When you think of ways to honor your country, what do you think of?
For nations around the world, from the far reaches of history to today, one answer has been beautiful commemorative coins. In ancient times, commemorative coins were even used to spread news throughout a country. The coin we write you about today may not spread news, but it does spread the joyful message of America’s continued success and the liberty we cherish.
In 1920, Philadelphia Mayor J. Hampton Moore and a group of prominent citizens launched a campaign whose most enduring legacy may be the coin we’ll describe in just a moment. This group succeeded in bringing to Philadelphia a world’s fair to celebrate the 150th anniversary (sesquicentennial) of the signing of our Declaration of Independence.
Any world’s fair is an epic event. The sesquicentennial featured an 80-foot replica of the Liberty Bell covered in 26,000 light bulbs at the entrance to the fair. The Sesqui-Centennial Stadium was built for the fair, as was a bridge across the Delaware river to connect central Philadelphia and Camden, New Jersey. Not to be outdone, the Austin Organ Company built for the fair what is still one of the largest pipe organs in the world. In the amusement area, named Treasure Island, were five acres of entertainment for kids: a replica of the Canadian Rockies, a pirate’s lair, and thrilling roller coasters.
Most Impressive of All
But the fair’s greatest treasure of all—outlasting even the stadium—was its commemorative coins. In 1925, Congress passed an act authorizing the creation of commemorative coins for the fair. Fittingly, the Philadelphia Mint took on the job and minted quarter and double eagles.
The quarter eagle’s design was superb. The obverse takes an Art Deco approach, with a slimmer Lady Liberty than the classical maidens and matrons depicted on older U.S. coins. In context, the liberty cap she wears looks quite 1920s. Some people say she looks like a flapper girl.
Liberty stands on a partial globe, her right arm outstretched and holding the torch of freedom (in a likely nod to the Statue of Liberty). In her left hand, she holds a long scroll representing the Declaration of Independence. Even in Liberty’s flowing robes, the design manages to achieve a pleasing, Art Deco-like geometry and symmetry. The whole effect is one of grace, beauty, and pleasing simplicity.
The reverse shows Independence Hall, where the Declaration was signed, with a subtle rising sun behind it. Sinnock’s initials are to the right, above the right wing of the building. Art historian Cornelius Vermeule greatly admired the reverse, writing that “The bell and its inscriptions are jewels of precision.”
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