For those of us who missed all the fun, here's a great account of the opening of the Smithsonian's new National Numismatic Collection exhibit by Harvey Stack and Charles Morgan of CoinWeek.
Be sure to read the complete version online.
AN EXHIBIT TO BE REMEMBERED
by Harvey Stack
On July 15, 2015 the National Numismatic Collection was returned to the displays at the Smithsonian. For close to a decade, portions of the National Collection were not exhibited as the Museum of American History at the Smithsonian was reduced in size and the museum went through major renovation.
Today, the Collection is housed, in all its glory, in a special exhibit room on the first floor of the Museum. In this location it will be more accessible and seen by many more visitors.
I have been involved–emotionally involved–with the National Collection since the mid-1940s. Being from a numismatic family all such displays called to me. I remember my first visit after World War II when, with my parents and sister, we drove from New York to Washington D.C. and on to Baltimore. Our stop in Washington included a visit to the National Collection.
We found the exhibit in the lower level of the Castle, almost below the street, with large windows helping to illuminate the display. It was arranged in long flat showcases, the coins side-by-side, top and bottom; one had to look down to see them. The overhead electric lighting was so-so at best, and the tags weren’t always legible. We visited the curator, Stuart Mosher, whom my father had known for a number of years, and were escorted about the displays.
For someone who had already developed a major interest in Numismatics, it was exciting to see (as best we could) some of the great rarities in the Collection. But it was hard to learn from the way it was laid out.
In the mid-1950’s, Vladimir Stefanelli and his wife Elvira–who worked for Stack’s for close to a decade–were offered the job (which they took) of Curator of the National Numismatic Collection. Being the academics and students of Numismatics that they were, we could hardly expect them not to take this honor and privilege. Our friendship continued on through their retirements.
As the Collection grew from donations, loans from the Mint Collection (which is now part of the National Collection), private donors and acquisitions by families like ours, we decided to continue to work to make our National Collection the best in the world.
It is with great pleasure that we invite you to visit the new exhibit. Come see what’s been done to enhance your visit to the Collection, and let that education help make you a more proficient collector. I am sure that you will feel closer to your hobby and appreciate what coins have done in the economic world past, present and future.
A NIGHT TO BE REMEMBERED
by Charles Morgan
On the evening of July 15, a veritable who’s-who of the national numismatic scene descended upon Washington D.C. to be present at the Grand Opening ceremony for the new National Numismatic Collection Permanent Exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of American History. In earlier reporting, CoinWeek noted that the new exhibit–which features just a fraction of the Smithsonian’s immense holdings of money, medals, and other related material–opened to the public on July 1. That launch, it seems, proved to be a practice run for the main event, as shortly after the opening the museum’s curators closed the exhibit space for additional tinkering and improvements.
When I arrived at the museum earlier in the day, the exhibit was closed to the public for last-minute preparations, and nothing but the impressive (and expensive) bank vault door was visible to passersby. As I waited for a private tour of the exhibit, I studied the reaction of folks walking by. More often than not, they would take note of the door, study its intricacies, and take photographs of themselves or their families standing in front of it. The door was a big hit!
The idea of committing the financial resources to install this non-functioning but very much real door seemed like a radical idea to those in attendance at the Smithsonian’s 2013 project preview at the Whitman Expo in Baltimore. Especially since the implementation of this plan depended on the coin industry and collector community’s ability to raise the funds necessary to pay for it. Incoming ANA President Jeff Garrett, who has worked with the Smithsonian for years, was instrumental in seeing the project through, lining up significant donations from many of the industry’s major figures.
The new exhibit will no doubt be very popular for casual visitors, but it will also effectively convey the story of money in ways that will indubitably bring new blood into the hobby. What struck me most was the way Collection Curator Ellen Feingold was able to tell that story through themes, capturing money’s significance as a social construct but also in its enduring ability to evolve and change. From seashells to bitcoin and everything in between, this horizon-expanding exhibit is immersive; it breaks through the concept of coins as small metal discs and plays with money’s forms and shapes–even its very definition.
Simply put, this isn’t your grandfather’s National Numismatic Collection Exhibit. Or at least if it is, then it will make him feel like a kid again. I was struck by the joyous expression I captured when Q. David Bowers pulled open one of the many drawers available to visitors.
Inside of each are additional pieces that correspond with the main displays.
My favorite drawer pool featured a 17th-century Russian beard tax token. This remarkable curiosity, an artifact of Imperial social engineering, was issued to entice Russian men to shave so as to make Russian society follow the fashion aesthetics of Western Europe. Hipsters, I presume, will find the piece much to their liking as well.
As the gathering drew to a close, the events’ 150+ guests began to trickle out of the event space. Each was treated to a gift bag. Inside of each gift bag was a poster, a silver medal honoring the Star Spangled Banner and a 2015 Bullion-strike American Silver Eagle encapsulated by NGC, with a special label that reads: National Museum of American History, National Numismatic Collection: The Value of Money Exhibition Opening, July 15, 2015.
Officials at the museum assured me in the afternoon that beginning July 16, the exhibit space would again be open to the public. That the wrinkles had been ironed out and that it was ready for prime time.
Much is written and said in this hobby about coins and museums. One often hears about how rare coins get “impounded” in them. All I want to say about that is that public collections belong to the public. You, to a certain extent, own not one but two 1933 double eagles, and if you make the trip to D.C. you can look at them in person any time the museum is open. In the same way, you own not one but three 1804 dollars. A $100,000 gold certificate is yours as well, as is the most amazing World gold coin collection ever assembled.
Now there’s an exhibit worthy of such a collection.
To read the complete article, see:
Smithsonian Celebrates Opening of New National Numismatic Collection Exhibit
Smithsonian Magazine has a short article on the new exhibit, with a slideshow of some highlights.
To read the complete article, see:
The Evolution of Money, From Feathers to Credit Cards
Wayne Homren, Editor
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