Liberty Dime Excursus

This, this is a distraction, but an enjoyable one.   I was asked in the comments what I thought about this product of the US mint from 1916 to 1945, specifically the reverse.

The image of fasces with and without axes has a LONG tradition in the official sanctioned art of the United States certainly going back to portraits of Washington.  Houdon portrays Washington as a sort of second Cinncinnatus:

Houdon's Washington with Roman fasces

and the representation became highly influential, see esp. Ward’s Washington:

File:George Washington Statue at Federal Hall.JPG

These are without axes.  The Civil War memorials tend to juxtapose axed and axeless fasces in near proximity.   Lincoln in his temple rests his hand on axeless fasces, but the tripods flanking the steps sit atop axed fasces:

Here in Brooklyn, Grand Army Plaza’s inner columns have fasces with axes, the outer without:

GAP columns 7-22

I read the dime as a ‘Liberty must be Defended’ ideology inspired by the memorialization of the War between the states and the new experiences of the Great War.

Many of the drafters of the constitution thought of the US as a (even the) new Republic. We’ve been left with a very Roman legacy.  Each generation, in its own way, must come to terms with what that symbolic language means in a new age.

Update 8/24/13:  The more I think about the more I want to emphasize the olive branch in relation to the fasces, this seems to me as very similar to the caduceus as a symbol of peace juxtaposed against the fasces on republican coins. Peace and Law and Order beget Liberty?  Augustus rather dramatically connected the idea of Liberty and Peace on this issue:

 

The obverse legend resolves: “Imperator Caesar, Son of a God, Consul for the Fourth Time, Defender of Liberty”.

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3 thoughts on “Liberty Dime Excursus

  1. Read your posts on poetry and the liberty dime. Did you know that Elsie Stevens, the wife of the poet Wallace Stevens, was the model for lady Liberty on the dime?

    One problem with representing the fasces on a silver coin is that the rods are both shallow and elevated, and so they wear off quickly; we have some jars of old dimes and on most of them the bundle looks like a slightly rippled column.

    1. The same thing happens on representations of the globe on Roman coins. I thought for the longest time that they were smooth orbs until I finally saw some well preserved specimens that show latitude and longitude grid.

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