Q. David Bowers
Zerbe did his best to unload the quantity of dollars remaining after the Exposition closed, offering them at sharp discounts to all takers. B. Max Mehl purchased many thousands of pieces, paying scarcely over face value for them. Additional coins were taken by Zerbe on his travels and were offered for sale at the concessions he maintained at later fairs and at exhibits of his Money of the World collection (refer to the earlier discussion of the 1915-S Panama-Pacific half dollar for more information concerning Zerbe and his exhibits). Although melting of unsold quantities took place at the Mint in 1914, for many years thereafter B. Max Mehl still retained thousands of yet undistributed pieces, and these were a staple commodity in his nationwide mail order sales through the 1920s.
In an article, "Protecting Purchasers of Special Coins," in The Numismatist, April 1923, Zerbe gave the following misleading statement (emphasis ours): "More Louisiana Purchase gold dollars were sold at $3 each than any special gold dollar at any price and they ... are now catalogued as 'scarce' and have been marketable at their cost price or more since the general sale closed, for the particular reason that the one in charge of their sale felt a price protection obligation to every purchaser.
None were sold for less than the price first established.... Of course, this was news to anyone who tried to sell a Louisiana Purchase Exposition gold dollar when the market level had dropped to $2 or less after the Exposition. Zerbe further misled readers in 1923 by not identifying himself as the original "one in charge of their sale."
Collecting Louisiana Purchase Exposition Gold Dollars
In recent years Louisiana Purchase Exposition gold dollars have been readily available on the numismatic market, although the price has risen to such an extent that Farran Zerbe would be amazed, and his detractors would hide their heads in embarrassment. Of course, the same can be said for all other early commemoratives, because of the tremendously expanded market that developed in later years. Most known specimens are in Mint State, although occasional circulated pieces are encountered. As recently as the 1950s it was not at all unusual for dealers to encounter these coins in groups of a half dozen or so at a time. Howard E. MacIntosh of the Tatham Stamp & Coin Company had a large cache of these, probably left over from Zerbe's or Mehl's holdings. These were in pristine condition, as nice as the day they were minted.
Today most extant Jefferson and Mckinley portrait gold dollars are in varying degrees of Mint State, with MS-60 to MS-63 representing an average range. MS- 64 and MS-65 coins are readily available for a price. Proofs come on the market only at widely separated intervals, usually only in major auctions or other important sale events.
GRADING SUMMARY: Look for friction or contact marks on the cheek (which are usually more evident on the McKinley variety than on the Jefferson). The reverse is usually problem free. Most examples are known in higher grades today. Most specimens are very lustrous and frosty, but occasionally a prooflike coin will be encountered.
(Also see following listing)
Commemorating: 100th anniversary of the Louisiana Purchase
Obverse motif: Portrait of Jefferson
Reverse motif: Inscription and branch
Authorization date: June 28, 1902
Dates on coins: 1903 (also 1803)
Dates when coins were actually minted: 1902-1903
Mint used: Philadelphia
Maximum quantity authorized: 250,000 (total for Jefferson and McKinley varieties)
Total quantity minted (inc1udingassaycoins): 250,258 (total for Jefferson and McKinley varieties; 125,000 of each)
Assay coins (included in above): 258 (total for both varieties)
Quantity melted: 215,250 (total for both varieties; no account was kept of the quantity of each variety; 250 assay coins were melted)
Net number distributed (including a few assay coins): More than 17,500 Jefferson portrait coins
Issued by: Louisiana Purchase Exposition Company, St. Louis, Missouri (sales through numismatist Farran Zerbe)
Standard original packaging: A few in rectangular cardboard boxes with imprinted lid; some others mounted in spoons, brooches, and stick pins; 100 certified Proofs mounted in opening in rectangular piece of imprinted cardboard
Official sale price: $3
Designer of obverse and reverse: Charles E. Barber (obverse portrait copied from an early 19th-century medal by John Reich, who in turn used a Houdon bust as a model) assisted by George T. Morgan
Interesting fact: Only a tiny fraction of the 125,000 pieces minted for distribution were actually sold.
(average market prices)
1905 MS-64 to 65 $2
1910 MS-64 to 65 $2.50
1915 MS-64 to 65 $3.25
1920 MS-64 to 65 $3.50
1925 MS-64 to 65 $4
1930 MS-64 to 65 $4.75
1935 MS-64 to 65 $6
1936 (summer) MS-64 to 65 $6
1940 MS-64 to 65 $6.50
1945 MS-64 to 65 $12
1950 MS-64 to 65 $12
1955 MS-64 to 65 $27
1960 MS-63 to 64 $55
1965 MS-63 to 64 $125
1970 MS-63 to 64 $85
1975 MS-63 to 64 $400
1980 MS-63 to 64 $2,200
1985 MS-63 to 64 $1,200
1986 MS-60 $660, MS-63 $1,200, MS-64 $1,800, MS-65 $3,750
1990 (spring) MS-60 $700, MS-63 $1,950, MS-64 $3,200, MS-65 $6,500
1990 (December) MS-60 $700, MS-63 $1,400, MS-64 $2,600, MS-65 $3,750
Note: The Jefferson portrait gold dollar is slightly more common on the market today than is the McKinley portrait dollar.