The Peace Dollar is one of the most striking coins the US Mint ever produced. The Liberty on the obverse of the coin is more art nouveau, as opposed to the very classical profiles on other coins. Her face is at rest, and her hair blows slightly in an unseen breeze, while a radiant crown sits on her brow. The model for this particular version of Lady Liberty was Teresa de Francisci, the wife of the sculptor who created the image.
Teresa was born Mary Teresa Cafarelli in southern Italy in 1898, and immigrated to America with her mother when she was four. The Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor made a strong impression on her. She said, “I was, of course, impressed by that statue. I think it’s a wonderful statue, and I think it means a great deal to almost everyone who has come over here from another country. And I’ve been very grateful to this country all my life.” In fact, she often struck the pose of the famous Statue during her girlhood; she would later write about how “heartbroken” she was when other little girls were chosen to be Liberty during school productions, likely due to strong anti-Italian sentiment at the time. She was the first Italian to graduate from her high school.
She married fellow immigrant Anthony de Francisci in 1920; Francisci, though young, was already a skilled sculptor. In 1921, he was invited, with other notable artisans, to submit a design for the upcoming Peace Dollar. He asked Teresa to sit down in his studio, and opened a window to let in a breeze. The resulting head of Liberty is not an exact likeness of Ms. de Francisci, nor was it intended to be so. Anthony de Francisci stated in the Minneapolis Tribune that “the Liberty is not a photograph of Mrs. de Francisci. It is a composite face and in that way typifies something of America.”
“Anthony was so certain he would lose,” Teresa later said, “that he told his artist friends, ‘I’ll give you a silver dollar if I win.’ Then, when he did win, we ordered 50 pieces from the Mint – and he gave them all away to keep his promise. He never even kept one for himself.” Of course, his design did win, and the Peace Dollar became known as one of the most unique and beautiful coins in United States history.
Anthony de Francisci died in 1960, but Teresa lived until 1990, often making appearances as an invited guest at numismatic events. She was happy to have been the model for Liberty, especially given her love of the Statue of Liberty as a young child. She wrote to her brother, “You remember how I was always posing as Liberty, and how brokenhearted I was when some other little girl was selected to play the role in the patriotic exercises in school? I thought of those days often while sitting as a model for Tony’s design, and now seeing myself as Miss Liberty on the new coin, it seems like the realization of my fondest childhood dream.”