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The Changing Face of Lady Liberty

Lady Liberty

Anyone familiar with American coins will be familiar with the image of Lady Liberty. When Congress passed the Coinage Act of 1792 it mandated that the new U.S. coins should have the emblem of liberty on them. Lady Liberty has been a common image on our coins every since, her image representing freedom, peace, commerce, military strength, and, of course, liberty. The way she looks has changed throughout the years, however.

The very first large cent and circulating coin that the U.S. Mint produced was the Flowing Hair Cent in 1793. On this coin, Lady Liberty’s hair flows out behind her as if it is being blown dry. Her forehead slopes down into her nose in a straight line. She is not particularly beautiful. The free flow of her hair was supposed to illustrate freedom, but many people thought it made Lady Liberty look unkempt instead.

The Flowing Hair Dollar was first minted in 1794 and only minted in 1794 and 1795. This is a rare and very valuable coin. In 2013 one of the finest known examples sold at auction for $10 million. On this coin Lady Liberty looks similar to how she does on the Flowing Hair Cent, but more styled and less windswept. On both coins she has a thick neck and a sloping forehead.

The next iteration of Lady Liberty, on the Draped Bust Dollar, was more detailed and attractive. It was rumored that Ann Willing Bingham, a well connected hostess and friend of Thomas Jefferson, modeled for Gilbert Stuart, the designer of this coin. The Draped Bust Dollar was minted between 1795 and 1807.

A full bodied portrait of Lady Liberty, seated and holding a staff and shield, appeared on the Gobrecht Dollar. This coin was minted between 1836 and 1839. In 1877, George Morgan updated his Lady Liberty to feature only the face of model Anna Willis Williams on the Morgan Dollar. Her hair is upswept and carefully coiffed, and she has what Morgan considered the most perfect profile he had ever seen. The Morgan Dollar was minted from 1878 to 1904 and again in 1921.

The Peace Dollar superseded the Morgan Dollar and was produced between 1921 to 1928 and 1934 to 1935. Designer Anthony de Francisci modeled his Lady Liberty after his wife, Teresa de Francisci. She wears a tiara similar to the one the Statue of Liberty wears and her hair has tendrils that flow out away from her head. She looks more natural and less stylized than Liberty does on the Morgan Dollar.

On the Walking Liberty Half Dollar, Lady Liberty is again full bodied, this time erect and walking towards the sun and the dawn of a new day. She carries oak and laurel branches which symbolize victory, and her arm is outstretched. The sculptor, Adolph Weinman, modeled his Liberty on Elsie Stevens, one of his tenants. This coin was minted between 1916 and 1947, during the years America was at war and in economic depression. It’s a strong and hopeful depiction of another beautiful woman.

Most recently, in April of 2017, Lady Liberty was depicted as a black woman on a $100 commemorative gold coin. Here she is shown in profile, with her braided hair pulled back in a bun. She wears similar clothing as in the Draped Bust Dollar. Going forward into the future, Lady Liberty will be represented by women of many races on new releases of this coin - Native American, Asian American, and Latina - in order to reflect the current cultural diversity of the United States.

Lady Liberty has been shown in a variety of poses, modeled by many different women, but she has always been the face of the American nation and an illustration of grace, strength and freedom. If you would like to begin or add to your collection of Lady Liberty coins, call us at Mullen Coins. We would love to help you with that.

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