The Old Standby
Ever think that US money is kind of boring? Go on, admit it, you know it is. It is almost like there is a formula for our coins today.
Old dead white dude on the obverse, American iconic image on the reverse.
For the coins in our pocket, it is almost true 100%
- Penny- Lincoln / his memorial, or shield
- Nickel-Jefferson / his house
- Dime- Roosevelt /a torch, oak, & olive branch
- Quarter- Washington / eagle
- Half Dollar- Kennedy / eagle
- Dollar- here is where we mix it up, these have always been ladies on the front, until Ike in 1971-1978, then a Susan B Anthony, then Sacagawea, with the Presidents / Lady Liberty added in for some variety (ha). So again dead white dudes and an eagle!
Yes, there have been quite a lot of varieties before the coins that are currently made, and Lady Liberty or an iconic image of a lady was on every coin at some point. But to be honest, if you look at them all long enough, they all kind of look like the same person. In my personal theory, the “ladies” on the coins are, for the most part, very masculine, and if you cover their hair, they are quite manly in appearance, facially. Not ladies that you would probably swipe right on.
However, at times, the US mint tries to be bold, Tries. Thus, we get pattern coins. Think of this like a pilot episode for TV. Sometimes they get picked up, most of the time, no! Pattern coins are experiments that the mint with designs or metal compounds for a particular denomination. For example, using copper or nickel for coins normally made out of silver or gold. Many of them are quite rare and valuable. Most are quite beautiful and would have been a welcome addition to the variety of coinage made. However, the vast majority of those designs never made it that far. The Mint works hard to strike (ha pun) a balance between continuity and updates, and that is a hard act! So we are left with a set of us coins that are business strikes in circulation that are just not all together that differnt.
As far as I know the best collection of pattern coins is in Colorado Spring, CO. The Harry W. Bass Jr. collection at the ANA library is made up of early U.S. gold and pattern coins. In fact, the collection has a full set of the 9 Amazonian pattern coins, made in 1872 by U.S. Mint Chief Engraver William Barber (you may have heard of him). These coins are gorgeous, depicting ladies who look…wait for it….like ladies. These coins are extremely rare (only 12 of each type are known to exist). I have seen this collection multiple times in the past three years and the major takeaway I have each time is “I wonder if the Mint allowed these engraves to take the blinder off, what we would see in patterns.” Because I know, based on what has been struck, the Mint is not a fan of change (ha, pun) or at least the decision makers are not.
Internationally & Competition
Where you do see innovation is in the international coin mints and in coin design competitions. Yes the US has a rather stable economy, and we are not a nation know for our creativity, artistically. So it is not a huge surprise that our government, which for a time worked hard to make it appear that we had been around for a long time, acts like your grandparents in Best Buy, pish-poshing all things they do not understand. However, our coins are rather dull. In the past few years the mint, for a multitude of reasons, has created numerous design modifications and series for collection (overkill?). But the content is still rather what a 6th-grade civics class would come up with. State mottos, historical dates of note in our history, eagles, houses, dead white dudes.
To me it seems we have not gotten old enough as a nation to take ourselves a bit less serious. No outrageous colors, not designs that are artistic or push the limits of what is expected, or include items unexpected. The below are just some examples that I find intriguing for a multitude of reasons. Note the pyramid one has actual sand in it!