Garys May Coin of the Month

In 1936, the United States Mint issued an unusually large assortment of commemorative half-dollars. I believe that much of the reason for this was due to political excesses and abuse regarding the purpose of commemorative coins. This resulted in a glut of coins that celebrated and financed regional events rather than those with a national interest. Consequently, except for the Bicentennial coins, there were no new commemoratives minted after 1954 until the Washington Half-Dollar in 1982.

The aforementioned abuses have given coin collectors a treasure trove of collectible coins representing little-known events in American history. One such coin commemorates the sesquicentennial of Columbia as the capital of South Carolina. Regarding this coin, many people in the numismatic community think its design is simple and uninspiring. However, for the person who examines this coin a little closer, they will find a gold mine of South Carolinian history of national significance.

Since most of the commemorative coins issued in 1936 were regional in nature, their mintages tended to be very low. Correspondingly, this PCGS MS-63, 1936-S Columbia Sesquicentennial Half-Dollar has a mintage of only 8,007. For type collectors, this coin also has mintages from Philadelphia and Denver at 9,007 and 8,009 coins respectively. The composition, weight, and size of this coin are that of a standard 90% silver, US half-dollar and the coins designer is A. Wolfe Davidson, who was an art student at Clemson College.

The central device on the obverse of this coin is an image of Justitia, the Roman goddess of justice. In her right hand, she is holding a double-edged sword and in her left hand, a set of scales. Typically, Lady Justice is also wearing a blindfold to represent impartiality before the law. However, in this instance, she appears as she originally did in ancient Rome, which was without a blindfold. The scales representing truth and fairness equally weigh both sides of an issue. The double-edged sword representing reason and justice cuts both ways, for or against either party.

Behind Lady Justice, are images of the old and the new statehouses of South Carolina identified by the dates 1786 and 1936. Construction of the old statehouse began when Columbia became the state capital in 1786. Nearly three-quarters of a century later construction of a new statehouse began on an adjacent property. Adding to the mystique of this coin are the significant votes that took place in the old statehouse. One such vote on November 10, 1860, shortly after the election of Abraham Lincoln, called for a convention to draw up an Ordinance of Secession. Subsequently, on December 20, 1860, South Carolina became the first state to secede from the Union. Unfortunately, the old statehouse burned to the ground under General Sherman’s occupation. Ironically though, the stone exterior of the new statehouse withstood the artillery bombardment of Shermans troops. Subsequently, brass markers identify the damage in the new statehouse by Union artillery shells. Economically devastated by the war, construction of the new statehouse was finally completed in 1903.

The central device on the reverse of this coin is a palmetto tree that is reminiscent of the state seal of South Carolina. At the base of the tree are a banner, twelve crossed arrows or spears, and a fallen oak.

The state seal of South Carolina is made up of two ovals connected to each other by palmetto branches. Atop the palmetto tree in the left oval are two shields with the dates’ March 26 and July 4 representing the date of the first South Carolina constitution and the declaration of Independence. Written on the banner at the base of the tree, at the point the twelve arrows cross, representing the twelve other colonies, is a Latin phrase translated, “who shall separate.” The fallen oak signifies the defeat of the British fleet attacking the fort at Sullivan’s Island on June 28, 1776. Underneath the tree is the phrase, “having fallen it has set up a better.” The right oval features Spes, the goddess of Hope holding a laurel branch and walking on a beach at dawn among discarded weapons. Written on the rim of the left oval is the state name and motto, “prepared in mind and resources,” and the phrase around the right oval is, “while I breathe, I hope.”

I must confess that without this coin I would not have had the occasion to learn the history represented on this coin. Therefore, in the context of history, commemorative coins serve to teach American history to current and future generations of Americans.

I will close this post with a fond memory I have from a vacation with my wife and kids as I was passing through South Carolina. Often while on a road trip, you make stops based on billboards along the way of places and things that look interesting. One such sign led us to a roadside market where I purchased a basket of the best peaches I have ever tasted (sorry Georgia). As I remember those peaches were as large as softballs, delectably sweet, and full of juice as evidenced by my sticky hands and soaked shirt! So until next month, happy collecting!

Garys February Coin of the Month

Februarys coin of the month is a beautifully conserved, chocolate-brown, NCS/NGC, 1858/6 AU-55 Great Britain halfpenny.

This month I am beginning a three-part series of articles examining the coins of three nations with seated, feminine national personifications. A British halfpenny from my collection is the first coin in this series because I believe the Seated Liberty coinage of the United States uses as its model the Seated Britannia coinage of Great Britain. Subsequently, the South American nation of Peru after their liberation from Spain in 1824 modeled their coinage after Lady Liberty of the United States.

