These dollars were conceived as a fund raising effort for the Louisiana Purchase Exposition scheduled to be held in St Louis in 1903. Initially there was only going to be one design with the portrait of Thomas Jefferson (who authorized the Louisiana Purchase) on the Obverse. However, shortly after signing the authorization bill for the exposition (March 3 1901), President McKinley was assassinated (September 6, 1901), by Leon Czolgosz, an anarchist while attending the 1901 Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. At some point in the process a second design was added and half of the coins were struck with McKinley’s portrait.
The Exposition was scheduled to open in 1903, so coin production started in December 1902 with 75,000 pieces (equally split between both designs). These coins were shipped from Philadelphia to St. Louis to be held pending distribution. As was typical for events of this type, the preparations ran late and the exposition didn’t actually open until the spring of 1904. The Exposition ran until December 1 of the same year. The balance of the 250,000 coin authorization was struck in January of 1903.
Promotion and Distribution of the coins was handled by Farran Zerbe, a coin dealer and eventually a president of the American Numismatic Association. Sales were slow (probably because of the exorbitant asking price of $3.00) and eventually most of the coins were returned to the mint to be melted.
The obverse dies for both coins were executed by Chief Engravers Charles Barber. The design is fairly plain as dictated by the size of the coins and includes the central portrait surrounded by the single line of text; “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA”. Barber purportedly copied the Jefferson portrait for an Indian Peace medal that resided in the mint cabinet. This medal was originally executed by John Reich in 1801 and was supposedly based on a contemporary Houdon bust. The McKinley portrait was based on the design that Barber had use for the president’s inaugural medal.
Both pieces have the same reverse (also by Barber) which includes a central Inscription with the text “ONE DOLLAR” above and “1803-1903” below with the two lines separated by an olive branch. These central devices are surrounded BY a Ring of text that read “LOUISIANA PURHCASE EXPOSITION “arcing across the top and “ST LOUIS” across the bottom.
General Market Notes
Initially 125,000 of these small dollars were minted, along with another 125,000 McKinley coins and an additional 258 coins held for assay. However sales were slow and eventually 215,250 coins were melted (including 250 or the assay coins). No records were kept with respect to which coins were melted, so final mintage numbers are an estimate at best. Between the two designs, 35,000 coins were distributed. Because the sale price was significantly higher than the face value most of the coins were kept as keepsakes and never circulated, so most available specimens are in brilliant uncirculated condition.