A collection on display over 100 years ago – California gold coin like paper

For the World’s Fair held in St. Louis in 1904, Mr. Farran Zerbe planned to exhibit many of his rarities, some of which was California Small Denomination Gold.

He began collecting at the age of nine and had rare coins, paper money, postage stamps and other unique items that he wanted to display.

An odd item planned for his display was an imitation billion dollar gold piece. Made of metal to represent gold, the “coin” was 40 feet in diameter and 30 inches thick.

The exhibit room allotted to Mr. Zerbe would house 100,000 of his rare items and the walls would be papered with 1,000,000 postage stamps.

Some of the rarities for display:

– a tetradrachm from 501 BC coined at Syracuse

– Chinese coins, one even resembled a razor

– a 1792 half-dime, probably minted from Martha Washington’s silver

– a German medal with “Prinz Heinrich and Prasident Roosevelt” on the obverse and the SS Kronprinz Wilhelm, a steamship, on the reverse

– an 1804 silver dollar (less than 20 known today and worth millions)

– a large collection of California gold from 25-cent to $50 pieces with the 25-cent gold coins “like paper” and the $50 pieces large and heavy

– octagonal gold $50 with an eagle on one side and a plain surface on the opposite from the US Assay Office

– an 1879 $4 Stella

– a complete collection of paper money with 2000 varieties

– every denomination of fractional currency and Continental and Colonial notes made prior to the Revolutionary War

– a note printed by Benjamin Franklin in 1754 with the inscription “To Counterfeit Is Death”

The exhibition in 1904 actually manufactured “coins.”

Mr. Zerbe took advantage of the popularity of the interest in the small California 25-cent and 50-cent gold pieces to make similar token pieces to sell at the Exposition.

Since the World’s Fair celebrated the Louisiana Purchase, Mr. Zerbe used gold mined in the Louisiana Territory and included elements celebrating the Purchase’s centennial in the tokens’ design.

A fleur-de-lis with L. P. E. in its extended points decorated the obverse and was surrounded by 14 stars representing the 14 states. The year, 1904, crossed the base of the fleur-de-lis.

The reverse had either 1/2 or 1/4 in the middle with “Louisiana” above and “gold” below the fractional number.

Mr. Zerbe packaged these souvenir tokens in a set with the Louisiana Purchase dollar coin from the US Mint. The three gold pieces, a one-dollar coin and two fractional tokens, sold for $3.75, the dollar’s set price of $3 plus the tokens’ “face” value of $0.75.

In remembrance of the World’s Fair 110 years ago and its impressive numismatic displays, let’s look at a California Small Denomination Gold coin, similar to the “like paper” coin displayed in the Exposition.

California 25-cent gold coin