This question arises because I have a 1917 U.S. Army recruiting
poster that has Miss Columbia on it, complete with wrapped flag dress
and small cap. It is obvious from this that the woman depicted on the
Walking Liberty half dollar and Standing Liberty quarter dollar is
actually Miss Columbia. It is apparent that these coins were all
introduced at the same time as the poster, and are not Liberty. Did
Columbia somehow fall into disfavor?
From the establishment of the United States through the early
1900s, the name “Columbia” was frequently used to describe America,
but is not a term commonly used now.
Calling the lady featured on U.S. coinage “Columbia” wouldn’t
necessarily be incorrect, as it is merely another term for “America,”
but as far as coinage is concerned, her predominant title is
“Liberty,” a term used not only by numismatists, but by the issuing
authority — the U.S. government.
As well, the legend “Liberty” has been a near-constant presence on
U.S. coins since the outset, thus the affiliation between the legend
and the lady.
American coin designers and engravers starting out in the 1790s
were heavily influenced by French designers and engravers, who, in
turn, were heavily influenced by classical Greco-Roman designs.
The Greco-Roman influence carried over throughout the 1800s and
continued even into the first decades of the 20th century, in which
designers gave Liberty new life, exemplified by such coins as the
Walking Liberty half dollar and Standing Liberty quarter dollar (both
introduced in 1916). Weinman’s Winged Liberty Head (Mercury) dime is
As for the Standing Liberty quarter dollar design, Cornelius
Vermeule, in Numismatic Art in America, writes “[Hermon] MacNeil’s
Liberty is presented as Athena of the Parthenon pediments.” As for
Adolph A. Weinman’s Walking Liberty design, Vermeule writes “The debt
to [Frenchman Oscar] Roty’s Sower is obvious, but the Liberty Walking
is an original creation, not a slavish copy.” Roty’s Sower design
first appeared on French coins dating from the 1890s.
“Readers Ask” recommends that hobbyists interested in the artistic
origins of U.S. coinage purchase or borrow the second edition of
Vermeule’s Numismatic Art in America, published in 2007, as
Another recommendation is Roger W. Burdette’s three-volume work,
Renaissance of American Coinage, published from 2005 to 2007.
Coin World’s Readers Ask department does not accept coins
or other items for examination without prior permission from staff
member Erik Martin. Readers Ask also does not examine error or variety
coins. Materials sent to Readers Ask without prior permission will be
returned unexamined. Please address all Readers Ask inquiries to email@example.com or call
800-673-8311, Ext. 274.