coinsbygary's Blog

09 Oct 2018

Art and Allegory

Coins-United States | coinsbygary

When it comes to coinage designs the two most important features I look for are brilliant artistry and strong allegories. Occasionally these two characteristics appear on modern US coins. However, many of those are expensive to collect because they are struck in gold, platinum, and palladium.


When it comes to circulating coins these two features are either weak or have one or the other feature missing. It is also unfortunate that when these features are present they mostly reside on coins that are never intended to circulate. Few people in the general public have seen, let alone know of some of the US Mint’s best artistry.


That said I do appreciate the varieties in the reverse designs of the Sacajawea Dollar and Washington Quarter. Sadly because of poor circulation very few people outside of the collecting community will ever see the reverse designs on the Sacajawea Dollar.


What I like most in a design is beauty combined with allegories that highlight one of our national values such as liberty and justice. The Washington quarters and Sacajawea dollars are good for teaching American history but are weaker in allegory.


Artistry and allegory is why I collect classic type coins. The subtle changes in Lady Liberty over the years fascinate me.  For instance take the post civil war cotton bolls representing the south and wheat sheaves representing the north in Lady Liberties hair on the Morgan dollar.  Combined with the liberty cap and liberty headband the clear message is that a united north and south enjoy the blessings of liberty.


This brings me to the failure of modern circulating coins to communicate national values.  Simply put, it is more politically expedient to honor former presidents and persons of renown.


An example of this from my youth involves the final small dollar design of the late 1970’s. As a young YN who loves artistry and allegory the prospect of a modernized liberty pole and cap design for the small dollar excited me! Now I am not saying that Susan B Anthony didn’t deserve to be honored on a US coin. However, I was very disappointed that Frank Gasparro’s liberty pole and cap design did not get chosen for the small dollar or any other coin for that matter. 


Yes I was disappointed but fortunately not without options! When I learned that Frank Gasparro’s design was featured on the 1969 Philadelphia ANA convention medal, I made it my mission to obtain one of an estimated 400 examples of this medal. Finally a few years ago I picked up serial number 259 of the medal struck by the Medallic Art Company in silver and bronze.


Even though I am happy about my collecting alternatives I hope that the mint finds a way to get back to its classic roots.



Level 4

I can't get over how awesome your photos look. I need to learn how to take photos like you!


Level 5

Good equipment not necessarily expensive and thousands of trial and error pictures representing years of work to get it right. May I recommend the book, "Numismatic Photography" by Mark Goodman. Hint: If they say buying property is location, location, location then coin photography is the least expensive of equipment lighting, lighting. lighting.


Level 6

What a great find! These are just beautiful. I have always loved the Liberty Cap design. I keep wishing the Mint will get back to classic designs. Great blog! Thanks Gary!


Level 4

Wonderful blog, and I love your collecting philosophy. Congrats on snagging that ANA convention medal. That’s a prize! Jim


Level 6

I could never understand why Gasparro's Liberty design was not used for the $1 coin, never used at all. Much nicer than the SBA design.


Level 6

Enjoyed the blog. Nice looking medal set. I agree with you about the different reverse designs on the Sacajawea Dollar., since the design is a single design for the year. The 5 designs for quarters per year is a bit much for me.


Level 6

That would be great if the mint could produce a coin with a Liberty like those. I won't get my hopes up though. Thanks for the blog and photos..

Contests for new designs are going on right now, maybe another person will be found with the artistic abilities of Morgan, St.Gaudens, or maybe even Charles Barber. Hoping for the Mint's brain to start working.


Level 7

Gary and Mckiechan are right. The date 1969 when these were made is when the mint made beautiful coins click on the shots there beautiful. Thanks for the pictures. Unfortunately there brains have stopped working. In would love to own a set like that. Every detail perfect. That's when they cared about our country and our short history. Great blog great shots great story about great coins indulgent very much thanks. Mike

It's Mokie

Level 6

I would foam at the mouth if the allegorical liberty designs returned. In fact, I was hoping the African-American liberty on the 225th anniversary would have been popular enough for the Mint to put out a new medal each year with a different Liberty. But, I think the mint got so much undeserved criticism of that design that they will probably never try anything so bold again. Your Philadelphia ANA medal set may send me on a new tangent.


Level 5

I also agree with the mint issuing the African-American Liberty coin and medal. In my estimation it was long overdue as a representative of liberty for all! We'll have to see if the mint continues these renditions of Liberty. I hope they do to show that in diversity there liberty is for everyone.

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