This medal is a so-called dollar that was sold at the California Midwinter Expo of 1894.
The obverse shows a design very similar to the Great Seal of the State of California. It features the Greek goddess Athena (goddess of wisdom and war) sitting on the shoreline holding a spear and a shield. At her feet rests a California grizzly bear (the official state animal). It is supposed to be gnawing at some grape vines (a symbol of California’s wine production), but seems to have passed out after a bender instead. There is also a sheaf of grain (representing the bountiful agriculture of California) and a miner hammering a pick axe at the shore (representing the California Gold Rush and lunacy in general).
A 3 masted sailing ship (a schooner?) is in the harbor – it represents the state’s economic power and pays tribute to the shipping that passes through California’s ports. At the top of the medal is the California State Motto – “Eureka,” meaning “I have found it!”. Mountains in the background are supposed to be “the snow-clad peaks of the Sierra Nevada.” The original design of the seal was created by Robert S. Garnett and engraved by Albert Kuner. However, Garnett was unwilling to introduce the design to the 1849 state constitutional convention, so Caleb Lyon introduced it as his own design, with Garnett’s approval.
The reverse is covered in text. The outer register (around the rim from 8:00 to 4:00) reads: “The Land of Sunshine Fruit and Flowers”. The inner text reads “Souvenir California Midwinter Exposition San Francisco 1894”.
Identification code: HK-245a. This is a slightly different design from the HK245 medal shown in the older Hibler & Kappen book – on the obverse it has a bear instead of a pig and there is a prominent sunrise / sunset shown over Sacramento Bay. On the reverse, the text sizes are slightly different, and there is no circle around the words.
Mintage: unknown. Very few are recorded in the population sheets (approximately 8 are known in any condition), but I suspect that many exist without being slabbed or otherwise counted.
Size: 33 mm
Other details: The California Midwinter Exposition was organized to help the California economy recover from the Panic of 1893. It also sought to encourage immigration to California by highlighting the “resources and versatility of its inhabitants.”
The exposition was conceived by M. H. de Young, owner of San Francisco Chronicle and vice president of the Columbian Exposition of 1892. He used his newspaper to promote the exposition as a chance to give California an equal share of publicity.The Executive Committee was financed by public subscriptions and contracts to concessionaires. By opening day, $730,000 had been spent “without the gift of a single dollar from the nation, state or municipality.” Donations funded most of the Fair’s costs, so net proceeds were used to buy foreign art exhibits as the nucleus for a city museum.
Ground was broken on August 24, 1893 – more than 100 buildings were completed within 6 months. Exhibitors included many states, territories, foreign countries, and even Californian counties. There were several US government exhibits, but no US mint exhibit. The Exposition featured agricultural, horticultural and mineral exhibits with many new varieties of fruits and grains displayed in America for the first time. The Fair took place in the middle of Golden Gate Park, and sprawled over 200 acres. The fairgrounds were open from February 28th to July 9th, 1894. More than 2,255,000 visitors attended. The Japanese Tea Garden is the only surviving building from the fair – the Palace of Fine Arts was also intended to be permanent, but was replaced in 1917 by the de Young Museum.
Architectural styles were varied – they included Old Mission, modified Corinthian, Egyptian, Moorish and East Indian. The exhibit grounds were nicknamed the “Sunset City”. The opening was timed for the winter to contrast California’s temperate environment with the hometowns of potential immigrants. There are several brass dollars (smaller than other Expo SCDs) and many aluminum medals that were struck in the Mechanics Building on the grounds.
Estimated Value: $45-55 in VF20 condition.