January 17, 2012
The U.S. Mint struck the 1903 Louisiana Purchase Exposition Commemorative coins to celebrate the 100-year Anniversary of the Louisiana Purchase.
On April 30, 1803, the U.S. signed the Louisiana Purchase Treaty. This treaty doubled the size of the United States. Following this treaty, several missions were undertaken to explore our new territory, initiating the struggle to officially take over the land.
On December 20, 1803, France finally turned over New Orleans at the Calbido. At that time the Emperor of the French, Napoleon Bonaparte, intended to make a French Empire in the New World that spanned as far as the Mississippi Valley, which was a part of this territory. During this time, Bonaparte had ongoing battles with several major territories including Haiti, where he had already lost thousands of soldiers. Having so many enemies, he could not afford to send more troops to Haiti so he decided to give up on his plans to take over the land. If he did not have control of Haiti, his plan of creating a French Empire spanning all the way to the Louisiana Territory, did not have much chance to succeed.
100 years later in 1903, Congress appropriated $5 million to fund the construction of a World Fair, including the buildings and exhibits. Congress also approved the production of 250,000 gold dollars to commemorate this significant event. At the time, Farran Zerbe, famous coin collector and dealer, had close connections with the Mint and he suggested that they use two different designs for each coin. This was done in an attempt to popularize the coins. The Mint took his advice and struck two different 1903 Louisiana Purchase gold dollars. One had a portrait of Thomas Jefferson on the obverse, while the second had a portrait of William McKinley. Both coins had the same design on the reverse.
The first coin had Thomas Jefferson's design because he was the one who made the Louisiana Purchase possible. McKinley appeared on the second coin design because he was assassinated six months after he had signed the appropriations bill for the World Fair Exposition.
At the Exposition Fairground, each 1903 Louisiana Purchase gold dollar was sold by Zerbe for $3. The coins failed to sell out and Zerbe continued to sell them years later at lower premiums than the original issue price. By 1914, at least 215,000 coins still remained unsold and were later melted by the U.S. Mint.