A Look at the Development of Liberty and Coins

Liberty has defined this nation throughout history. Liberty is depicted in Congress, a big monument in New York Harbor, and our currency. America has changed over the years, so have representations. Over 230 years of U.S. coins depict Liberty, from a mythological goddess to presidents and historical individuals.

Liberty and America are often portrayed as symbols. Early colonial newspapers, engravings, and other media represented the American colonists as Native American women. Colonialists utilized the Native American figure of Liberty to symbolize freedom as they sought independence from Great Britain in the 18th century. A neoclassical resurgence revived the study of ancient Greece and Rome. This turned Liberty into a Greco-Roman deity. Her face turned Roman and she donned antique dresses and sandals.

American culture maintained its association with Liberty even after the Revolutionary War ended. This feeling is mirrored in the Fugio cent, which was the initial currency that the United States government minted under the Articles of Confederation.

In 1792, Congress passed laws establishing a national mint that kept coins' obverses depicting liberty rather than people. Presidents on U.S. coins were seen as too similar to kings in Great Britain. Instead, they wanted coinage to symbolize liberty, the nation's basic principle.

"Liberty" and a "impression emblematic of liberty" were mandated on all circulated coins by the 1792 Coinage Act. The legendary goddess Liberty has served as the national emblem of the United States for almost a century.

The 1793 Flowing Hair cent was one of the earliest U.S. Mint coins featuring Liberty with flowing hair. As the Mint improved its method, portraits became increasingly detailed. The liberty hat and pole were common Revolutionary War insignia. Freed slaves in ancient Rome received the hat and the pole in the ritual.

Images of Liberty began to mirror a shift in American cultural identity beginning in the middle of the nineteenth century. American motifs were blended into the classical style of coin designs. Coins depicting Seated Liberty include the Union Shield, a design borrowed from the US Great Seal.

As a means of furthering American identity, coins began to incorporate Native American themes. The 1859 Indian Head cent featured Liberty with the traditional headdress of a Native American chief. In 1913, the Buffalo nickel took it a step farther by featuring a Native American man instead of Liberty.

President Theodore Roosevelt wanted coins with greater art to symbolize America's growing power and national identity in the early 20th century. Famous artist Augustus Saint-Gaudens designed the first coin to comply with this rule. The 1907 $20 Double Eagle is one of Mint's most stunning coins. In 1916, Adolph A. Weinman and Hermon A. MacNeil redesigned more coins.

Saint-Gaudens, Weinman, and MacNeil envisioned a republican America based on old Greek and Roman traditions of liberty. Liberty symbolizes American might with shields and peace and enlightenment with other symbols.

In addition to early 1900s nationalism, perceptions regarding real individuals on coins altered. In 1909, President Abraham Lincoln replaced Liberty on the dime to celebrate his 100th birthday. Throughout the 20th century, new presidents emerged on circulating coins, and Liberty departed. Since 1971's Dwight D. Eisenhower dollar, all circulating coins depicted presidents.

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