• So-Called Dollars

        'So-Called Dollars'
        By Harold E. Hibbler and Charles V. Kappen

        Frank Colletti

        In 1963 a new study of medals of historical significance was published to little fan fare. The reference called simply "So-Called Dollars" by Harold E. Hibbler and Charles V. Kappen was to launch a study of medals that was at least 1 15/16" to a maximum of 1 3/4". The other major requirements for listing were that they were only United States issues, no purely presidential or political medals, no school or athletic medals, nor calendar or store cards, with a few other minor requirements. The reference to the medal in the book is usually abbreviated as HK-#, for Hibbler-Kappens and the number as listed in the book.

        As a result, the study included over 1,000 medals issued for commemorative and expositions of national or local significance, and miscellaneous topics of interest. The initial topic comprises nearly 80 percent of the total medals listed. So, for a collector who has a particular interest in say the 1892 to 1893 Columbian Exposition, there are over 90 medals listed for you to try to collect. The Columbian Exposition is one of the most popular Expositions for collectibles, sure there were 90 medals listed here, but there were literally probably another 1,000 other pieces issued that may not be of a size that able to be listed here. That would make for one vast collection that you probably would never complete. Especially since there are more pieces being discovered even today.

        If your interest is in the 1901 Pan-American Exposition, the exposition where William McKinley was shot by the terrorist Leon Czolgosz on September 6,1901. He died eight days later. Perhaps because of the tragedy, there are only three medals that are listed for this event, five if you include all metal types. However, it is an event of historic nature and well worth your study. The one shown here, HK-287, is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful medals ever produced by any organization for any event, ever. The medal is listed as scarce (defined as 501 to 1500 pieces estimated known). As such is should be fairly available, but it has been years since I have seen one at a coin show. When collectors obtain a nice copy they hate to give it up.

        Any mention of fairs should include the Panama-Pacific International Exposition of 1915. The event was to celebrate three events: first: the opening of the Panama Canal; then: the 400th anniversary of the European discovery of the Pacific Ocean, and finally the rebuilding of San Francisco after the destruction of the city form the 1906 earthquake and subsequent fire. Many of these medals are some of the most beautiful ones ever. Shown here is just one of them, HK-422. The medal is listed as gilt (gold plate) and is considered very scarce. Very scarce is defined as 251 to 500 pieces known. If this were a US coin it would be worth many thousands of dollars, but, as a so-called dollar it may be found for a couple of hundred, if you can locate one. The Expo is highly collectible, as noted and any medals will sell for more than estimated values.

        Events that were deemed to be worthy of holding significant fairs, were many and varied. They ranged from any possible local topic of interest to national significance. Another of my favorites is the "Cotton States and International Exposition" of 1895, held in Atlanta, Georgia. The purpose of the event was to show the "resources and possibilities of the Cotton States" and to show the revival of Atlanta after the destruction caused by the Civil War in 1864. It was only open form September 18 to December 31, 1895 but managed a total attendance of 800,000! That must have been a fairly crowded event. The medal shown here, H-K-268 is gilt bronze and is listed as very scarce. The obverse shows Henry W. Grady whose writings as the editor of the Atlanta Constitution helped to sooth the flames of discontent between the North and the South after the Civil War. The reverse shows a phoenix (Atlanta rising from the ashes of destruction, a bale (presumably of cotton) representing the southern produce, and clasped hands, showing union of the South and the North. This particular piece is considered very scarce and was valued (in 1963) at $65.00. So, you can imagine the value today, although it is not as valuable as a coin would be.

        To show the difference in the quality of medals produced later, lets take a look at the 1939-1940 Golden Gate International Exposition held in San Francisco, California. The purpose was to celebrate the openings of the Golden Gate bridge and the San-Francisco-Oakland bridge. Over 17 million visitors attended the event over the two years that it was open. The obverse of this piece displays the official emblem and the reverse ‘Treasure Island’ a man-made island then used as a naval base (remember this was pre-World War II). You may enjoy the design of the piece, but it simply cannot compare to the quality of the engraving done in earlier periods. This piece is also considered to be very scarce, but is worth less than similar pieces for earlier events.

        There is a lot of fun collecting these pieces, you never know what you will find or where you’ll find them. Some of these pieces were located in common ‘junk boxes’ on dealers’ tables at coin shows. Others were mixed in with tokens and medals of other sorts. Some were even properly catalogued. The only limit to your collection is your imagination. Do you want to specialize in World’s Fair events? expositions? Events of a local nature? Or just ‘official’ medals? The limit is what interests you. In fact, after you start, you may decide to not limit yourself to the listed items.
        Consider the Hudson-Fulton 1909 Ter-centenary event held in New York City in 1909. The event was to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the discovery of the Hudson River, and to promote New York state as a important part of United States history. The medal shown is the official medal, marked sterling on the edge. H & K notes that the medal was issued in gold, silver, silver-plate, bronze and aluminum. The silver medals were issued to commission members and certain guests. As such it was probably issued in a very limited quantity. My (pure guess) would be no more that perhaps a hundred or so. However, because of the size limitations, the official medal is not listed in the H & K reference (and they mention this as a reason for not listing). Just because it is not shown or listed is that any reason to ignore it? Of course not. It is a valuable souvenir of a , well actually not very important event in the history of the City of New York.

        So, next time that you see a so-called dollar on display in a dealer’s showcase, consider adding it to your collection. The Hibbler and Kappens references are infrequently available from used book stores and at estate sales. I rarely see them for sale at on line auctions, although they do show up. As an aside, recently, about two years ago an updated version of the original book was released. That reminds me, I have to pick one up. Until next time, have a great time looking at an unusual type of collectible.