Occasionally a window opens up in each of our respective communities for us to share our numismatic collections with others. The most common venue for this is placing a numismatic exhibit at a local, regional, or national coin or paper money show. However, how many of us have prepared numismatic exhibits and spent countless hours perfecting our cases, only to watch hundreds of people streaming past our exhibit section to the bourse floor, ignoring our numismatic exhibit efforts?
Several years ago, I set out on a quest to bring a numismatic exhibit on the Republic of Texas (1836 to 1846) to a much broader audience. As I pitched the concept to officials at the Alamo, the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, and the Houston Museum of Natural Science, I found that long lead times and layers of decision making are needed to bring this dream to reality. I decided instead to concentrate my efforts on finishing the book I had been researching on the subject and finding a mainstream publisher, so that the subject could be introduced into historical circles.
The result of these efforts culminated in the publication of my book, The Paper Republic, The Struggle for Money, Credit and Independence in the Republic of Texas (Bright Sky Press, 2009). Now in its second edition, the book accomplished for me what exhibiting could not: it brought the monetary and economic history of Texas, from the earliest Spanish colonial period until the annexation by the United States in 1846 to the public. Not surprisingly, the numismatic thread weaving through this turbulent period was largely unknown to academic historians, who tend to focus on the political figures and military history of the period.
In the fall of 2010, I received a call from the Houston Museum of Natural Science collection’s manager regarding an exhibit planned for opening on March 2, 2011, to commemorate the 175th anniversary of Texas Independence. She wanted to know if I still had all the Texas money I had previously proposed for a museum loan and if I could help fill up 8,000 square feet with numismatic items. I told her that I could find the money and the documents I originally proposed. Although this space was much larger than what I had envisioned, I pulled together a group of fellow collectors (and four museums), and worked with the director, space planners and graphic artists to showcase 275 numismatic items, about 40 percent of “Texas! Making history since 1519.” This exhibit drew over 165,000 visitors during the six-month run in Houston and the two-month showing in Dallas in 2011.
While devoting much of my recent historical efforts to public speaking on numismatic topics related to my book, I received a referral from Rick Beale, an Austin coin dealer and Texas Numismatic Association governor, to Kyle Schlafer, the program manager for the Texas State Preservation Board. Schlafer was exploring a Republic of Texas money exhibit at the Capitol Visitor’s Center in Austin. He needed help and asked me to serve as guest curator of the exhibit. I accepted the challenge.
After weeks of discussion, and several months of selection, writing, editing, designing and proofing, “On the Run: Currency, Credit and Capitols of the Republic of Texas,” opened on Feb 1, 2014, at the Texas Capitol Visitors Center in Austin for a five-month run through June 22. Smaller than “Texas! Making history since 1519,” this exhibit is almost entirely numismatic and brings the unique monetary and financial theme in the history of the Republic deep into the heart of Texas. Not surprisingly, having a dedicated graphics artist and professional curatorial design staff to manage the layout, flow and theme of the presentation greatly enhances the numismatic content for the visitor. It opened to rave reviews.
All of these projects are part of my long term efforts to bring the study of history through numismatics to as large an audience as possible. I encourage my friends and colleagues in other parts of the country to use their imaginations to realize what opportunities lie ahead for exhibiting and sharing their collection with others.