Numismatic Aesthetics:
Beauty Is in the Eye...

The great American artist Gilbert Stuart wasn't enamored with the design of the Draped Bust Liberty, and he hasn't been the only one. In an article in the June 2002 issue of COINage magazine, David T. Alexander described the Draped Bust Liberty as a "thoroughly graceless dowdy frump" and as "lifeless, overweight and thoroughly unappealing." To each his own -- the byword of numismatic aesthetics. Imagine how this author might describe the Liberties on the coins that followed the Draped Bust series. Here are the six least appealing, in my view, as I might describe them uncharitably.

 

Matron Head cent

Liberty here looks dumb and dumpy, a cross between a Neanderthal and a hedgehog. Matron Head cents were dated between 1816 and 1836 and were likely designed by U.S. Mint assistant engraver John Reich (though some feel they were designed by chief engraver Robert Scot). Reportedly, the model for Liberty that was used was the wife of U.S. Mint director Robert Patterson. Poor man.

 

Capped Head quarter eagle

Here Liberty is a tough, mean washerwoman. This unlovely Liberty was used on both quarter eagles and half eagles--quarter eagles between 1821 and 1834 and half eagles between 1813 and 1834. The coin was also designed by John Reich, and Liberty appears to based on the same unfortunate model as the Matron Head cent. These coins are all pricey, though not because of the attractiveness of the design.

 

Capped Bust half dime

Liberty is a kinder, gentler washerwoman on Capped Bust half dimes, dimes, quarters, and half dollars, dated between 1807 and 1839 (though only half dollars were minted for this entire period). Reportedly, John Reich used his "fat mistress" as the model. (Didn't he know any nice-looking women?) On larger-planchet quarters and half dollars, Liberty isn't as chunky, and she becomes positively attractive on half dollars dated 1809 to 1839.

 

 

 

Barber half

On Barber dimes, quarters, and half dollars, Liberty is hard and hermaphroditic, a Greek god impersonator. Barber coins were dated 1892 to 1916 (Barber halves were last dated 1915) and designed by U.S. Mint chief engraver Charles E. Barber. They were the backbone of U.S. coinage at the turn of the 20th century, which was described by U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt as being "artistically of atrocious hideousness." He was right. Roosevelt ushered in the Golden Age of U.S. coin design, with the Saint, Walker, and Standing Lib widely considered to be the three most attractive U.S. coins overall, and with the Saint being one of the most attractive coins ever produced anywhere.

Liberty Head nickel

Here Liberty is a haughty, arrogant Gilded Age snoot. Dated between 1883 and 1913, these coins were also designed by Charles E. Barber (the 1913 Liberty Head nickel is a million-dollar rarity, with only five specimens known). Barber's design skills were about as valuable as, well, a wooden nickel.

Morgan dollar

Morgan dollars may be popular collectibles, but the Liberty on them is homely and frumpy, forlorn and chunky. These coins were designed by U.S. Mint assistant engraver George T. Morgan and dated 1878 to 1921 (with none dated 1905 to 1920). Morgan used as his model Anna Williams, a kindergarten teacher who reportedly was fired from her teaching job for her modeling effort--modeling was considered improper for refined young ladies during the Victorian era. You feel for her, but mostly because of the way she looks on the millions of Morgans that were minted.

To return to Anne...

 

Draped Bust

Coins

Anne's Life

Anne's Death

1804 Dollar

Collecting

Dollar Set

Holed

Ugly

Counterfeits

Replicas

Overgrading

Other Images

More Info

Other glomworthy coins:

Oldest Coins

 Athenian Owls

Alexander the Great Coins

Medusa Coins

Thracian Tetradrachms

House of Constantine

Draped Bust Coins

Saint-Gaudens Double Eagles

Coin sites:
Coin Collecting: Consumer Protection Guide
Glomming: Coin Connoisseurship
Bogos: Counterfeit Coins
Pre-coins

© 2014 Reid Goldsborough

Note: Any of the items illustrated on these pages that are in my possession are stored off site.