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Coins and Living Reality
by Dewey Maggard WINS#193

Most of us will collect "type" coins at some time in our coin hobby future if not at present. What motivates us in this pursuit of certain coins? There is a definite magnetism drawing our attention to the coin. We may not readily know why we like this or that particular coin. Yet, the fascination is impelling and irresistible. We can only attempt to explain it. Perhaps this piece of art conjures up something bigger than we are. If it be a King on the obverse, is it the "regal appearance that draws our attention? Does he really look like we think a King should look? Take a look at a British India One Rupee of the years 1911-1936. King Edward V is depicted in probably one of the best regal appearances of any King on any coins of our present era. The engravers art captured an ideal for all to admire. But, there is much more. Coins were meant to convey these images to the subjects of the crown. Have you noticed the spirit of allegiance given to the monarchs of the British Empire? An ideal is one of the ways this was accomplished. The ancients started this process of symbols and symbolism. It is a conventional sign or pictograph with some esoteric meaning, representing something greater or beyond itself.

When we pick up a "flying eagle" cent what do we see? Of course there is an eagle. Why is he on that particular coin? We had eagles before this on colonial coinage. This eagle is the first to be in full flight. We have fought two great wars by now with Great Britain and won. We are no longer a fledgling nation. That is the spirit which was captured and made emblematic for all to realize. This was a real live eagle who modeled for this coin; not knowingly of course, he had become a pet eagle at the mint due to an injury to one of his wings. During a cold winter day, he happened to be near the window sill of the mint and some of the employees put food out for him. Little by little he was a daily presence, and one day the large window was left open and our friend came right into the mint. He seemed to like his friends there and took flight right in their midst. Apparently, this happened on more than one occasion. One day the Chief Engraver, James Longacrer picked up his pencil and sketched this eagle in the full flight as you see him on the coin. The sketch stayed on his desk for several days or weeks until it became a reality on our coinage. Much was happening in our country at that time. The Gadsden Purchase was being negotiated whereby we acquired a great hunk of what is now Texas. You will see a wreath of cotton, tobacco, corn and wheat on the reverse on that coin, the major crops of the period. Yes, we are now a free nation stretch- our wings so to speak, in full production. The coin tells us so.

On our U.S. coins, the repeated use of Liberty for over a century on many obverses was a staunch allusion to the ideals of the Founding Fathers. The Romans used a lady similar to this design. In fact, we have borrowed from them. Just as we have on our Mercury dime. This Mercury was depicted as early as 140 B.C. on Roman coins. This author has three silver denarii's with such designs. The Greeks within the league of Greek City States were very apt in the practice often placing symbols expressive of some common ambition or ideal. During 394 B.C. 387 B.C. they frequently show infant Hercules strangling serpents. This was an Anti-Spartan device depicting their struggle to regain their lost freedom.

Then there are the bold, expressive symbols such as our U.S. coin, the Standing Liberty Quarter. Our Liberty Lady on the Obverse is clutching a shield under her left arm; her right breast is exposed on this first year issue depicting a mother who nurtures her children; in her right hand she holds the olive branch extended to mean we are peace loving people. Now, look at her she is taking one step forward as if to say, (because she is holding a shield) we will defend our children. She is all of the Spirit of Liberty embodied on that small piece of silver. Isn't she beautiful? Part of my pursuits in this hobby includes collecting Ladies depicting Liberty Freedom--and there are many beautiful ones to be had. Now notice on the reverse of this beautiful coin; the eagle is in full flight, He is a bird of prey. He will do whatever is necessary to protect and feed his young. Eagles have been depicted on coinages since the Ptolemy kings of Egypt. So fellow collectors these are some of the views I hope that some of us see when we go for that "Walking Liberty". . . etc. etc., May you find many beautiful living emblems; because truly, the emblems bring it all to the reality of life that we are living.

Copyright © by the author, 1980 - 2004




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