There are often big surprises when looking through Smithsonian artifacts. The Smithsonian recently discovered a design for a $100-gold coin.

Jeff Garrett, a numismatist or coin expert was looking through the Smithsonian’s National Numismatic Collection, when he found a sketch by George T. Morgan. Morgan is often considered America’s greatest coins designer. Morgan was not designing a special-edition quarter- or cent, but a completely new coin – the $100 Union.

The idea was that Americans wouldn’t want $100 gold coins in their pockets. However, the proposed piece would have weighed only one-third of an ounce.

Although the $100 Union would not have been in general circulation, it would have been used for international transactions. Morgan seems to have considered this fact when designing the coin – the sketch shows Lady Liberty seated. Morgan created a harbor and an incoming ship to symbolize global commerce.

However, the U.S. Mint didn’t make the $100 Union. In fact Morgan’s sketch was the only proof that a coin this large was ever considered.

Why was the coin never produced? The United States was facing a shortage of paper currency in California by 1877. This led the government to think about minting large-denomination coins. Two $50 Half Union gold coins were produced by the government, but they were not intended for circulation. The problem was that 1877 was one of 1873-79’s worst years. Very few people had jobs or a need to purchase large-denomination, gold coins.

Ironically, many investors have taken an interest in coin collection during the current recession. Even though the country’s economy is struggling, gold and silver still retain their intrinsic value. To achieve Morgan’s $100 Union, the Smithsonian partnered with New York Mint (a private mint). These coins cannot be used to make U.S. currency; only the U.S. Mint is authorized to do so. However, they are an amazing collectible that was inspired by a historical design. A portion of the proceeds will go to the Smithsonian’s National Numismatic Collection.

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