I received an honor of a lifetime this year when I was officially commissioned as a Kentucky Colonel. The recognition is commemorated by letters patent, issued by Governor Andy Beshear, now framed and proudly displayed in my office. I’ll always treasure this commission and take its charge seriously—to serve as an ambassador of goodwill and fellowship for the Bluegrass State.
One way I intend to do that is by spreading the word about Kentucky’s important place within the broad landscape of American numismatics (the study of coins, paper currency, tokens and medals, and similar objects). This goes back to the colonial era and stretches forward to the modern day. Chances are you’ve spent a Kentucky State quarter, made in 2001, or one minted in 2016 to remember the Cumberland Gap, “First Doorway to the West.” The United States Mint produced more than 850 million of those beautiful and historic Kentucky quarters—almost three coins for every man, woman, and child in the nation. If you’ve never spent one, you can see them (and other Kentucky-related money) in the Guide Book of United States Coins, a book that celebrates its 75th edition this year.
Other, rarer treasures have Commonwealth connections. These include commemorative silver half dollars, old-time dollar bills and other folding money issued by Kentucky banks starting in the early 1800s, National Bank Notes, privately minted Civil War tokens, beautiful old medals, and more. And of course, there’s the mystery and romance embodied in Fort Knox, storehouse of 4,583 metric tons of gold, and home to some of the rarest and most exotic coins guarded by our federal government.
Gather on the porch, relax with a mint julep or bourbon if you partake, ladle a bowl of Kentucky burgoo. We’ll begin our journey next week with a little piece of copper that put the Bluegrass State at the top of the nation more than 200 years ago.
On March 23, 2021, Governor Andy Beshear commissioned Whitman Publishing’s Dennis Tucker as a Kentucky Colonel—the highest honor awarded by the Commonwealth—in recognition of his career in book publishing and for promoting knowledge of Kentucky’s status as an important subject within American numismatics. Tucker’s column “From the Colonel’s Desk” explores the rich history of Kentucky embodied in coins, tokens, medals, paper money, private currency, and related artifacts of material culture.