On July 15, 2015, the National Museum of American History (NMAH) opened a new coin exhibit called "The Value of Money." The new display room occupies a much larger and (hopefully) more permanent place than the current exhibit, which had been built after the Hall of Money was closed permanently over a decade ago. I had the pleasure of attending the festivities along with my wife, Maggie. It was, eerily, much like the popular movie franchise "Night at the Museum" because the place was closed down and empty except for those who came in for the opening. Here are my diary entries for the trip:
July 14 – Flew from San Diego at 6:20 via Nashville to Reagan National Airport in Washington, DC, arriving at 3:50...took cab to Holiday Inn – Capitol near L’Enfant Plaza...unpacked, rested, got ready for dinner…cabbed through heavy, rush-hour traffic to Old Ebbitt’s Grill for a dinner held for donors and special guests...met some old friends, several of the Smithsonian personnel, and met some new people, including Ellen Feingold, the curator of the National Numismatic Collection, and two of the ladies who designed, built and installed the vault door for the exhibit (more about that later)...marveled at how inexpensive the entrees were considering we were in the nation’s capital just a block or two from the White House…cabbed back to the Holiday Inn for dessert with a friend...off to bed for a night of trains blowing their horns as they passed (frequently) near the hotel.
July 15 – Buffet breakfast at hotel with wife and friend...off to the NMAH at 10:00 am for an intimate, insider tour of the Smithsonian vault led by Jeff Garrett, Jennifer Jones, and collection manager Hillary...a tray of rarities had been prepared just for the tour...I got to hold in my hands one of the small diameter, double thick, 1907 Ultra-High Relief $20 patterns and a huge 6 Thaler silver coin from the German State of Brunswick-Wolfenbuttel...since my last visit several years ago, the new staff has made tremendous strides in cleaning up the vault and rooms…security was much tighter than previously (a good thing considering the extreme value of the collection)...spent time at the vault door placed in front of the new exhibit, which is an attraction by itself and which received a lot of attention from non-numismatic visitors...it’s a huge, round, James Bond-ish door that is a non-functioning version of the real thing...spent an enjoyable Q&A session with Sarah (the mechanical engineer who designed the door and oversaw the installation) and Andrea (who did most of the welding of the door and the finishing of the various components)...toured the Victory Garden on the north, end of the NMAH in light rain…lunched in the NMAH cafeteria with Maggie, Sarah, Andrea, and Chinese dealer, Michael Chou...toured the American Enterprise exhibit in the NMAH…took the Metro to the National Portrait Gallery...arrived at 3:00 pm just in time for a specialized tour led by docent, LeAnn Lewatch...very nice overview of the museum and insights into art appreciation and theory...saw several pieces by Augustus Saint-Gaudens plus a bronze bust of Booker T. Washington, whose autobiography "Up From Slavery" I had read on the plane trip out...took Metro back to the hotel, rested and prepared for opening reception...cabbed to NMAH at 6:30, in traffic that was surprisingly lighter than the night before...reception was already full of people...speeches were given by the Secretary of the Smithsonian, the Director of the NMAH, the Treasurer of the U.S. Rosa Rios, and friend and incoming President of the American Numismatic Association, Jeff Garrett...ribbon cutting ceremony, then opening of exhibit...other dignitaries included former Senator Russ Feingold, Kentucky congressman Andy Barr, and former congressman and numismatist, Jimmy Hayes...nice hors d’oeuvres, live music, open bar...the bartender was befuddled by the SBAs and Sacs we gave to him as tips (the Metro machines only give change in coins...who knew!)...waited for the crowd to die down, then toured the exhibit...overheard Q. David Bowers remark, "The best coins are in the drawers," which was often the case...surprised by the small size of the tin that held some of the Saddle Ridge Hoard coins (I guess I expected a one-gallon paint bucket)...medium-sized Yap stone on display...all three classes of the 1804 Dollar in a drawer all by themselves...1822 $5 mixed in with a bunch of world gold coins on a wall display...the only slabbed coin I saw in the exhibit was a Morgan Dollar in a signed PCGS holder...pretty much done by 9:00 p.m. after which we returned to Old Ebbitt’s Grill for another dinner...cabbed back to the hotel...lights out at 12:00.
Final notes: if you’re planning a trip to Washington, D.C., be sure to visit the Value of Money exhibit. It is very well-done in a way that will satisfy both collectors and non-numismatists...there are loads of treasures...and be sure to look in the drawers. This new exhibit serves as priceless advertising and as a portal to the world of numismatics for the millions of people who visit the NMAH each year.