THE COIN? GOLD. ITS ‘REAL VALUE’? LADY LIBERTY IS BLACK
The United States Mint will release a commemorative gold coin in April that will feature Lady Liberty as a black woman, marking the first time that she has been depicted as anything other than white on the nation’s currency.
The coin, with a $100 face value, will commemorate the 225th anniversary of the Mint’s coin production, the Mint and the Treasury Department announced on Thursday. Going on sale April 6, it will be 24 karats and weigh about an ounce.
It is part of a series of commemorative coins that will be released every two years. Future ones will show Lady Liberty as Asian, Hispanic and Indian “to reflect the cultural and ethnic diversity of the United States,” the Mint said in a statement.
The announcement comes at a pivotal cultural moment for the United States, a week away from a transfer of power, following a bruising election dominated by debates about immigration, race and political correctness.
Do not expect to see anyone spending the coins at the store. Coins like this do not circulate for everyday use, but are minted for collectors in limited quantities. There will be 100,000 of them with the black Lady Liberty. They will sell for far more than face value, depending on the value of gold, currently more than $1,000 an ounce.
“As we as a nation continue to evolve, so does Liberty’s representation,” Elisa Basnight, the chief of staff at the Mint, said at a presentation on Thursday in Washington.
The coin’s head (what the Mint calls the obverse) was designed by Justin Kunz and engraved by Phebe Hemphill, and it shows a profile of Lady Liberty with a crown of stars that holds back her hair. The tail (the reverse, in Mint lingo), shows an eagle in flight.
Mr. Jeppson said that several women had approached him after seeing the coin and told him, “she looks like me when I was younger.”
“I saw real value in that,” he said. “That we see ourselves in the images in our coins.”
The Mint is expecting the coin to sell well, Mr. Jeppson said. Any profit the Mint generates from the sale of its coins is returned to the Treasury. Last year, the Mint sent about $600 million back to the federal government, Mr. Jeppson said.
In addition to the 100,000 gold coins — more than is typical for this sort of commemorative coin — that will be printed at West Point, the Mint will also produce 100,000 of what it calls medals, silver reproductions of the image that will sell for around $40 to $50.
“The silver medals will be done at Philadelphia, because that is the birthplace of the Mint,” Mr. Jeppson said.
“When you look at the very first coins that we produced, they had a crazy-haired Liberty on there,” Mr. Jeppson said.
These coins are already in production. The next ones in the series are in the planning stage. Rough guidelines are given to sets of artists and sculptors, some of whom are staff at the mint and others who are part of a pool, as Mr. Kunz was. Their work is then shared with the members of two commissions — one a group of citizen advisers and one a fine arts commission — who make recommendations on the final design for the coin.
“It’s difficult for us to say what future coins will look like until we get there,” Mr. Jeppson said.
All American coins embody the idea of liberty, in keeping with the Mint’s 225-year mandate. But the new coin is what Mr. Jeppson called an “allegorical liberty,” meaning Lady Liberty does not represent a specific figure from history.
Women, in generic depictions or historic ones, have been underrepresented on American currency.
The suffrage leader Susan B. Anthony appeared on $1 coins from 1979 to 1981, and Helen Keller, the author and activist, appeared on the reverse image of the Alabama state quarter in 2003. Sacagawea, the Shoshone guide who led Lewis and Clark to the West Coast, appeared on a $1 coin that has been minted since 2000.
Last year, after a public campaign to put a woman on the $10 bill, the Treasury secretary, Jacob J. Lew, announced a broad remaking of the nation’s paper currency — the bills that, unlike a $100 coin, circulate among many Americans every day.
Harriet Tubman, the abolitionist and former slave, will appear on the $20 bill, and women and civil rights leaders will be added to the $5 and $10 bills.
Whenever the Mint does something new, it creates buzz, said Gilles Bransbourg, a curator with the American Numismatic Society and a research associate at New York University.
“It’s departing from any of the coins that have been produced so far,” he said. “It sends a strong message that the Mint is departing from the tradition that will be perceived as very white.”
The Mint’s recent commemorative productions have occasionally featured nonwhite characters, he said, pointing to a 2006 gold series that revived the popular “Indian head” nickel of the early 20th century. It shows an American Indian whose face is believed to be a combination of three different men who sat for its designer.
Symbolism aside, the new Lady Liberty coin is “really beautiful,” said Jeff Garrett, the president of the American Numismatic Association, who saw the coin several months ago in Washington. “It’s struck in high relief, which means the high points are much higher than circulating coinage.”
“I’ll buy one for sure,” he said. “I’ll probably buy several.”
It’s all nice that Lady Liberty will be Black on this gold coin, but, the true liberty will occur when Black women no longer have to live lives of residential segregation, brutality at the hands, guns and night sticks of race soldiers, poverty, venomous racist stereotypes and sub-standard education.
Until justice blooms in all the lives of Black women in the United States, this coin is just a hollow and shallow piece of metal.