The 1858/6 Great Britain halfpenny (KM#726) is a copper coin, 28 mm in diameter, and weighing 9.1-9.5 grams with a mintage of 2,473,000. The obverse features the young-head bust of Queen Victoria, the date, and a Latin inscription around the rim of the coin. The obverse inscription is translated, Victoria by the Grace of God. The reverse features Britannia in a right facing seated position holding Poseidons trident and a shield displaying the Union Flag. Underneath Britannia are a shamrock (three-leafed clover), a rose, and a thistle. These flowers represent the three kingdoms of the United Kingdom: Ireland, England, and Scotland respectively. The Latin inscription around the rim of the reverse is translated, Queen of the British Territories, Defender of the Faith.

Britannia is an ancient Latin term tracing back to the first-century BC used to describe a group of islands, including Albion or Great Britain. In AD 43, the Romans invaded Great Britain and established a province there they named Britannia. During the second-century AD, Britannia became personified as a goddess typically seen wearing a centurion helmet, and armed with a spear and shield (much like that of Minerva).

Britannia first appeared in a seated position on bronze coinage during the reign of Roman Emperor Hadrian (117-138 AD). That first Britannia commemorates Hadrians visit to the province and the building of the Hadrian wall in AD 122. Originally, this coin signified that Britannia was bound and subjugated by her Roman occupiers. Over time, the seated position of Britannia would come to mean something altogether different.

Long after the withdrawal of the Romans from Great Britain in AD 410, the name Britannia referring to the British islands remained popular among the Britons. During the Renaissance period more than a thousand years later, Britannia came to be viewed as the national personification of Great Britain.

On British coinage, Britannia first appeared on the farthing in 1672 and the halfpenny later that year. On those first coins, Britannia appeared seated on a globe holding an olive branch with her right hand and a spear with her left. A shield bearing the Union Flag of England and Scotland leans against the globe. As such, Britannia became a symbol of British power and a strong rallying point among Britons. First appearing during the reign of Charles II, Britannia has graced the coinage of every British monarch since.

With the official unification of England and Scotland in 1707, and the subsequent adding of Ireland to the union in 1801 came an exponential rise in power and influence all around the world. Thus, the British Empire would become the largest empire the world has known. To reflect this rise in power and in particular naval superiority, Britannia wearing a centurion helmet donned a more militaristic look, arming herself with Poseidons trident and a shield. Other views of Britannia show her overlooking a British harbor with a lighthouse and a tall-masted British sailing ship on the horizon. At other times, Britannia appears with a lion by her side.

Britannia also represents Liberty and Democracy to the people of the United Kingdom much like Lady Liberty does for the United States, and Marianne does for France. Britannia even became a pop-culture icon in the 1990s known as Cool Britannia. Today Britannia makes an annual appearance on the Silver American Eagle equivalent two-pound Britannia.

In summary, while I did my best to research and describe Britannia in this post, I believe the people who know her best capture the essence of her significance to the United Kingdom. Therefore, the following paragraph is copied from a 2006 Standing Britannia certificate of authenticity: Philip Nathans original design of 1987 which shows the standing figure of Britannia, wearing a Grecian helmet, with her hair and gown flowing freely in the wind. In her right hand she grasps a trident, the symbol of naval supremacy, while her left hand grips the rim of her shield embellished with the flag of the United Kingdom. This warlike stance is moderated by the olive branch in her left hand, symbolizing her readiness to make peace rather than war.

As symbolic as Britannia is, so is the flag of the United Kingdom on her shield. The flag of the United Kingdom is overlaid with St. Patrick’s cross representing Ireland, St. George’s cross representing England, and St. Andrew’s cross representing Scotland. In 1922, Ireland became a free state. However, Northern Ireland seceded from Ireland and rejoined the United Kingdom.

Finally, as mentioned, this coin has been conserved by NCS. Originally blotted with large dark carbon spots you can still see light spots where conservation has enhanced the appearance of the coin. Because what remains doesnt distract from the overall appearance, the coin was crossed over to an NGC holder where I believe it is under-graded at AU-55. Personally, I think this coin should have at least been graded AU-58. However, I am glad to have it graded and in an NGC holder. So until next time, happy collecting

Gary’s April Coin of the Month

The coin featured this month comes from Peru and completes my three part series on Seated National Personifications.

Some time ago, I remember Collectors Society member Jackson opining about a Peruvian gold coin he won at auction almost by accident. What caught my eye about this coin though is that with a few exceptions, it resembles the Seated Liberty motif on our coins. After reading Jacksons post, I thought to add a coin like his to my Inspirational Ladies custom set. However, I did not want to buy a gold coin to do it. Fortunately, this design is prevalent through several denominations of Peruvian coins, and I found an inexpensive silver coin to add to my set.

