Lady Liberty is on more coins than any other person or figure. (With the exception of maybe the Bald Eagle, but it’s a close tie.) In fact, Lady Liberty may be on more coins than you knew. Did you notice lady liberty on these two iconic coins?
Lady Liberty is a woman who wears many hats, literally! Many people do not recognize Lady Liberty if she does not have her iconic spiky crown, but Lady Liberty wears more crowns than one.
Lady Liberty has no preordained design, the most iconic depiction is Lady Liberty in the Statue of Liberty, but she has also been seen in many forms.
Lady Liberty is well known on US Coinage. The Peace and Morgan dollars are the best examples of coins we all know to be depicting Lady Liberty.
Everyone knows that Lady Liberty is on both the Peace and Morgan dollars, but if you saw these two women on the street, would you suspect they were the same person? I wouldn’t!
First Hidden Liberty: The Mercury Dime
The Mercury Dime is more accurately known as the “Winged Liberty Head Dime” because this coin is actually depicting Lady Liberty!
Remember what I said about people not recognizing Ms. Liberty if she is not in her spiked crown? On this coin, Lady Liberty is wearing a Phrygian Cap with wings. The Phrygian Cap is another depiction of liberty and the pursuit of liberty, originating from the Roman Goddess Libertas. It was a cap worn by freed slaves in Ancient Rome.
Adolf Weiman, the coin’s designer, added the wings to the Phrygian Cap to depict the liberty of thought. Although the wings have interesting symbolism, they are probably the contributing factor to the idea that this coin depicts Mercury and not Lady Liberty.
Mercury is the Roman god of commerce, he is similar to the Greek god Hermes in . Mercury also wears a winged cap, so it is understandable how these two became confused. (Now that I think about it, adding a God of commerce to coins makes a lot of sense…)
Second Hidden Liberty: The Indian Head Penny
I remember this fact blew my mind! I had always assumed the Indian Head Penny (or IHP) depicted a Native American in a headdress, but nope! It is actually Lady Liberty in a Native American Headdress.
The Indian Head Cent was minted from 1859 to 1909 and was designed by James Barton Longacre, the Chief Engraver at the Philadelphia Mint.
Longacre described why he put Lady Liberty in a Native American headdress in an 1858 letter,
“From the copper shores of Lake Superior, to the silver mountains of Potosi from the Ojibwa to the Araucanian, the feathered tiara is as characteristic of the primitive races of our hemisphere, as the turban is of the Asiatic. Nor is there anything in its decorative character, repulsive to the association of Liberty … It is more appropriate than the Phrygian cap, the emblem rather of the emancipated slave, than of the independent freeman, of those who are able to say “we were never in bondage to any man”.
I regard then this emblem of America as a proper and well defined portion of our national inheritance; and having now the opportunity of consecrating it as a memorial of Liberty, ‘our Liberty’, American Liberty; why not use it? One more graceful can scarcely be devised. We have only to determine that it shall be appropriate, and all the world outside of us cannot wrest it from us.”
I am going to save the argument of whether or not Longacre’s intentions were misplaced for another article, but it has been debated in several coin collecting circles whether using the Native American headdress was used to honor Native Americans in the United States or to glory people who were at the same time being oppressed.
The face of Lady Liberty in the penny was based on a statue of Crouching Venus Longacre saw in Philadelphia.
It is interesting that the Indian Head Penny is so often misidentified as depicting a Native American because the Indian Head Penny is one of the most well-known and popular of the older US coins. Of course, it probably does not help that it is always referred to as the “Indian Head Penny”.
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