Steve Roach

The Art of Collecting

Steve Roach

Steve Roach, Coin World’s editor-at-large, has been deeply involved with numismatics for more than 20 years, starting as a young coin collector in Michigan. Two years spent as a coin grader, nearly three years at a major coin wholesaler and a stint as a paintings specialist at an international auction house have given Steve a rich understanding of the hobby, its market and the unique personalities and exceptional objects that make collecting meaningful. He joined Coin World in 2006 as a columnist, and has served as associate editor and editor-in-chief. He received his bachelor of arts degree from the University of Michigan, a juris doctorate from the Ohio State University and is a Certified Member of the International Society of Appraisers.

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Do sexy depictions of Liberty make her any more relevant?

The varied depictions of Liberty in proposed designs for the 2015 High Relief $75 gold coin are nontraditional, at least by U.S. coin standards, in that some depict Liberty embodied as an African-American woman.

Many of our readers have applauded these designs, while others have provided harsh criticisms.

My take is that it’s about time that Liberty on our coins goes beyond generalized representations of Liberty in the Greek and Roman classical forms.

But the designs were unusual in another sense (although one deeply rooted in history) in that many of the Liberties were overtly sexy. 

Now, U.S. coins have been sexy in the past. Think of Liberty’s décolletage on Robert Scot’s Draped Bust design used on silver coins from 1795 to 1804. There was the scandalous exposed breast on the Standing Liberty quarter dollar design used in 1916 and 1917. 

Liberty’s body is clearly revealed through clinging drapery on Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ gold double eagle of 1907 to 1933. She was even made “sexier” to a new generation in 1986 when she was slimmed down for the new American Eagle gold bullion coins. 

Our trusted proofreader Fern Loomis had some thoughtful comments on the disconnect between visual depictions of Liberty and nudity. 

She questioned, “Why is American liberty constantly touted as best represented on coins by a semi-clothed, often barefoot (why not pregnant, to go with that?) and bare-breasted young Caucasian woman? Any clothing she may carry, draped over a shoulder perhaps, or flimsily floated about her otherwise naked form, is of ancient style, from a time when, most American women today might agree, their fellow women were not granted much liberty.”

She added, “ ‘Liberty as naked white woman’  has very little to do with any factual representation of either liberty or any portion of the population, and everything to do with who has long financed, and therefore shaped values of and creation of, what is considered ‘best’ in the worlds of money and art.”

How does the concept of Liberty stay modern and relevant to today’s audiences? The varied depictions of Liberty should be representative of the diversity of America. 

Fern’s point is well-taken.

Is Liberty relevant to modern audiences if it is wearing tight, revealing or seemingly wet clothing (as seen on some of the proposed designs)?
Is a sexualized depiction of Liberty really necessary to fully represent concepts of social and political freedom? 
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1 comment
The new designs the mint is churning out are horrible and have led me to stop purchasing their products.

Frankly the notion of Liberty on coins is about as relevant as a 3 cent coin today to buy stamps. With NSA reading our emails and recording our phone calls, government intrusion in to every aspect of our lives, a president that acts against the constitution and an Imperial Senate and House (a Roman do nothing Senate Reference) that goes along with whatever gets them re-elected even to the detriment of the electorate - I certainly do not feel free.

Maybe someday again we can have coins that bear the Phrygian cap when we lift the chains of oppression but that may be a long way off. Until then maybe the coins can depict what George Orwell depicted as an outcome and that is “a boot stamping on a human face - forever." On second thought - nevermind - CCAC and CFA would just argue over whether and it should be a high heel or a hiking boot - and still manage to make it look bad.