I played numismatic tourist yesterday at the Bode Museum. There is a new exhibit of giant gold coins. These include the two largest in the world, the $1 million face value gold coin from Canada and the 100,000 euro gold coin from Austria.
Many of the historical pieces are on loan from a museum in Vienna. They are certainly something to see, but in between my looking at coins like the 20 excelente of Ferdinand and Isabella, I would spot things like the 2009 Ultra High Relief Saint-Gaudens gold $20 in a case showing many of the world’s current bullion coins.
Seeing UHR is like spotting an old friend in a crowd. Seeing it in a case of a venerable Berlin institution in a way validates the importance of the coin and the decision many American collectors took in 2009 to buy one. Buying it was a matter of personal taste and collecting preferences. But what happens after that is what makes numismatic history.
Will such a coin be in a similar exhibition in 500 years time? Or will it be something that will be written up by future numismatists as a passing historical fancy of early 21st century coin collectors?
The appeal of gold has always been its durability and its international recognition as something of value. That will not change in half a millennium, but attitudes toward a particular coin issue will.
I have no way of knowing, but the UHR could be simply an historical curiosity, or it could be a harbinger of something more. If the United States would ever go back on a gold standard, people like me would be writing that early hints at a change in policy were given by the issuance of such a gold coin.
That is the continuity of history. If there are connections that follow, the UHR will be one link in the chain. If nothing follows, it will recede in importance.
This historical process happens so slowly it will not diminish the sense of pride collectors feel in owning one or that warm feeling I got when I saw it in the case. It also leaves plenty of time to write something like this blog about it.