If Instagram existed in the late 1950s, the $1 million horseshoe display would have been a popular selfie spot. Encased in a gold horseshoe at Joe W. Brown’s Horseshoe Club were one hundred $10,000 bills.
It is estimated over five million visitors took their photo in front of the horseshoe. Many celebrities snapped pics but its most notorious visitors were Charles Manson and his family. The FBI has the only known copy of this photo.
A less famous visitor was my grandmother. I found this postcard in an album filled with vintage postcards from their travels. I was inspired to make this my first post for Vintage Archeologist.
In 1951 Benny Binion, a well-known mobster from Texas, bought the Apache Hotel and Eldorado Club Casino on 128 E. Fremont Street in Las Vegas. He renamed the casino Binion’s Horseshoe.
Benny lost his gambling license soon after the Horseshoe opened, sentenced to five years in Leavenworth Penitentiary for tax evasion. To cover legal debts and back taxes, he sold a majority share in the casino to Joe Brown, a close friend, and fellow gambler. There was an understanding Benny would resume control once free although that wouldn’t happen until 1964.
To attract customers, Benny had the idea to put $1 million on display near the front door. The inspiration came from a family trip to Washington, D.C. where he watched people lined up to see money at the U.S. Treasury. Could he create a similar demand at the Horseshoe? Joe Brown offered to supply the money and suggested displaying the bills in a golden horseshoe.
Unveiled in 1954, the one million horseshoe stood eight feet tall, weighed 2,000 pounds, and had a bulletproof case. The $10,000 bills were uncirculated and in perfect sequence. The plaque at the top read “Joe W. Brown’s Horseshoe.”
It was an instant success with six hundred visitors a day getting their photo taken in front of the million-dollar horseshoe.
The display only lasted until 1959 when Joe Brown passed away. The money was removed and put into his estate.
In 1964 Benny Binion decided to recreate the display. It was hard to find $10,000 bills but eventually, he located enough for the case. The plaque above now read “Binion’s Horseshoe – Las Vegas.”
The second incarnation lasted 35 years. Benny Binion passed away in 1989. His daughter, Becky, sold the $1 million display in 2000 to coin collector, Jay Parrino, for an alleged $13 million! Yes, you read that right.
Why was this so valuable? The $1 million display was the largest single collection of $10,000 bills in existence. The bill featured former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Salmon Chase. Only 62,632 $10,000 Salmon P. Chase Federal Reserve notes were printed between 1928 – 1934. In 1969 the $10,000 bills were discontinued and removed from circulation.
By 2000 there were only 340 $10,000 bills in circulation, with the horseshoe display accounting for 30%. Unfortunately, they used glue to secure them in the case making them less valuable than uncirculated bills. Given the historic display value and rarity of the bills, they have commanded high prices at auction.
While Binion’s Horseshoe remained in the family, it sank into bankruptcy and was seized by federal regulators in 2004. The property was purchased by Harrah’s Entertainment that same year.
In 2005 MTR took control of the operation and casino renaming it Binion’s Gambling Hall and Hotel.
In 2008 MTR sold the hotel-casino to TLC Casino Enterprises for $32 million. This same year the $1 million display had its third incarnation, a pyramid display made up of 2,700 $100 bills, 34,400 $20 bills, and 42,000 $1 bills.
Does the current display hold the same enchantment? As Becky Binion once said, “People are not as impressed about a million dollars as they used to be. When it first went up, it was like looking at a billion dollars.”