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Patriotic U.S. Coins and Banknotes

By Al Doyle for CoinWeek …..

Here’s a short but focused area of numismatics: patriotic U.S. coins and notes with a strong message of freedom and independence. These pieces go well beyond the ubiquitous portraits of an allegorical Miss Liberty, and they can be found at every price point on the spectrum.

U.S. Banknotes

A pair of large-sized $5 notes drive home the message of religious liberty with compelling artistry. Check the back of the 1902 and 1908 $5 National Bank Notes to see a fine example of old-school engraving. A scene of the Pilgrims landing at Plymouth Rock is an eye grabber. President Benjamin Harrison and the issuing bank can be found on the other side.

The Pilgrims wanted to worship in a manner that was banned by England’s state church, and their quest for religious freedom included many severe hardships. Something in the $150 to $175 range should be sufficient to acquire a common example (as in bank and state) in Very Fine, and the cost is around $300 in Extra Fine. The same vignette shares the back with Christopher Columbus landing in the western hemisphere on the Series 1914, 1915 and 1918 $5 Federal Reserve note. It will cost around $100 for a VF type note.

The back of a Series 1918 National Currency $5 Note.
The back of a Series 1918 National Currency $5 Note.

What if you need to take the low-budget path to collecting symbols of freedom? Go to the bank and get some $2 bills at face value. All deuces since 1976 (this includes Series 1995, 2003, 2009, 2013, 2017, 2017A, and the upcoming 2021) carry the signing of the Declaration of Independence on the back. Get some extra $2s and spend them if you want to see startled looks and hear the comments from surprised cashiers.

Patriotic U.S. Commemorative Coins

A trio of older commemorative coins focus on independence. The 1925 Lexington-Concord half dollar is known for its depiction of the famed statue of the musket-armed citizen answering the urgent call to duty. This is a very affordable item in grades as high as MS-64, as 162,013 pieces were sold. The small wooden cases that housed Lexington halves were usually discarded and nowadays are prized by collectors.

Sesquicentennial half dollars and $2.50 gold pieces were issued in 1926. The 50-cent piece (mintage 141,120) is affordable in grades up to MS-63, but the typically weak strike means higher-grade specimens are anything but cheap. Plan on spending $300 in MS-64 and $2,000 or more for the relatively small population of MS-65 “Sesquis”. The quarter eagle was the last of the 11 old gold commemoratives, and the original mintage was 46,019, Don’t expect to add this attractive design to your collection for less than $450 even in lower grades.

Modern U.S. Coins

Move ahead 50 years for the clad and .400 fine silver quarters, half dollars, and Eisenhower dollars struck to honor America’s bicentennial. The drummer boy reverse on the 1776-1976 quarter is the one artistically inspired theme on the series, which is both common and cheap in BU and proof versions.

constitution_5The 1987 Constitution silver $1 and gold $5 rank among the biggest sellers of the modern U.S. commemorative coin era. More than 3.07 million silver pieces and 873,884 gold half eagles were purchased. The issue honors the bicentennial of the United States Constitution, and either coin can be had for bullion-related prices.

It took the creation of the Bill of Rights before a number of delegates were willing to vote for the Constitution, and a 1993 half dollar and silver dollar honors this vital affirmation of individual liberty. James Madison is depicted on both commems. The 50-cent piece is the only modern commemorative half dollar besides the 1982 George Washington commemorative to be struck on a silver planchet.

In recent years, the Mint has issued a multitude of coins bearing patriotic themes, including the Medal of Honor coins in 2011, Star Spangled Banner coins in 2012, and Purple Heart coins in 2022. In 2024, the Mint will issue coins honoring the sacrifices of the Greatest Generation.

In addition to reflecting on America’s history, the patriotic U.S. coin collector can acquire items that provide a constant reminder of what it means to live in this nation.

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Al Doyle
Al Doyle
Al Doyle has written about coins for several different publishers, including the columns "$100 and Under" (2013- ) and "Budget Minded" (2022- ) for The Numismatist. Al has also written for the Chicago Tribune newspaper.

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  1. It’s not clear whether this story is reprinted, but further series of $2 bills have been made since those listed: 2013, 2017, 2017A, and (projected) 2021.

    Typo: the 25¢ coin is of course a quarter rather than the somewhat-common slip of “quater”.


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