Racks of rare coins captivate a visitor at the American Numismatic Museum in Colorado.
Who says it takes a supermodel holding a silver briefcase on Deal or No Deal to make money interesting? Delve into numismatics (the collection and study of all things monetary) and you’ll discover a world of obsessive currency collectors, precision engravers and coin press operators, and Wild West miners and minters worthy of prime time.
- American Numismatic Association Edward C. Rochette Money Museum Colorado Springs, Colo. During 2011, this world-class museum features The Faces of Money: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly—coin portraits of everyone from Cleopatra to Martin Luther King Jr.—and A House Divided: Money of the Civil War, a showcase of Union and Confederate currency including an 1864 federal two-cent piece, the nation’s first coin to bear the slogan "In God We Trust." The permanent Harry W. Bass Collection dazzles with beautiful Augustus Saint-Gaudens double eagles and a rare 1804 silver dollar. (800) 367-9723, money.org.
- Federal Reserve Bank San Francisco. Free tours of the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco feature a collection of antique currency, including bills engraved by Benjamin Franklin and Paul Revere as well as the deliciously named 1890 Grand Watermelon Note, valued at a juicy 3 million plus. (415) 974-3252, frbsf.org/federalreserve/tours.html.
- Lincoln’s 50,000 Silver Dollar Bar Haugan, Mont. At this popular roadside attraction on I-90, an 1876 Hong Kong trade dollar with a seated Lady Liberty has a special claim to fame: It’s the oldest coin embedded in a bar top that’s paved with them. Around it—festooning the walls in slabs of wood that hold up to 141 coins apiece—are more than 55,000 Morgan, Peace, and Eisenhower silver dollars, all donated by patrons since 1952. (406) 678-4242.
- Nevada State Museum Carson City, Nev. Inside the sandstone building that once housed the Carson City Mint, this museum showcases the mint’s silver boom with a short film, an original 1870 coin press, and a rare set of Morgan silver dollars bearing the cc mint mark. Where do coins really come from? The underground mine exhibit reveals all. (775) 687-4810, museums.nevadaculture.org.
- U.S. Mint Denver. Talk about making change: At 6.3 billion coins a year, this mint produces half the circulating coinage in the country. On a free 30-minute tour you can watch the four dozen presses as they stamp up to 18,000 coins a minute—for an average of 20 million coins a day. Reservations required. (303) 405-4761, usmint.gov/mint_tours.
- Wooden Nickel Historical Museum San Antonio, Texas. Owner Herb Hornung’s boyhood collection has grown to about 3 million vintage wooden nickels, including the first wooden currency, issued in 1931 when a Tenino, Wash., bank ran out of cash. Free tours cover displays of souvenir nickels from Mardi Gras festivities, Boy Scout jamborees, magic shows, Elvis fan clubs, and even political campaigns. Outside, the world’s largest wooden nickel weighs in at 2,500 pounds. (210) 829-1291, wooden-nickel.net.
Photography courtesy of American Numismatic Association/Tom Kimmel
This article was first published in March 2011. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.