E-Sylum readers turn up everywhere. As Dick Johnson noted, Dave Lange, Douglas Mudd and Dave Bowers were all quoted in a New York Times article about Abraham Lincoln’s 200th birthday and the Lincoln Cent. -Editor Emperors, kings and other authority figures had long projected their power by stamping their faces on loose change. In 1791, Congress was set to follow their example by impressing the likeness of our first head of state, George Washington, on our metal money. Succeeding presidents would appear on coins struck after they were elected.
But Washington argued against the idea, deeming it too “monarchical.”
“It smacked of royalty,” said David W. Lange, director of research for Numismatic Guaranty Corporation in Sarasota, Fla. “It was not a good omen for a new republic.”
So the Mint Act of 1792 mandated that there would instead “be an impression emblematic of liberty” on our standard coinage. On the front, this usually constituted an idealized, goddess-like figure. The solution was practical and patriotic enough to hold sway through the 19th century.
Unfortunately, this familiarity bred contempt. Artists at the United States Mint took the liberty motif so much for granted that some of their designs grew dowdy and uninspired. In 1892, one newspaper declared that the liberty image that Charles Barber, the mint’s chief engraver, had put on the country’s new dime, quarter and half-dollar resembled “the ignoble Emperor Vitellius with a goiter.”
President Theodore Roosevelt had his own thoughts. In 1904, he complained to Secretary of the Treasury Leslie Mortimer Shaw, “Our coinage is artistically of atrocious hideousness.”
In 1908, Roosevelt suggested that the Lithuanian-born sculptor Victor David Brenner, who had created a Lincoln plaque that the president admired, replicate his handiwork on a circulating coin. Early in 1909, Mr. Brenner wrote to the mint’s director, Frank A. Leach, that an image of Lincoln would “compose very well” on our one-cent piece.
This year, the mint is releasing a series of four new images on the reverse of the Lincoln cent, each one depicting a different stage of Lincoln’s life. Mint officials hope that the novelty might generate some of the popularity that greeted its recent 50 State Quarters program.
Mr. Bowers said he thought that the economy, the new administration, and other current events have overshadowed this radical redesign.
“If the timing had been different,” he said, “the news about the Lincoln reverses would have been on the front page of USA Today.”
To read the complete article, see: Now if Only We Could Mint Lincoln Himself (www.nytimes.com/2009/02/08/weekinreview/08vinciguerra.html?_r=1)
Wayne Homren, Editor
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