Coins, Currency, and Medals
The Museum possesses one of the largest numismatic collections in the world. The collections include over 1 million objects, comprising coins, medals, decorations, and pieces of paper money. Among the many great rarities here are some of the world’s oldest coins, created 2,700 years ago. But the collection also includes the latest innovations in electronic monetary exchange, as well as beads, wampum, and other commodities once used as money. A special strength lies in artifacts that illustrate the development of money and medals in the United States. The American section includes many rare and significant coins, such as two of three known examples of the world's most valuable coin, the 1933 double eagle $20 gold piece.
"Coins, Currency, and Medals - Overview" showing 1 items.
- This copper tajadero (Spanish for chopping knife) was a form of money used in central Mexico and parts of Central America. Also known as Aztec hoe or axe money, this standardized, unstamped currency had a fixed worth of 8,000 cacao seeds – the other common unit of exchange in Mesoamerica. This piece was made around 1500, about 20 years before Spain began to colonize Mexico. During the early colonial period, in an economy where minted coins were in short supply, tajaderos like this one were still being exchanged for goods by native Mexicans. Meanwhile, the Spanish colonists were using gold dust, nuggets, and silver bars or sheets as currency. Where were the many millions of pesos minted in Mexico going? After 1535, minted money was one of Mexico's biggest exports, along with indigenous agricultural products like textile dyes, cacao, and vanilla. The gold and, especially, silver pesos that originated in Mexico's mines were sent to Spain to pay for manufactured goods produced in countries like England, France, Holland, and later, China. These imports were expensive – only the wealthier Spanish colonists and the indigenous aristocracy could afford them. Their wealth was based in part on the tributes paid by indigenous men and women and by the increasingly large population of free people of African descent. The history of all these peoples intersected and blended during a centuries-long process of dramatic social reorganization and economic exploitation that imposed an often violent or coercive exchange of language, labor, technology, and genes.
- Currently not on view
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- National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center