What is it about that feeling of money in your hands? It can make your palms sweat.
“A little bit nervous,” Len Olijar said with a laugh. “I’m glad we got a lot of police officers and security around here, to be honest.”
Olijar is the director of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing at the Department of the Treasury. He was holding a sheet of 12, $100,000 gold certificates Tuesday at the World’s Fair of Money at the Colorado Convention Center.
On the other side of the convention hall, a number of numismatists were getting ready for the doors to open to the public.
“The best part of doing all of this is getting to fiddle with the coin,” said David McCarthy, senior numismatist for Kagins, Inc.
McCarthy was removing a glass case protecting the prize piece of his company’s collection.
“This is the single coolest object that I’ve ever handled and maybe I’ve ever seen in my life,” McCarthy said, holding the silver coin. “What we’re looking at is the very first coin struck by the United States government right after the Revolutionary War.”
The coin is known as the “1783 Plain Obverse Nova Constellatio Quint.” The front of the coin features eye of God with beam of light shooting out to 13 stars representing the 13 colonies. Kagin’s, Inc. purchased the coin at auction four years ago, and McCarthy has been researching it ever since.
“When it was found, it was similar to another coin and people called it the Type 2,” McCarthy explained. “For 150 years, every time someone looked at this coin, because of the name, people immediately assumed it was made later.”
McCarthy had a hunch that the coin was special, but needed proof.
“I needed to look at this coin and the other coins related to it incredibly closely and compare them very, very carefully,” he said. “The more I looked at it and the more I found out about how the coins were struck and the entire situation around the creation of these things, the more obvious it became that this actually was the very first one.”
McCarthy is now convinced founding fathers handled the coin 234 years ago.
“Alexander Hamilton almost certainly held this coin in his hand,” he said.
McCarthy said Robert Morris, the man who helped finance the American Revolution, had the coin struck in 1783 and corresponded with Hamilton about it.
“It’s an object I know changed the world,” McCarthy said. “We wouldn’t have the dollar we have today if it weren’t for this coin.”
The coin would have been worth 500 units in a proposed 1000-unit system. McCarthy said the coin is the first decimal coin ever struck in western Europe or North America.
“If you’ve ever made change and you’ve been able to figure out what you’re owed because you can divide by ten in your head, that’s because of this coin,” he said.
Two weeks after the original coin was struck, a set of coins was made and sent to congress, McCarthy said. The set was then sent off to Thomas Jefferson.
McCarthy said he couldn’t put a value on the original coin, but the company has it insured for $5 million. It’ll be on display at the World’s Fair of Money through Saturday.
Admission is $8 for the public; free for ANA members and children under 12. Admission is free on Saturday, August 5.