What links St. Louis numismatist Otto Oddehorn to the Louisiana Purchase?

The Research Desk: 1953 medal celebrates sesquicentennial
By , Special to Coin World
Published : 09/25/16
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The Research Desk column from the Oct. 10, 2016, weekly issue of Coin World:

Collecting of U.S. medals prior to the 1970s suffered from the lack of comprehensive and reliable catalogs.

A key volume was issued by Coin & Currency Institute of New York. The 156-page hard cover So-Called Dollars by Californians Harold E. Hibler and Charles V. Kappen was released in 1963.

The term “so-called dollars” was used in the 1950s by Richard D. Kenney to describe medals of the approximate size of a U.S. silver dollar. Hibler and Kappen vastly extended his listing and boosted a distinct collecting area. 

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Neither author had the depth of knowledge really needed for this ambitious book, but it became important simply because it existed and filled an enormous gap. It presented whatever information was at hand, publicizing hundreds of medals that gained importance simply because Hibler and Kappen included them. Many obscure events and mysteries were brought to light that called for in-depth research.

Among these was HK-509, the 1953 Louisiana Purchase Sesquicentennial medal, a 41.5-millimeter plain-edge piece struck by the Adams Company for old-time St. Louis coin dealer Otto Oddehon.

St. Louis was host to the 1903 to 1904 Louisiana Purchase Centennial Exposition, whose many medal issues were cataloged by the late Nathan Eglit. As the 150th anniversary approached, many hoped for a sesquicentennial exposition, but federal nor local business support could be had.

Oddehon, a dealer of the 1930s and 1940s, went forward with a private issue medal presenting a medieval armored knight riding left over inscription MFGD. FOR & DISTD. BY/ ODDEHON/ ST. LOUIS, MO. The reverse bore a very stylized North American map, the upper portion fading away sans Alaska. The Louisiana Purchase territory was highlighted at center with a bold dot marking St. Louis, all within a commemorative legend.

The semi-satirical catalog listing noted a 1953 gathering of five history-minded citizens amid the urban renewal rubble of the 1903 fair site. They drank a champagne toast “to the westward course of empire” and set off six bombs and rockets, of which half misfired. 

We now know that the Oddehon medals were also struck in bronze, silverplate and brass. They really, if unknowingly, commemorated the death of the world’s fair movement.

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