Gerald Tebben, a Coin World columnist for more than 30 years, also contributes to Coin World’s Coin Values and edits the Central States Numismatic Society’s journal, The Centinel. He collects coins that tell stories.
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MOUNTAINS, MONUMENTS AND MONEY: A nickel and the Supreme Court
James Earle Fraser's work graces the obverse and reverse of the Indian Head five-cent piece, but he also designed numerous monumental sculptures in Washington, D.C., including the statue Authority of Law at the entrance of the U.S. Supreme Court building.
James Earle Fraser, whose work graces the obverse and reverse of the iconic Indian Head five-cent piece, also designed numerous monumental sculptures in Washington, D.C., including the statues Contemplation of Justice and Authority of Law that flank the entrance of the U.S. Supreme Court building.
Until 1938, when Indian Head nickel production stopped, Fraser’s work could be found in every pocket in America. But even now, you can’t turn around in the nation’s capital without bumping into something he created.
Fraser’s statues appear in the background of photos and TV footage accompanying stories about Supreme Court decisions dozens, perhaps hundreds, of times each year. Voting rights — Fraser’s there. Abortion — Fraser’s there. Obamacare — Fraser’s there.
At the National Archives, his Recorder of the Archive appears on the pediment above the south entrance. At the Treasury Department building, immense statues of Albert Gallatin (fourth and longest serving Secretary) and Alexander Hamilton (first Secretary and subject of a current Broadway hit) guard the north and south entrances, respectively.
Fraser’s Indian Head design was raised from the dead in 2001 when the Mint issued the popular American Buffalo commemorative dollar. Since 2006 the Mint has also struck gold versions of the 103-year-old design.
Frasier, who grew up in South Dakota, and his wife designed the 1926-1939 Oregon Trail commemorative half dollar. The obverse of that coin shows a romanticized image of life on the trail with a man leading a Conestoga wagon into the sun while his wife and baby ride inside.
Fraser’s work also appears on United States paper money. His statue of Hamilton outside the Treasury Department building also appears in the center of the Treasury building vignette on the back of current $10 bill.
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