Lady Liberty is a universal sign of freedom. Her name conjures visions of immigrants hungry for a new life and a torch raised high against the New York City skyline. Before she was known as the Statue of Liberty, though, Lady Liberty first graced the face of American coins.
Learn how and why Lady Liberty’s design evolved over time, from the 1794 “Flowing Hair” dollar to today’s Silver and Gold American Eagles.
The Origins of Lady Liberty
The Coinage Act of 1792, which created the U.S. Mint, declared that one side of American coins had to show an “impression emblematic of Liberty,” a mythical female figure who had appeared as a symbol of America in colonial cartoons and prints, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.
The first U.S. coin bearing an image of Lady Liberty was struck in 1793. Lady Liberty was chosen for the Chain Cent because she “perfectly represented America’s promise of freedom,” Chase Bank notes. Henry Voigt, the chief coiner at the Mint, designed Lady Liberty with long, flowing hair. Critics complained that she appeared unattractive and disheveled, according to Chase Bank.
Flowing Hair Dollar
Robert Scot, the Mint’s first chief engraver, tamed Lady Liberty’s mane with his Flowing Hair dollar in 1794. The 1794 version of this silver coin is hard to come by, with only 150 to 200 of them remaining. More of the 1795 coins exist, but they’re also highly coveted nonetheless.
Draped Bust Dollar
Her hair pulled back and styled with a bow, Lady Liberty went on to grace the front of the 1795 Draped Bust dollar. As the coin’s name suggests, the front shows a bust of Lady Liberty designed by artist Gilbert Stuart. She’s surrounded by 13, 15, or 16 stars, depending on how many American colonies there were when each coin was minted. This depiction of Lady Liberty remained on silver dollars through 1804.
Liberty Seated Dollar/Gobrecht Dollar
Decades after her debut, Lady Liberty got to take a rest in 1836 with the introduction of the Liberty Seated dollar, also known as the Gobrecht dollar. Christian Gobrecht, an engraver at the Mint, gained credit for designing this coin, which went into wide circulation in 1840. Some form of the Liberty Seated dollar continued to be produced through 1873.
The Trade dollar emerged in 1873 as a rival to the Mexican peso. At the time, Chinese businesses favored the peso over the U.S. dollar because the Mexican coin contained more silver. The U.S. coin features Lady Liberty sitting on a bale of goods and holding a branch in her right hand and a “LIBERTY”-inscribed ribbon in her left hand. The U.S. halted the production of the Trade dollar in 1887.
Under a federal law passed in 1878, mass production of silver dollars returned. With this came yet another look for Lady Liberty. George T. Morgan’s design depicts Lady Liberty in profile. The most significant change, though, was that Lady Liberty was an American woman instead of a Greek figure, Chase Bank reports. She was modeled after a real woman named Anna Willess Williams, who was later nicknamed the “Silver Dollar Girl.”
The Morgan dollar reigns as one of the most popular of all American coins, thanks to its large size, ample supply, and “pleasing appearance,” according to the Professional Coin Grading Service.
On the Peace dollar, which premiered in 1921, Lady Liberty faces left and wears a crown of spikes (similar to those seen on the Statue of Liberty, which was unveiled in 1886). The word “LIBERTY” is above her head, and the words “IN GOD WE TRUST” are below. Designed by Italian-American sculptor Anthony de Francisci, the coin celebrates the end of World War I. The artist’s wife, Teresa de Francisci, served as the model. These silver dollars were minted from 1921 through 1928 and again in 1934 and 1935.
Walking Liberty Half Dollar
Lady Liberty shines on this silver coin, which was minted from 1916 to 1947. The Walking Liberty half dollar has been praised as one of the most stunning depictions of Lady Liberty to ever appear on a coin. The work of German-born American sculptor Adolph Weinman, this coin design shows Lady Liberty walking toward the sun “and the dawn of a new day,” Chase Bank notes. “She is carrying laurel and oak branches to symbolize military and civil victory, and her outstretched arm represents her attempts to impart the spirit of liberty to others.”
Silver American Eagle Coin
This silver coin, first minted in 1986, takes its name from the spectacular American eagle on the reverse side, designed by John Mercanti, who retired in 2010 as the Mint’s chief engraver. The front of Silver American Eagle Coin is equally spectacular, though, featuring Weinman’s iconic Walking Liberty image.
Gold American Eagle Coin
The Gold American Eagle Coin, which also premiered in 1986, rivals the Silver American Eagle Coin for sheer beauty. This coin, one of the most popular gold bullion coins in the world, showcases a gorgeous image of Lady Liberty created in the early 1900s by legendary sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens. The design was initially made for the $20 Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle Gold Coin. A full-length figure of Lady Liberty dominates the front of the Gold American Eagle Coin. Her hair is windswept, and her gaze is intense. She holds a torch in her right hand and an olive branch in her left hand. It appears as if she’s striding right off the coin. A family of bald eagles populates the reverse side of the coin.
American Liberty High Relief Gold Coin
A more contemporary and lifelike Lady Liberty appears on the 2015 American Liberty High Relief Gold Coin.
The front of the coin, which has a mintage limit of 50,000 and a nominal denomination of $100, features Lady Liberty grasping an American flag in her left hand and bearing a lit torch in her right hand. A bald eagle in flight highlights the back of the coin.
Lady Liberty’s look for this coin was heavily influenced by the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee, an 11-member panel that advises the U.S. Treasury security on themes for all U.S. coins and medals. The U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, a seven-member panel established by Congress in 1910, also weighed in on the design.
For this coin, Lady Liberty’s creators were sculptor Phebe Hemphill and designer Justin Kunz.
American Liberty 225th Anniversary Gold Coin
The American Liberty 225th Anniversary Gold Coin puts a modern twist on a classic design. In honor of its 225th anniversary, the U.S. Mint introduced in 2017 a coin depicting Lady Liberty as an African-American woman—the first time for a woman of color to appear on a Liberty coin. The $100 coin, designed by Justin Kunz and engraved by Phebe Hemphill, shows a profile of Lady Liberty wearing a crown of stars, with the inscriptions “LIBERTY,” “1792,” “2017,” and “IN GOD WE TRUST.” The back of the coin features an eagle in flight. The Mint is producing just 100,000 of these special gold coins.
Does your portfolio include Lady Liberty? The U.S. Mint is currently redesigning the Gold and Silver American Eagles. That could mean Lady Liberty as you know her might change. Call 1-844-307-1589 to secure Lady Liberty as you know her—right now.