America’s national numismatic journey began with tentative issues of “Fugio” cents in 1787 and “half dismes” in 1792. Over time, external events generated unexpected changes to accustomed financial and coinage systems. Some changes were of wide impact, while others were limited to our national mints, and some remain largely unknown to the present.
Saudi Gold and Other Tales from the Mint explains the use of gold as a single monetary standard, commonly accepted by most nations. But the United States, with its diverse and questioning population, attempted to have gold and silver as “semi-exchangeable” if not practical dual standards.
After decades of mannered stability, a once ubiquitous gold exchange standard crumbled under international economic pressures resulting from World War I. American dollars that had long been expressed as “gold dollar” or “silver dollar” or “greenback dollar” all became simply “a dollar.” Coin collectors used their newly equal dollars to enhance collections, fill coin boards and examine pocket change for rare and valuable coins. The business of coins became part of the collection of coins and drew within it a new diversity of hobbyists and businesses.
During the interwar Great Depression period, the Treasury began a large construction and modernization plan for the mints. This included separate bullion depositories for gold and silver, enlargement of existing mints, and a proposed new mint in Indiana. Director Nellie Ross reinvigorated the Mint Service with better training, heightened security, improved facilities, and crucial direct oversight.
With World War II came new, often secret roles for the Treasury and Mint Bureau. Saudi Gold and Other Tales from the Mint describes how they became lenders of war materials, international coin producers, and unexpected sources of foreign aid designed to improve America’s war efforts. The Department of State seemed, at times, to use the Mint Bureau as its own adjunct; bypassing a Congress reluctant to take a long view of international relations.
World War II produced the greatest single disruption of human activity ever experienced. The rise of large-scale totalitarianism, weapons of unimaginable destructive capability, and economic distortion forced Great Britain, the United States, and their allies to take extraordinary measures to make the world safe for democracy.
Central to this was securing the cooperation of allies and non-aligned states for raw materials, overflight permission, and advance base logistics planning. Our title, Saudi Gold and Other Tales from the Mint, focuses on one of many events involving the manufacture of coinage, lend-lease arrangements, and, especially on relations between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United States. This was one of personal kindness, connection, and respect between President Roosevelt and King Abdulaziz bin Abdul Rahman Al Saud. America’s diplomatic goal was not oil — we were self-sufficient — but access to a transportation base for troops required for the expected invasion of Japan. The gold discs which coin collectors associate with Saudi Arabia were only incidental, but after decades of confusion, we present what actually happened.
We close with an examination of two of our most iconic coins. The first honors the wartime president who led with courage and commitment. The second recognized a man who held no great political office but became a revered American national philosopher.
Saudi Gold and Other Tales from the Mint is available from Wizard Coin Supply. The cover price for the 8½ x 11-inch hardcover book containing 258 full-color pages is $39.99. Purchasers may also download a complete digital index edition at no cost. This will facilitate subject searches and provides a convenient copy for use on phones, tablets, and similar portable devices.