Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Coin Collecting - We were wrong to abandon Liberty

When designs for the first coinage of our country were considered, there were those who wanted George Washington's face used.  George himself shot that down and it was probably not out of modesty - George and all the founders didn't like monarchies and he almost certainly felt that having a portrait of himself on our coins would be reminiscent of the figures of kings and queens common elsewhere. He may have also sided with other thinkers of the time who were greatly in fear of a cult of personality - where men become more important than ideas and heroes are worshipped unthinkingly.  

An idealized figure of Liberty avoided those issues and that was what was chosen.

Until the Lincoln Cent of 1909, Liberty was on most of our coinage in some form or another. She is still on some of our non-circulating coins (silver and gold Eagles), but she no longer graces any of our circulating coins or paper money and I think that is sad.

Abandoning Lady Liberty leaves off the most important ideal of our country. We don't need religious mottos or slogans of unity - those weren't on any of our original coinage. What was there was what our founders considered most important: Liberty.

Was Lincoln an important man? Of course, but more important than Liberty? I think not, and I think that the Lincoln cent was a tragedy in that it began the current trend of idolizing men rather than ideas.

I don't think Lady Liberty needs to be on all our coins, by the way. I just don't think people ever should be.  Ideas should matter, not heroes. 

How about the Constitution Cent and the Justice for All Nickel? The Freedom of Religion Dollar bill and the Equal Opportunity fiver?

There are plenty of good themes that don't worship men. Save the portraits for commemorative issues and medals.

If you've never seen the original coinage of our country, go look it up. http://www.pcgs.com/photograde/ is a great place to do that. Tell me that Lincoln, Jefferson, Washington, Roosevelt and Kennedy are more important symbols than Lady Liberty.

I think it ironic that many of those who refuse to consider changes are also those who are apt to trumpet that we should do what the founding fathers intended. They are referring to the Constitution, of course and the problem is that we can easily argue the meaning and intent of words.

But in the case of coinage, the intent is plain. There it is, indelibly stamped into copper, silver and gold. Those coins represent what the founders wanted. It's that simple.

We have lost our way. We were wrong to abandon Liberty.

Photo courtesy Heritage Auctions, used by permission.

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