Perhaps the most important lesson I learned from working on Stories on Money was the incredible amount of collaboration—internal and external—that is necessary to create an exhibition. As a newcomer to the museum world (my previous experience limited largely to being a visitor) I don’t think I ever took the time to really think about how an exhibit actually makes it onto the floor of a museum. After seeing the pieces of Stories on Money come together through careful planning and installation, I now find myself looking at other exhibitions in a different way, paying attention to more than just the content. Now I look deeper by trying to understand how layouts were designed and to determine the reasoning behind the smallest details, building on lessons I learned from participating in an exhibition opening for the first time.
I also felt awed by the sheer fact that I was working with such important (and expensive!) pieces of American history. Some of the coins in Stories on Money are legends in the numismatic world, such as the one-of-a-kind 1849 pattern for the proposed $20 dollar gold coins, or double eagles. Sometimes being in a place like the Smithsonian feels more like a vacation than work because of the opportunity to be surrounded by objects that have been real movers and shakers in American history. It’s a real privilege to be a part of this.
Matt Small is an intern in the Numismatic Department, part of the Division of Information Technology & Communications, at the National Museum of American History.