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November 18, 2010

Colonial Cash Stash Headlines History of New World Told in Coins & Currency

A new Colonial Williamsburg exhibition showcases the “Cornell Hoard” —more than 6,600 pieces of colonial currency squirreled away by a North Carolina loyalist prior to the American Revolution — and other fascinating examples of coins and paper money from the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation’s extensive numismatics collection.

“Dollars, Farthings & Fables; Money & Medals From the Colonial Williamsburg Collection” opens Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, Nov. 25 at the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum and explores facts and falsehoods, realities and rumors associated with money including the Founding Fathers and the origins of the dollar.

“Many people collect coins as tangible links to distant times and places,” said Erik Goldstein, curator of mechanical arts and numismatics. “Our collection spans 1,000 years, providing period images of a wide array of people, places and things. Within it, there are datable depictions of famous people, art, architecture, nature, industry, historical events, and even patriotic and moral symbols.”

The exhibition contains examples of the extremes in money circulating in colonial and Revolutionary America: the largest coin — an 18th-century French ecu nearly two inches in diameter — to the smallest — a 17th-century English halfpenny; from the largest denomination — an 18th-century Brazilian gold coin worth 20,000 reis — to the smallest denomination — an English farthing worth one-quarter penny; from the prettiest coin — a 17th-century Dutch ducaton — to the ugliest — a 17th-century Bolivian “cob” coin worth four reales.

Several firsts in American paper money populate the exhibition. The first “greenback” is a £6 note issued in 1757 by the New Jersey colony. It was the first bill to sport a back side printed in green ink. The first one dollar bill appears as a 1767 issue in the Maryland colony, and first $100 bill was issued in 1779 by the independent state of South Carolina.

The exhibition also lays to rest several popular myths about money including the real price the Dutch paid for the island of Manhattan in 1626, the real truth about George Washington’s famous coin toss and a popular myth about coins that protected the holder from witchcraft.

“Dollars, Farthings & Fables; Money & Medals From the Colonial Williamsburg Collection” is the fifth new exhibition opening during the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum’s silver anniversary year and will remain on view through December 2012. Admission is by Colonial Williamsburg admission ticket, Museums ticket or Good Neighbor Card.

The Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg include the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum and the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum. The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum is home to the nation’s premier collection of American folk art, with more than 5,000 folk art objects made during the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. The DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum exhibits the best in British and American decorative arts from 1670–1830.

The Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg are located at the intersection of Francis and South Henry Streets in Williamsburg, Va., and are entered through the Public Hospital of 1773. Museum hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. For museum program information, telephone (757) 220-7724.

The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation is the not-for-profit educational and cultural organization that preserves and operates the restored 18th-century Revolutionary capital of Virginia as a town-sized living history museum, telling the inspirational stories of our nation’s founding men and women. Philanthropic support by individuals, corporations and foundations benefits the educational mission of The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. Williamsburg is located in Virginia’s Tidewater region, 20 minutes from Newport News, within an hour’s drive of Richmond and Norfolk, and 150 miles south of Washington, D.C., off Interstate 64. For more information about Colonial Williamsburg, call 1-800-HISTORY or visit Colonial Williamsburg’s website at

Media Contact:
Penna Rogers
(757) 220-7121