Women In History: Coin and Numismatic Contributions

Perhaps one of the most intriguing parts of the numismatic hobby is how rich in history it is. Think about it; the change in your pocket could be 50+ years old. The collection you hold so dear is probably littered with paper money used in the 1800s. And let us not forget about the famed Morgan Silver Dollar that is one of the most coveted, if not the most coveted, coins in the business. Mintage years: 1878-1921. The most recently minted coin is nearly 100 years old. Is the picture painted yet?

Now as we identify the rich history of coins and currency, let us identify another key element in its history: women. As the month of March has been deemed Women’s History Month, it is only right we identify their contributions to the numismatic business. Remember that aforementioned Morgan Dollar? It’s one of the most sought after coins in United States history and it has a woman on it. Need we say more?

In addition to the nearing anniversary of the Morgan Silver Dollar, the United States Mint is putting in place the production of Women’s Suffrage coins at the end of the year. With a Proof Silver Dollar, Uncirculated Silver Dollar, and a Silver Dollar and Medal Set in the works according to their 2020 production schedule, the commemorative coins will come 100 years after the Women’s Suffrage Movement ended and women were given the right to vote according to the 19th amendment that was ratified in August of 1920. While this year marks the 100th Anniversary of the amendment, the fight for women’s rights to vote went on another 100 years prior to the final decision.

But while women’s rights have been going on for hundreds of years, their imagery and inspiration have also been going on throughout numismatics for just as long. Women, although some may disagree, are extremely important to the coin hobby. Let us take a look back at some of the most well-known examples of this fact.

Women In Coin History

Whether you have realized it or not, women have played a tremendous role in the designs of coins for hundreds of years. The coin reference book put out by Whitman Publishing called “100 Greatest Women On Coins” reflects on the contributions made from real-life women like Cleopatra to Martha Washington while also referencing goddesses such as Athena. This book goes in-depth to explain and celebrate the women who have appeared on coins while making political, historical, artistic, scientific, and a number of other contributions to society. The “100” were even voted upon and ranked by members of Women In Numismatics although it would be remiss to mention that more than 700 women were in contention.

United States Coin History

Susan B. Anthony, Sacagawea, Anna Williams, Lady Liberty, First Spouse Medal Program, etc. The list can keep growing. All of these women and more have made their mark on United States coinage.

Susan B. Anthony

During the mintage of the Eisenhower dollar, the size and resources of the continuation of production for the coin came into question which in turn caused the United States Mint to search for a new design that would bring forth a smaller dollar. Then-Chief Engraver Frank Gasparro would eventually design a dollar that would honor Women’s Rights. Susan B. Anthony, a well-known leader of the women’s suffrage movement, would be chosen for the design and production would start in 1979 and end in 1981.

Native American Dollar (Sacagawea)

After given direction by the US Mint, the design of the Native American Dollar would come to be from an invited artist only “competition” that would end with Glenna Goodacre and her winning design of Sacagawea and her infant son Jean-Baptiste. Goodacre, a well-known sculptor, has won numerous awards for her work and has contributed to private, municipal, corporate, national, and international collections for many years. This year’s design for 2020 also honors a woman: Elizabeth Peratrovich. Her advocacy and determination are what was considered the reasoning behind the passing of the Anti-Discrimination Law by the Alaskan territorial government in 1945. Peratrovich’s portrait along with the symbol of the Tlingit Raven moiety for which she is a member is pictured on the reverse of the design.

Morgan Silver Dollar (Anna Williams)

Despite the controversy surrounding the design of the dollar and the likeness it presented to Anna Williams, something that was quite provocative and unheard of at the time, the Morgan Dollar would go on to be the most sought after coin in history. Just a young girl thought to be just 18 at the time, Williams was said to have posed for the coin’s designer, George T. Morgan, in a number of sessions until he was finished recreating her “perfect” profile. First produced in 1878, the coin was last minted in 1921 and is nearing its 100th anniversary next year in 2021. Will the U.S.Mint commemorate such a valued coin in American history next year? We all can hope as it would be quite the celebration.

Elizabeth Jones (11th Chief Engraver)

To be named a Chief Engraver of the United States Mint is one thing. To be named Chief Engraver while also being the first woman given the title is another. As the eleventh to serve in the position, Jones held the title from 1981 until her retirement in 1991. Chosen by then-President Ronald Reagan, Jones made a lasting contribution to United States commemorative coins as the 1982 George Washington Commemorative Half Dollar and the 1983 Los Angeles Olympic Silver Dollar are some of the many designs attributed to her.

Women In the World - Queens

Until 2015, Queen Victoria served as the longest-reigning British monarch between 1837-1901. A 50th-anniversary card was produced and then a 60th-anniversary silver medal was issued with Queen Victoria commemorated on it herself. Dethroning her longest reign? Queen Elizabeth II, who has been the Queen of the United Kingdom and other Commonwealths since 1953. Aside from her coronation medal and numerous other pieces with her profile, Queen Elizabeth II is the obverse of many world coin bullion pieces many of you own including the Canadian Maple Leaf, Britannia, Kangaroo, Kookaburra, and many others. Jody Clark’s effigy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II has most recently been updated in 2019 to feature her neckline and shoulders as visible while she wears the Royal Diadem crown and Victorian coronation necklace.

Whether admittable or not, women have played a huge part in coin and numismatic history. Even the Statue of Liberty is a symbol of Libertas, a goddess of liberty. She is a symbol of freedom and love as she represents hope and inspiration to millions around the world. Her image appears and is the inspiration on a number of coins in numismatics. In fact, she was the image presented on the obverse of the short-lived, but popular, Peace dollar as we transitioned from the famed Morgan dollar. It is no coincidence that women have been a large part in making American coinage, and all coinage really, the beautiful hobby that it is.