National Numismatic Collection
The National Numismatic Collection (NNC) of the Smithsonian Institution is one of the largest numismatic collections in the world and the largest in North America. With over 1.6 millioin objects, the NNC contains many great rarities in coins and currency, from the earliest coins created 2,700 years ago up to the latest innovations in electronic monetary exchange, as well as fascinating objects such as beads, wampum, dentalia, and other commodities once used as money.
The collection emphasizes the development of money and medals in the United States. The core of the U.S. collection, consisting of more than 18,000 items, including coins of great rarity, came to the Smithsonian in 1923 from the United States Mint. Exceptional rarities include the Brasher half doubloon, the 1849 double eagle (first of the gold 20 dollar pieces), and two 1877 fifty dollar patterns. Other rarities are include the 1913 Liberty head nickel as well as all three types of the 1804 dollar, and two of three known examples of the world's most valuable coin, the 1933 double eagle, the third of which recently sold for 7.6 million dollars. Learn more about the collection.
Below you will find a selection of over 350 objects from the collection. We are working to expand and improve online access to additional objects in the near future, so stay tuned.
"National Numismatic Collection - Introduction" showing 1 items.
- When the Great Depression and resulting banking crisis hit their community, the residents of the California coastal town of Pismo Beach picked an unusual but logical medium of exchange. The pismo is a species of clam with a very thick shell, then found in large numbers along the California coast and prized as a food.
- A town named after clams suggests an adequate supply of their shells. Perhaps with tongue in cheek, the merchants and officials of Pismo Beach (who were often the same people) decided to make the best of a bad situation, and to make the humble pismo shell into an object of trade. This they did. The Chamber of Commerce and no fewer than eleven merchants issued clamshell scrip. Restwell Cabins issued "notes" in three denominations: twenty-five cents, fifty cents, and one dollar.
- The larger the amount, the larger the shell. The issue may have been partly intended as a spoof, or for sale to tourists, in the manner of German notgeld around 1920. Redemption would never be a problem because collectors would wish to keep such pieces in their cabinets or trade them with their friends. But it was also intended partly as a real, if unique, circulating medium. The Restwell Cabins issue bore the motto, "IN GOD WE TRUST."
- Each piece was numbered, and each piece was signed on the front and on the back. As with the stamp notes of the Midwest, it was necessary to sign each clamshell on the back in order to keep it in circulation. No formal requirements may have existed, but informal pressure certainly would have endorsed the practice.
- This specimen is dated March 8, 1933. This was in the middle of Roosevelt's national banking holiday, and it is exactly the time when we might expect to see people take money into their own hands.
- Restwell Cabins
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- National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center