August 14, 2010 in Business

‘A lot of money,’ to coin a phrase

Money fair showcases $100,000 bills, Smithsonian gold treasures
Rodrique Ngowi Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

Coin collector Darlene Corio, of Rochester, N.Y., right, peers Tuesday through a window at a gold ingot weighing more than 662 ounces at the World’s Fair of Money in Boston.
(Full-size photo)

BOSTON – In an economic downturn, it might be tough to get your head around this: rare sheets of $100,000 bills, fabulous gold treasures dating back to the California Gold Rush era, rare coins including those tied to the first stirrings for America’s independence and federal government securities worth more than a billion dollars.

That’s the backdrop of the country’s premier money show, the World’s Fair of Money, which has brought about 1,000 coin dealers and hundreds of collectors to Boston, seeking to tap into the surprising resilience of the coin industry.

Held in a sprawling hall monitored by armed uniformed and undercover police officers, federal agents, private security contractors, electronic surveillance equipment and vigilant participants, the fair features seldom-seen gold treasures brought from the Smithsonian Institution’s vaults including America’s first $20 gold coin – valued by independent experts at $15 million today – and its last $20 coin.

It also includes sheets of America’s largest denomination currency, the $100,000 bill, which is said to be worth about $1.6 million today. The gold certificate note, which bears President Woodrow Wilson’s portrait, was used only for official transactions between Federal Reserve Banks. It was not circulated among the general public and cannot be legally held by currency note collectors.

“The reaction from kids to grandparents is universally the same: ‘Wow, that’s a lot of money.’ So, they wouldn’t mind having it,” Kevin Brown, manager in the marketing division of the U.S. Treasury Department’s Bureau of Engraving and Printing, said while holding the $100,000 bills. “People like to see money.”

There even was some free money at the show after the Bureau of Engraving and Printing handed out $150 bills to some children as souvenirs – thoroughly shredded and packed into tiny plastic bags.

The show, which ends today, includes a comprehensive collection of U.S. paper money that has never before been exhibited. It has coins from the Mexican War of Independence and Mexican Revolution that are being seen outside of Mexico for the first time since 1970. There also are rare coins worth several million dollars.

The SS Central America, which sank in an 1857 hurricane off the coast of North Carolina with more than 400 passengers and 30,000 pounds of gold from the California Gold Rush, made its inaugural appearance in Boston. The exhibit features more than $10 million in gold treasure recovered from the ship, also known as The Ship of Gold.

“It’s overwhelming. I mean, I have been to a couple of these other conventions and I’ve never seen this much, this many high-level items as you’re seeing here,” Jim Moorey, of Northbridge, Mass., said while visiting the show with his 13-year-old son, Tyler.

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