“One of the most valuable exhibits in the Library,” is how a shocked and saddened former President Harry S. Truman described the collection of rare coins (many of them gold or silver) in The Independence Examiner on Nov. 14, 1962.
Thieves had broken into the Harry S. Truman Library during the night and stolen the extraordinarily valuable collection of coins produced by the United States Mint from the time of George Washington to the John F. Kennedy years. In spite of an extensive effort by the FBI, the thieves were never apprehended, and the coin collection was never recovered.
The collection had been placed at the Truman Library by John W. Snyder, a St. Louis banker appointed by Truman in 1946 to serve as secretary of the treasury. Snyder’s collection consisted of 444 coins. Only nine coins were needed to make the collection a complete set of every coin minted throughout the course of U.S. history.
Immediately after the heist was discovered, a nationwide effort was launched to replace the stolen collection. Numismatists and Truman admirers throughout the country rose to the challenge. Hundreds of dealers, collectors and coin club members participated. Joseph Stack, a renowned New York coin dealer, took the lead. He volunteered to receive, catalog and arrange coins provided from concerned donors. In addition, gifts of cash and contributions of coins poured into the Truman Library Coin Restoration Program from all over the United States. On May 6, 1964, two days before Harry Truman’s 80th birthday, Snyder and Stack presented a restored collection to Mr. Truman at his library.
At that time, the restored collection was only 75 percent complete. However, by 1985 the collection contained 449 coins, with only 30 missing for a complete set. Since that time, the Harry S. Truman Library Institute (the library’s private-sector support group) has been able to add 15 of the rarest coins to the collection, bringing the total number to 464 coins, with new additions of coins minted through the administration of President Jimmy Carter.
Throughout the 1980s and ’90s the coin collection was displayed at the Truman Library. However, with the major renovation and refocusing of the library’s exhibits in the late 1990s, the coin collection was dismantled. At the same time, the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City was enhancing its own outreach and educational programming, in part through the creation of a “money museum.” A natural partnership developed, whereby the coin collection could be displayed in a secure environment for public viewing, while the Truman Library’s new exhibits would focus on issues of the Truman presidency and Mr. Truman’s life and career. It is worth noting that Mr. Truman had a personal connection with the Federal Reserve Bank, then located in downtown Kansas City. Mr. Truman maintained an office there from 1953 to 1957, prior to the completion of the Truman Library in Independence.
In 2008, the Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank relocated into a spectacular new building on Main Street near the World War I Memorial and Museum. The bank’s new Money Museum was expanded in the new building and the Truman coin collection relocated into a prominent location. This past year, the collection has undergone significant conservation treatment, and new coin mounts were created to enhance viewing by the public.
Today, because of the partnership between the two federal agencies, the coin display enjoys unparalleled security and greater visitor appeal than ever before.
Michael J. Devine is director of the Harry S. Truman Library in Independence.