Colonial numismatic content on television is so rare that any chance
to peek at a Colonial coin in prime time should be a treat.
Unfortunately, the new History Channel mini-series
Sons of Liberty falls short. It’s tough
to expect dramatized television to represent history accurately, even
though the true stories surrounding Samuel Adams, Paul Revere, and their cohorts are
plenty dramatic enough.
Even if Samuel Adams can’t be cast as a portly 40-something and if
Gen. Thomas Gage can’t be depicted as a relatively friendly and
politically pro-American functionary, couldn’t they get the coins and
paper money right?
The rebel group “Sons of Liberty” uses a coin as their secretive
membership pass, which looks like a modern silver round combining the
obverse of a “Buffalo nickel” and the reverse of the Nova Constellatio
and Vermont coppers.
Aside from the unlikelihood that large silver coins would be handed
out freely to a band of working-class ruffians, using a design from
1913 depicting a resident of the western United States is a bit
suspect. The producers could have made a medal that looks like the
only existing description of a Sons of Liberty membership medal.
That description is said to have been written in 1850, but not
published until 1874. Col. John Russell, whose father was a member of
the Sons of Liberty, said, “On public occasions each member wore
suspended from his neck a medal, on one side of which was the figure
of a stalwart arm, grasping in its hand a pole surmounted with a Cap
of Liberty, and surrounded by the words, ‘Sons of Liberty.’ On the
reverse was the emblem of the Liberty Tree. One of these medals I once
had in my possession, with the initials of my father’s name, W. R.,
engraved thereon, but it was many years ago irrecoverably lost.”
Given that so many high profile men were in the Sons of Liberty and
yet not a single example of this medal survives, most historians view
this account as a fable.
More accurate, though still imperfect, is the image shown on Paul
Revere’s sign. Trade signs were decorative and iconic in Colonial
America, usually depicting the type of object made or sold. Paul
Revere’s sign likely would have shown something like a tankard, a
popular item to be acquired at a silversmith’s shop. On the show, his
sign shows the Rising Sun vignette Revere engraved for the face
of the 1779 Massachusetts notes, correctly rendered, if about a decade
If you watched and saw other numismatic references I missed, email me.