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Washington, D.C. School Trip Filled with Numismatic Discoveries

By Corinne Zielke

This past week I had the pleasure, even with two grueling eighteen-hour bus rides, of chaperoning a school trip to Washington, D.C. with seventh and eighth grade students.  We left our small Wisconsin hometown the morning of Friday, May 17, heading first for Gettysburg, Pa., for a half day excursion through the Civil War battlefields before arriving in Washington, D.C. 

Found by one of our youngsters in the Gettysburg Museum, a Confederate “Greyback” note for sale.

Before leaving Gettysburg, I did cave in and feed a few dollars into the penny press to take home a handful of souvenir elongated pennies.  It was fascinating to see how many of the youngsters in my assigned group had never had the opportunity to use one of these machines, so of course there was a line to run the crank.  It was the first of many moments I would use to share some information about coins beginning with how the penny presses work and the various compositions of pennies throughout the years. I also cautioned the teens to watch their cents before inserting them into the machines to ensure they did not sacrifice a Wheat penny, which of course drew questions about what Wheat pennies were. I did catch several then rummaging through their pocket change in hopes of finding one.

The souvenir collection of eight elongated pennies from Gettysburg, Pa.

Our first stop upon arriving in Washington D.C., was the Smithsonian Museums. It wasn’t too difficult to arrive at a consensus where to head first, thankfully, and we set out for the American History Museum.  Since my job here with Numismatic News is obviously all about collecting coins and paper money, I was able to persuade the boys to make a stop in ‘The Value of Money’ exhibit, which features a vault door marking the entrance to the new Gallery of Numismatics.

One of our first stops, the Gallery of Numismatics in the Smithsonian’s American History Museum, has a unique “vault” entrance. (Image courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution)

It was fantastic to see the youngsters show interest in the display.  I had fully expected them to breeze through, just to appease me, however I found myself pleased  to see them stopping at the display cases and looking and eventually pulling out the drawers below which revealed even more coins.  And then the questions began!  We talked about the storied 1933 Double Eagle, traced the evolution in the design changes of several denominations throughout the year and of course marveled at the $100,000 dollar note, which half of the boys still believe to be fake.

A 1904 $20 gold Coronet Head found within the Gallery of Numismatics.

This 1907 St. Gaudens High Relief $20 gold coin features Roman numerals for the year, which was quite interesting to the children.














Day two, we found ourselves at the Newseum.  If you haven’t visited, I recommend adding it to your itinerary.  I’ve been there twice now and even found that half of the exhibits I took in this trip were new to me.  That very well could be the result of a limited amount of time I had the first time I was there in 2015.  Nonetheless, upon finishing our excursion through the decades of history as captured by the news media, we found ourselves with 10-15 minutes of downtime waiting for the rest of our group to filter into the designated meeting spot. 

While waiting, one of the boys in my group, Charlie, reached into his pocket and was sifting through his change.  His face lit up when he found a shiny 2019 penny.  He brought it over for inspection, as I had mentioned to the group earlier that 2019 marks the first year that Lincoln cents were produced with the ‘W’ mintmark.  Charlie’s penny did not have a minkmark at all, which, of course, stirred more questions.  So, rather than answer the question, I challenged the boys to find the answer and out came their mobile phones and they googled away!  Of course, all arrived at the same answer that Charlie’s penny was produced in Philadelphia.  That was a good time also to tell the boys about how some coins are made for circulation, while others are designated as “Uncirculated” as is the case with the “W” pennies discussed earlier.  From that moment on, every shiny penny had to be checked for the year and if we could find a 2019 Denver penny to go with our 2019 Philadelphia penny.

Finally! A 2019 Lowell National Park quarter with the “P” mintmark to fill in a gap in my ATB quarter folder.

Our next stop was Ford’s Theater, to learn about the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.  While I didn’t find anything in the museum there specifically related to coin collecting, I was fortunate to receive in my change at the gift shop a 2019 Lowell National Park quarter, bearing the ‘P’ mintmark.  On a personal level, it was a good find, as I haven’t been able to find this particular one yet to add to my National Park Quarters Coin Folder.

So as we sat on the steps of the St. Patrick’s Catholic Church at the end of our tour waiting for our busses to arrive, I took advantage of the moment and shared my find with the group.  And, of course, more questions.  The children were curious about the different quarters, as many were familiar with the State Quarters that they had learned about in grade school, but were not familiar with the America the Beautiful National Park program.  After our brief lesson about that program, I had a handful of kids showing me their “finds” within their own pocket change.  No ‘W’ mintmark quarters to report, unfortunately, as those are circulating coins.  Upon loading the bus and heading for dinner, I found myself announcing to the occupants of bus three, “The Bureau of Engraving and Printing is on your right!”  Unfortunately, we didn’t make it by the United States Mint Headquarters on 9th Street.

Of course, this trip would not have been complete without me being the tour guide and calling out to the other passengers on the bus to look outside to see various landmarks, like The Treasury Department building shown here.

A fun history lesson was had at Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum as we matched the Presidents with their respective bills. Shown here is my son, Adam, with Andrew Jackson. And no, he didn’t get to keep the $20!

Day three found us at Mount Vernon, the home of George and Martha Washington.  It was a sweltering 90+ degree day and my travelers were eager to make their way to the Donald W. Reynolds Education Center after exploring the mansion and the grounds.  I too, was excited, as I was looking forward to viewing the rare 1792 Washington President gold eagle pattern coin, the earliest gold pattern proposed for U.S. coinage and the only gold coin with this design.  I wish I had been able to get a decent photo, but with no flash photography allowed, it was a bust.  While Washington’s dentures were the highlight of this tour stop for those under the age of 15, it was very enjoyable for those of us “over 15” to view this historical coin. 

Before leaving, I treated myself to two more elongated pennies, one with the bust of President George Washington and the other a dove signifying peace.

The afternoon found us at Arlington National Cemetery.  While I was hard-pressed to find any coin history to tie directly to Arlington, the question about coins left on gravestones did come up and here is what we shared with our group:  A penny means simply that you visited, a nickel indicates that you and the deceased trained together, a dime means you served with him/her in some capacity and a quarter tells the family you were with that soldier when he/she was killed.

Another non-numismatic highlight shown here is the wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery. Four of our students were honored to be selected to participate in this ceremony. If you look closely, you’ll see ‘Manawa Junior High, on the wreath’s banner.

As one would, while in Washington D.C., we toured the national monuments and war memorials; all very enjoyable with so many memories made and photos captured.  One memory I hope to have instilled in a handful of the youth I interacted with this weekend is the fun of collecting coins. I received an email from one parent already with a photo of his personal collection and my own son pulled out his National Parks Quarter Folder a few days after we got home.  That’s a good sign!

This article was originally printed in Numismatic News Express. >> Subscribe today.

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