The nation of Peru declared their independence from Spain on July 28, 1821. They finally won their independence by defeating the Spanish troops in the Battle of Ayacucho on December 9, 1824. As a result, this battle effectively ended Spanish rule in South America. Peru is also a country rich in natural resources and culture. The abundance of gold and other minerals led to the conquest of Peru by the Spaniards beginning in 1532. Before 1532, Peru was the center of a highly developed Inca civilization and central to that civilization is the worship of the sun god Inti. Curiously, my coin of the month incorporates all of this history in the images present on my coin.

Immediately following their independence from Spain, the Republic of Peru began incorporating Lady Liberty into their coinage. Lady Liberty first appeared on Peruvian coinage in a standing position wearing a Grecian garment and a helmet. She is seen holding a pole atop of which is a Phrygian cap, and the rim of a shield resting on the ground. Engraved on the shield is the Spanish word libertad for liberty. Browsing through the Krause Catalog of World Coins it seems that Lady Liberty first appears in a seated position beginning in 1858. This motif would continue to appear on a variety of regular circulating and gold Peruvian coins before disappearing in 1970.

The basic decimal monetary unit in Peru is the sol, which is the Spanish word for sun implying that the monetary system in Peru has its roots in ancient Incan culture. Accordingly, the coin of the month for April is a 1916 NGC MS-64 1/5 Sol (KM# 205.2). This coin has a silver fineness of .900 and an ASW of .1447 Oz. with a mintage of 425,000. The total weight of this coin is 5 grams, which directly correlates to the exact weight and fineness of the US twenty-cent piece. Incidentally, many of Perus other silver coins also have their weight and fineness equivalency in US silver coins. As an aside, there are other similarities and ties between the US monetary system and that of Peru, including that certain Peruvian coins were struck in the United States and appropriately mint-marked.

The obverse of this coin has as its center device the Peruvian coat of arms. The inscriptions in the field at the edge of this coin denote that it is from the Republic of Peru, minted in Lima, which is the capital of Peru, has a silver fineness of .900, and that the assayers initials are F.G. The Peruvian coat of arms has as its central device a shield divided into three parts. The upper-left portion of the shield with a blue background is a vicuna representing the fauna of Peru. The upper-right portion of the shield with a white background is a cinchona tree representing the flora of Peru. (The cinchona tree is also the source of a powerful anti-malaria drug called quinine). The bottom portion of the shield with a red field is a cornucopia full of gold coins and represents the mineral resources of Peru. Surrounding the shield in a semi-circle is a palm and laurel branch tied by a bow into a wreath to represent victory and glory. The wreath above the shield is a Holm Oak Civic Crown. The civic crown has its roots in ancient Rome and is the second highest military honor a person could receive. To earn such an honor a person was required to save the life of a Roman citizen in battle, slay his opponent, and hold the ground on which this took place. The only battlefield testimony allowed in determining the worthiness of the recipient was that of the soldier whose life was saved.

The reverse of this coin has as its central device Lady Liberty, who appears in a seated position holding with one hand a shield depicting an image of the radiant sun god Inti, and a liberty cap atop of a pole with the other. In front of Lady Liberty is a short column with a banner wrapped around it and a wreath resting on top. Written on the banner is the word Libertad, which translated, is Liberty. The inscription around the rim of the reverse is Perus national motto and is translated, Steady and happy for the union. In describing the reverse of this coin an article in the E-Gobrecht Newsletter, Volume 5, Issue 5 suggests that the wreath on top of the column is a Laurel Wreath. However, I believe that rather than a laurel wreath, the wreath on top of the column is another representation of the civic crown. The reason for this is that a civic crown is thick, tightly bound, and closed in a circle; a laurel wreath looks as if to be two separate laurel branches tied together by a bow on one end and open on the other. Rather I believe the ornamental leaves towards the top of, and around the column are laurel leaves symbolizing victory. The civic crown then, in this case, signifies that liberty is attained and held through self-sacrifice, courage, and determination.

All around the world Liberty is a highly valued virtue as evidenced by the coins of the three nations I have highlighted in this series. These three nations are not the only nations of the world to depict Lady Liberty in a seated or standing position. In fact, the issue of the E-Gobrecht Newsletter I referenced has a list of coins from other nations in which Lady Liberty is seated that I may develop into another custom set.

For those of you who collect anything seated, may I recommend the E-Gobrecht Newsletter. They have an extensive archive of newsletters with an abundance of good information. The link to their site is: Now until next time, collect what you love and love what you collect.