with the western world. A series of panels highlight the following significant phases in the evolution of money economy :

    itfoneyless Economies. This panel illustrates how trade in surplus goods characteristic of early mo- neyless civilizations, led to the widespread use of a few commodities which came to have a fairly constant value, serving the purpose of money.

    T h First Coins. Some of the earliest coins, dating back to the 7th century B.C., are shown. Background information, which includes maps and a replica of a contemporary temple frieze, explains the geographical distribution and suggests the cultural environment of the first coinages of the world.

    T h Htllenic World. Coins soon came into wide- spread use among the commercial-minded Greeks. Their city-states rivalled one another in many spheres ranging from the highest artistic creation to the production of merely practical and useful objects.

    This unit shows in an historical sequence the range of Greek city coinages and issues having the character of world currencies. Greek coin standards are also explained. Some of the head- ings under which coins are grouped are Athe- nian supremacy, Corinths economic expan- sion, Rise of Macedc mian power, Alexan- ders Empire, and Hellenistic Icingdoms.

    Atrcietaf Rome. This display traces the evolution of the Roman monetary systems from the first coins of the Republic during the 3rd century B.C. up to the period of Constantine the Great (307-337). Two maps, one of Italy showing the incipient Roman expansion, the other of the Roman Empire at the zenith of its development, convey the idea of the growth of a world power.

    The lower section of the panel illustrates the stylistic evolution of Roman imperial portrai- ture (fig. 69).

    Byxanfine Empire. Illustrates the impressive output of coins under the Byzantine Empire with its mints located at far-distant parts of the Empire; designs of the coins conform to rigid artistic and religious controls.

    The lower section of the display shows the arrival of the invaders of the West and the challenge of the Islamic world.

    The Penny. Is shown as the dominating coin of the western world in the Middle Ages up to the I 3th centuty. bIaterial resembling ancient parch- ment is used with illuminated lettering as a sug- gestive period setting for this display (fig. 71).

    The Retttal of Gold. A consequence of the re- opening of trade between East and West which was a result of the crusades. This case documents the a:gmtai.i, the first major western gold coin of the Middle Ages ; the gold florin; the dilcaf, first struck in 1284in Venice; and the impressive variety of other European gold coins-many of them of most attractive design.

    Groafs and Te.ifons. The issue in Italy of mul- tiple pennies or groats (value 4 pennies), after

  • the 12th century, reflected a demand created by the crusades for trade coins of higher value.

    The teston, literally a coin with a portrait, came into use late in the I yth century. Many of these are of high artistic quality.

    The Dollar. The increasing output of silver mines, technical improvement of minting facilities, the need for larger coins for trade-all these factors led, in the late I 5th century, to the creation of the silver dollar (or thaler) which became very important in world economy. The exhibit shows its increasing use, country by country.

    The New V o d d . Is the title of a special granite panel 4 ft. 6 in. by 6 ft. 6 in.) describing the first coins struck in the western hemisphere in the Mexico City Mint during the vice-regal period under Charles V and Johanna the hiad of Spain (1536-15~6). The panel precedes the exhibits of the monetary history of the United States of America which include :

    Barter on the Frontier. An illustration of the trade of the primitive Indians and the hardships of the white man on the advancing frontier at a time when relatively recently dentalium shells, wampum, skins of animals, and a variety of other articles had been used in lieu of money

    Colonial Money, 1607-1764. Shows examples of English, Dutch, and French coins brought by the early settlers. The first coins struck in Massachusetts in 1652 and early paper currency issues are also displayed.

    Spirit of Independence, 1764-1787. Comprises paper bills issued by the States and by the Con- tinental Congress, coins of the States struck after the Declaration of Independence, and various private issues.

    Building a Riation. Shows the creation by the new government of a national currency and the organization of the first national banks.

    The United States AIint. Illustrates the first regular United States coins-copper, silver, and gold-issued following the establishment by Congress of the first mint, in 1791. Enlarged reproductions provide excellent illustrations of early coin designs.

    Economic Adjti~tments, I 811-1860. A period marked by a series of financial crises and the institution of various banking systems intended to guarantee financial stability. The case also features gold discoveries in Georgia, North Carolina, and California, n-hich resulted in a variety of private gold issues.

    United States Coin Des&ns. Shows the various designs of 19th century United States coins and identifies the artists. This unit illustrates also the methods used by the outstanding engraver at the United States Mint, Christian Gobrecht (17>8-1844), in the production of coin dies. It shows the transition from die-sinking through direct engraving to the use of the modern reducing machine.

    V a r and Keconstrriction, 1860-1 873. Depicts the different currencies and monetary interme- diates-from cardboard money and encased postage stamps to the first United States green- backs, as x~-ell as some of the confederate issues of this troubled period.

    Rise of Xodern America, 187g-1900. Portrays the economic expansion of the latter part of the 19th century and the establishment of a virtual gold standard.

    The 10th Cenfiir-y. With the Federal Reserve System and the introduction of a managed gold standard, concludes the Monetary History Exhibit.

    (fig. 72).

    SPECIAL EXHIBITS. Special topical displays complete the basic monetary history exhibit.

    Some of the themes illustrated are : The Origin of Coin Names ; The Reformation (fig. 7 3 ) ; Confederate Currencies ; and State Bank Notes. h reconstruction of a coin-stamper designed

    by Leonardo da Vincil emphasizes the intro- duction of mechanization in coining techniques.

    An important part of the hall is devoted to the United States Mint Collection-the oldest government-owned collection which had its inception in 1792 at the United States Mint in Philadelphia. Each year the chief coiner, Adam Eckfeldt, would set aside a specimen of each type and date of coin minted. He also retained some of the finest foreign specimens which were deposited for coinage. This practice was con- tinued after the official inauguration of the Mint Collection in 1838. After the First World War this original United States Mint Collection, known for the unique and extremely rare pieces it contains, was transferred to the Smithsonian.

    The hall also features the worlds largest collection of gold coins on public display, that of the late Paul A. Straub. It is a special collec- tion, consisting of gold coins of Europe


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