“It’s only money.”
Having learned that expression from my parents, I’ve used that phrase at times during the years to justify putting the value of family experiences above financial concerns. But the money on display at the World’s Fair of Money, running today through Saturday in Rosemont, can grab anyone’s attention, as it is more than only money.
“Money is history you can hold in your hands,” says Col. Steve Ellsworth, president of the American Numismatic Association, the not-for-profit organization that sponsors the World’s Fair of Money, which is hosted by the Chicago Coin Club. Many of the gold, silver and copper coins on display date back to the 1790s, when the U.S. Mint was just getting started. But it’s not just age that matters to collectors.
“It’s the art and beauty of the coins that really appeals to them,” says Ira Goldberg, who, with his cousin, Larry Goldberg, owns Goldberg Coins and Collectibles in Los Angeles. They represent the world’s most valuable private coin collection. Purchased by an anonymous collector, the Tyrant Collection started with coins commissioned as long ago as the 7th Century B.C. by “potentates, kings, popes, presidents, dictators and other leaders,” Goldberg says. The Tyrant Collection displays more than $100 million worth of coins at the fair.
Its most valuable exhibit is “The King of Siam Set,” a collection of U.S. coins sent by President Andrew Jackson as a gift to the king of what now is Thailand in 1834. The collection also boasts a 1792 half-dime, with a Lady Liberty thought to have been modeled after Martha Washington, and a 1793 penny valued at $1 million.
The world’s most valuable coin has appreciated nicely since it was minted 88 years ago with a face value of $20. The gold 1933 Double Eagle coin, owned by shoe magnate Stuart Weitzman, sold at auction in June for a record $18.9 million to an anonymous buyer represented by GreatCollections.
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“He (the new buyer) was unbelievably happy when he saw Sotheby’s was going to auction the coin,” says Ian Russell, president of GreatCollections. “It’s really only been seen a couple of times in the last 30 years.”
The World’s Fair of Money was canceled last year because of the pandemic, but vendors expect thousands of guests this week at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center.
Many coins were recovered in 1988 from the wreckage of the SS Central America “Ship of Gold” that sunk on Sept. 12, 1857, in a storm far off the Carolina coast. The 268-pound bell from that fabled ship, salvaged from 7,200 feet deep, will be exhibited and rung twice each day by Bob Evans, the chief scientist for that recovery mission.
Costumed impersonators of Abraham Lincoln and Benjamin Franklin, two historical figures who have graced some U.S. money, will be at the show Thursday, Friday, and Saturday to pose for complimentary picture-taking and videos with visitors.
Many of the coins arrive in armored trucks. In addition to armed security guards, government agents, undercover officers and other security forces support an anti-theft system that includes plenty of alarms and cameras.
Hundreds of dealers from across the U.S. will buy and sell rare coins at the show, gold and silver, as well as vintage paper money, medals, and tokens in all price ranges. In addition to seeing thousands of valuable and unique coins, guests can ask numismatic experts about the value of old coins and paper money they have in their collections, or maybe found in a box left by a dead relative.
“We’ve had people call us with coins that are worth hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Russell says. “It does happen.”