Louis Golino

Modern Numismatics

Louis Golino

Louis Golino has been a collector of American and world coins since childhood and has written about coins since 2009. In addition to writing about modern coins and other numismatic issues for Coin World, he writes a monthly column for The Numismatist magazine and has written for other coin publications. In 2017, for  “Liberty Centennial Designs,” in Elemetal Direct, he was presented with the Numismatic Literary Guild's award for best article in a non-numismatic publication. He is also a founding member of the Modern Coin Forum. 

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Will Collectors Embrace Black Lady Liberty?

On March 15 the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee recommended designs for the 2017 American Liberty, high relief $100 gold coin and silver medal during a meeting at the U.S. Mint headquarters in Washington, DC.

Their mandate was to select an obverse design with a modern version of Liberty that reflects the racial and ethnic diversity of 21st century America, and a reverse with a contemporary eagle.

Many of the design candidates the committee received were underwhelming artistically and some of the nicest ones were more classic than modern.

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The design the committee recommended of an African-American woman wearing a crown of stars, as Paul Gilkes noted, is an homage to the Statue of Freedom that sits at the top of dome of the U.S. Capitol.

As happened last year, when a multicultural liberty design was recommended, the new designs set off a firestorm of criticism of the obverse the committee selected. 

Once again most collectors who expressed an opinion said they did not like the design, would never buy the coin or medal, and that it was all part of a politically-motived and politically-correct agenda, a parting salvo perhaps from the first African-American president in history, as some speculated.

But the notion that this project is politically-driven, or that President Obama is behind a push for a black liberty, is patently absurd.  The mandate to reflect racial and cultural diversity reflects the fundamental ideals of our nation and is not some kind of directive from the current administration. 

This would be, as far as I know, the first African-American liberty since she is normally shown as a white woman of European origin depicted in a Greco-Roman style as in the work of Augustus Saint Gaudens, or as a native American, as on the Indian gold eagles, half eagles, and quarter eagles, but never specifically black.

Though I initially gravitated to some of the other candidates, upon further reflection I think it would work well in a high relief format because the coin will be the size of a half dollar.  With that format a simpler rather than busy design is much better, and the cheek bones will look good in relief, as one committee member noted.

Plus the committee wanted a profile rather than another standing image like last year and as on most classic coins. My only caveat would be that if the idea is to show the true racial/ethnic diversity, then next time let's see a Hispanic or Asian liberty or something else.

While most agree beauty comes in many forms, there is no point in trying to make someone else like your version of beauty if they don’t like it. 

But given the fact that African-American women have only appeared until now on a couple of commemorative coins and never as liberty, why not a black liberty now?  And why is it that every time an African-American female design is recommended or selected there is a loud chorus of opposition from collectors?

Many say why not stick with the classical representations of Liberty, but that ignores the whole point of this program, which is to move beyond those designs and depict a modern Liberty. 

So the jury is out, to say the least, as to whether collectors will warm to the obverse design as many did last year, and at the moment it appears unlikely that many will embrace a black Liberty.

I would also add that the Mint would do well to better communicate its plans regarding this series, which caught many people by surprise after hearing the Mint decided last year not to make this an ongoing series.

It would have been preferable to have a gold coin and silver medal each year starting in 2015.  Instead, we had a 2015 gold coin, a two silver medals that could be proof or business strike coming later in 2016, and then a gold coin and silver proof medal in 2017, if the plans the Mint laid out yesterday are implemented.

Collectors like continuity and appreciate advance notice and an explanation of the goals behind specific programs and the symbolism of the imagery in designs.

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Older Comments (2)
Lou, Collectors have been embracing a black model (for) of lady liberty since St. Gaudens' Eagle came out 109 years ago.
Hettie Anderson, his favorite model, was the inspiration for Victory on the Sherman Monument. Taking the head study of Hettie, he modified it for the original cent design in 1905 and refined it, added the Indian head dress (against his best wishes) and further refined it until it became the design for the 1907 eagle. All of this is well documented, but most collectors never follow the complete design trail.
Thanks for the reminder about the Saint Gaudens model.