From 1903 to 1926 the U.S. Mint had issued 13 gold commemorative coins in denominations ranging from 1 dollar to 50 dollars. They were released along with a silver commemorative coin and sometimes independently with a new subject which was the case with the 1903 Louisiana Purchase gold dollars- the first two gold commemorative issues.
A gold dollar was struck for the first time in 1849 after the discovery of the shiny metal in California. They were gradually used only in remote areas and by 1889 no more gold coins were struck.
In 1904, numismatist and businessman Farran Zerbe thought of issuing two commemorative gold dollars with the Louisiana Purchase Exposition. As per a special Act, 250,000 pieces were allowed to be minted, 125,000 of each variety. Thomas Jefferson and William McKinley were to be featured on these coins.
The obverse of the Louisiana Purchase, McKinley gold dollar featured a portrait of William McKinley, who served from 1897-1901 and was the last American president to have served in the Civil War. The design was copied from a presidential medal and the inscription "UNITED STATES OF AMERICA" was added. The reverse features an olive branch, with dates 1803-1903 and the inscriptions ST. LOUIS. LOUISIANA PURCHASE EXPOSITION and ONE DOLLAR. Both the coins do not have the commonly used mottos IN GOD WE TRUST and E PLURIBUS UNUM.
The Jefferson variety features a portrait of Jefferson copied from an early 19th-century medal by Chief Engraver John Reich. Louisiana Purchase was initiated by Thomas Jefferson and U.S. acquired 828,000 square miles of territory in the Midwestern and Western United States from France for 15 million dollars, almost doubling the size of the country at the time.
The first coins were struck in December 1902 at the Philadelphia Mint, and by January 1903 the Mint had produced 125,000 coins of each variety. The coins were sold for 3 dollars by Louisiana Purchase Exposition Company, led by Farran Zerbe. The sale wasn’t a success at all.
The organisers started pushing the sales by highlighting various items of jewellery into which the commemoratives could be set. Some of the remaining pieces will show damage caused due to this. 215,000 pieces were returned to the Philadelphia Mint to be melted in 1914. Experts believe that 17,375 pieces of each variety were struck.
The coins are available in grades up to MS-65. Higher graded coins are sought after by type- and gold collectors. 100 Proof coins of each variety were also struck for government officials but were not available to collectors at the time. The coins were placed in an imprinted card, signed by Superintendent J.M. Landis and Coiner R.R. Freed of the Philadelphia Mint and wax sealed. Many have had the Proofs and seal tampered with, and some have even been reported with the Proof coin replaced for an ordinary, proof-like business strike.
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