My December column about ugly coins touched a nerve with some
passionate collectors who emailed me either in agreement or protest.
Recapping, I said the Presidential dollars (all of them),
“spaghetti hair” Washington quarter dollars, Lincoln, Union Shield
cents, and Barber dimes, quarter dollars and half dollars are coyote-ugly.
Collector Michael N. Warner calls the Barber coins “the silver
stuff from 1892-1915.” Liberty on the obverse looks like a guy, he
emailed. “The quarter and the half share the ‘Super Chicken’ reverse
that I hate. I have also called this the ‘eagle in a stick up’ reverse.”
Warner wrote, “I think I have just discovered why Theodore
Roosevelt was so keen on getting U.S. coinage changed to something
different, and why he went to artists outside of the mint to do it.”
Todd L. wrote: “I’m in full agreement about the presidential
series, and have said the same as you did since first seeing them. I
disagree about the Barber series. I thought they were boring until I
saw high-grade examples of them.”
Todd has a point. I first encountered Barber coins, especially
half dollars, in change as a kid. That did lead to a prejudice. The
coins were 45 and more years old then, and 50 cents was a lot of money
to a kid whose earnings came from a paper route. You had to keep one
when you got it, but you hated doing that, too.
Eventually, something better would come along, probably a car
model kit at that point in my life, and I’d part with the coin.
Todd disagreed about the Lincoln, Union Shield cent, too. “The
Shield cent also has roots in our Civil War coinage, and I like its
appropriateness to Lincoln.”
Mike Locke of California Gold also dislikes the Barber coins. “It
might be noted that Barber made every portrait look like a man. The
one prominent male portrait that he [Barber] did: the King of Hawaii,
came out very good and I am sure that the king was pleased.”
Locke’s ugliest coins are: Liberty Head 5-cent coin, Barber’s
silver coins and the Morgan dollar. He wrote, “All of which are
supposed to depict a female liberty but the uninitiated will ask, ‘Who
is that guy?’ ”
However, he said, “I really like the Presidential dollars, and use
them regularly as real money.”
Author Ginger Rapsus said an 1849 3-cent piece pattern, Judd 113
(United States Pattern Coins, Experimental & Trial
Pieces by J. Hewitt Judd, edited by Q. David Bowers) with a Roman
numeral III on one side and the number 3 on the other is her
nomination for ugliest coin.
There’s nothing ugly about the coin that is the centerpiece of
Rapsus’ latest book, a novel about a woman who inherits an 1873-S
Seated Liberty dollar. Wild World is available for Kindle on
Gerald Tebben is editor of the Central States Numismatic Society’s Centinel.