About So-Called Dollars

So-Called Dollars are medals approximately the size of a silver dollar that were struck to commemorate a U.S. historical event. Struck since the early 1800’s they fall into two categories, those associated with a major fair or exposition such as the 1892-1893 Columbia Exposition and those associated with an event in U.S. history such as the completion of the Erie Canal in 1826. In addition dollar-sized medals that are associated with the silver controversies, our national coinage or were actually designed as circulating media are also known as so-called dollars. Pieces were struck by the U.S. Mint as well as by private diesinkers. The following types of medals are not so-called dollars: military medals, religious medals, award medals, fraternal medals or advertising store card medals.

The history of collecting medals

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The term So-Called Dollar is credited to New York coin dealer Thomas Elder who used the term in one of his 1912 auction catalogs for the Louisiana Purchase Exposition silver President Roosevelt dollar HK 308. Richard D. Kenney authored an article on So-Called Dollars published in the July-August, 1953 edition of the Coin Collector’s Journal. In 1963 Harold E. Hibler and Charles V. Kappen published a book titled So-Called Dollars. A second edition of the Hibler & Kappen book was reprinted in 2008. That book today serves as the standard reference for So-Called Dollars. Numismatist Jeff Shevlin is currently researching and preparing to publish a new book on So-Called Dollars. Hundreds of collectors are collaborating with Jeff in that effort.

Early advanced U.S. collectors focused on rare medals and rare federal coinage. In the early 1900’s collectors focus changed to collecting U.S. coins by date and mint mark. Today many advanced numismatists are rediscovering the history and allure associated with rare medals. Their rarity and relatively low cost make them appealing today to knowledgeable collectors.


Browse So-Called Dollars by Exposition Category

1853 New York Crystal Palace

New York City, New York

America's first foray into the promotion of the fruits of the industrial age followed the successful 1851 Great Exhibition in England. It showcased the industrial achievements of the world and demonstrated the nationalistic pride of a relatively young nation and all that America stood for. The English influence lead to the construction of an American version of the English Crystal Palace in iron and glass as the Grand Hall for the Exhibition.

View All (2) Medals in Category SH 1

1873 Inter-State Industrial Exposition of Chicago

Chicago, Illinois

The disastrous fire of 1871 nearly brought the city of Chicago to it's knees, but leading businessmen fought back. The "New Chicago" would highlight its recovery and economic importance with the construction of the Inter-State Exposition Building that housed annual expositions from 1873 to 1890. The building was modeled after the Crystal Palaces of London and New York.

View All (1) Medals in Category SH 1-11

1878 Pittsburgh Exposition

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

The Pittsburgh Exposition Society organized its first fair in 1875 to build on the successes of Pittsburgh businesses in the U.S. and European expositions and trade fairs.

View All (1) Medals in Category SH 3

1879 Pittsburgh Exposition

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

The Pittsburgh Exposition was held annually beginning in 1875, but only for the years 1878 and 1879 were so-called dollar sized medals struck.

View All (1) Medals in Category SH 3-11

1880 Nashville Centennial Exposition

Nashville, Tennessee

One-hundred artillery guns placed on Capitol Hill fired at 6 AM to usher in Nashville's Centennial Day with a bang. Exhibits primarily from the southern states focused on local industrial products, farm produce and implements, and educational opportunities, exhibits focused on the geology and history of the south.

View All (1) Medals in Category SH 3-21

1882 National Mining and Industrial Exposition

Denver, Colorado

Planning began at the end of 1880 with a proposal for a permanent mining exposition grounds that would become a grand museum. The Director of the Denver Mint agreed to accept the position of Acting President to raise the stature of the endeavor.

View All (1) Medals in Category SH 3-31

1889 National Railway Electric and Industrial Exposition

St. Joseph, Kansas

The people of St Joseph decided to host an exposition, popularly known as the "New Era Exposition" that would overshadow the Corn Palace in Sioux City, the Mineral Palace in Denver, the Grass Palace in Fort Worth, Texas and the Coal Palace in Ottumwa, Iowa. Exposition was held from September 3rd to October 3rd, 1889.

View All (1) Medals in Category SH 5-61

1894 California Midwinter Exposition

San Francisco, California

Immediately following the 1893 Columbian Exposition, the California Midwinter Exposition was held in Golden Gate Park. Michael DeYoung, publisher of the San Francisco Chronicle, convinced the citizens of San Francisco to host the exposition with less than one year to build all of the buildings and complete the infrastructure.

View All (40) Medals in Category SH 7

1905 Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition

Portland, Oregon

On the 100th anniversary of the Corps of Discovery's exploration by Lewis and Clark in 1804 & 1805 of the Louisiana Purchase Territory and their sighting of the Pacific Ocean, Portland hosted this exposition.

View All (28) Medals in Category SH 14

1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition

Seattle, Washington

Seattle hosted this exposition to celebrate the Alaskan Gold Rush and the discovery of gold in Canada's Yukon Territory, and the fact that Seattle was the major shipping location in the Pacific Northwest.

View All (26) Medals in Category SH 16

1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition

San Francisco, California

San Francisco held it's second major exposition in 1915 to celebrate the completion of the Panama Canal and to let the world know that The City had recovered from the devastating 1906 earthquake and fire.

View All (40) Medals in Category SH 18

1915-16 Panama-California Exposition

San Diego, California

San Diego in 1915-16 hosted an exposition that was open during the same time as the exposition held in San Francisco. San Diego's exposition was extended for an additional year, into 1916, and also celebrated the completion of the Panama Canal.

View All (14) Medals in Category SH 19

1930 Pacific American International Exposition

Portland, Oregon

Medal was issued privately in anticipation of this exposition which never took place at all. Planned during the roaring twenties with the intention to invite "all of the peoples of the globe". The Great Depression of latter 1929 proved the final blow and the exposition never occurred.

View All (1) Medals in Category SH 20-11

1935-36 California Pacific International Exposition

San Diego, California

In 1935-35 San Diego held a second major exposition in the same location, Balboa Park, to revitalize their community and to preserve and rebuild the structures originally built in 1915 for their previous exposition.

View All (3) Medals in Category SH 22

1939-40 Golden Gate International Exposition

San Francisco, California

The newly man made Treasure Island was the location for the third major exposition held in San Francisco. The Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay Bridge has both just been recently completed and San Francisco wanted to host a celebration that would draw everyone to the city that was now readily accessible.

View All (13) Medals in Category SH 23

1962 Seattle World's Fair Exposition

Seattle, Washington

The aerospace industry was centered in the Pacific Northwest, specifically Seattle, and the U.S. was competing with the Russians in the space race to demonstrate technology superiority. Seattle was selected to host an exposition that would showcase the latest technological achievements made in the U.S.

View All (18) Medals in Category SH 25


Browse So-Called Dollars by Decade Category


Browse So-Called Dollars by Other Criteria

In addition to browsing by exposition or by decade on this page, you can also browse by several other criteria. We’ve compiled a helpful list of the various ways you can navigate our database, located on our Find A So-Called Dollar page.