2017 American Liberty Coin: Opinions Still Divided
On January 12, the U.S. Mint kicked off a year-long celebration of its 225th anniversary with the unveiling of the design of the 2017 American Liberty $100 high relief gold coin. Until this point only line art versions of the design had appeared, but now images of the actual finished coin are out.
The design, which was recommended last spring by the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee and Commission on Fine Arts, is the first to depict Lady Liberty as a young African-American woman. The left-facing portrait also features her wearing a diadem, or crown, of stars, which is a tribute to the Statue of Freedom that rests at the top of the U.S. Capitol dome.
The Mint also announced some additional details of the American Liberty program, which will include a gold coin in high relief and an accompanying silver medal not in high relief, with a new design every two years. And subsequent coins and medals will depict other ethnicities such as Hispanic-American, Asian-American, and Native-American.
It is worth mentioning (as I discussed last year when the 2017 design was first unveiled) that the model used by Augustus Saint Gaudens, Hettie Anderson, as Lady Liberty for his famous $20 gold double eagle design was also an African-American woman, but the finished design of that coin has a Greco-Roman style, and Liberty does not appear to be black woman.
From the time it was first proposed, the appearance a black woman on the obverse of the 2017 Liberty coin has sharply divided collectors. Some people like it and find the design attractive, especially after seeing images of the actual coin, while others say it is some combination of ugly, inappropriate, and politically correct.
Comments from the numismatic blogosphere this week include, for example: “As a coin collector it's a nice coin, but I thought that an anniversary coin with a black woman with dreadlocks is not proper. It would have been better issued as a black history coin or as a dedication to our African-American brothers and sisters”; “Using an African American woman as a symbol of freedom when they were enslaved for 100's of years seems inappropriate and smacks of political correctness run amok. I think the obverse design rather ugly but opinions vary”; and others focused on the use of dreadlocks in the hairstyle, noting that black women in the 18th century did not have such styles.
Still others said the stars are too large, and there are too many initials for the designers and sculptors.
The points about the stars and initials are quite understandable, but hairstyle argument is an odd one since the design is specifically supposed to, as the Mint’s press release states, “depict allegorical Liberty in a variety of contemporary forms.”
Critics seems to have lost sight of the fact that the whole program, as originally proposed by the CCAC, was designed as one to showcase modern images of Liberty that represent the ethnic and racial diversity of 21st century America.
On the other hand, there are others who find the design beautiful, elegant, bold, and an appropriate tribute to the fact that all Americans deserve Liberty. I put myself squarely in this camp and will be eager to see if when the subsequent coins are issued those designs will be also be decried as “politically correct.” I suspect not since I have never heard anyone say the Indian Liberty on the $5 and $10 gold coins, or the Indian Liberty of the Sacagawea dollars are politically correct.
The reverse that features an eagle in flight appears to be popular with most people.
Another important point is that the new coins are being struck in proof, as can be seen in the video the Mint has on its Facebook page, which clearly shows the highly-polished fields of the coins. That is how the CCAC recommended they be struck, and it is clear from the difference between the 2015 gold coin in business strike and the same design on the proof medals issued last year, that the design works so much better in proof.
Also, the mint announced that the coins will have a maximum mintage of 100,000 coins, which is really the same as minting to demand since it is highly unlikely that many coins will be sold even if the coin is available for two years.
At this point it is hard to say quite how views on the coin break down since critics are more likely to express their views early and online. The proof will clearly be in sales of the coin.
I suspect that views will continue to move in a positive direction when collectors see the actual coins in hand or on display at a coin show. That is certainly what happened with the 2015 Liberty design, especially by the time the 2016 medals came out.