The Stamp and Coin Place Blog: connecting the past and present of stamp and coin collecting, and looking to the future.

Coins of Black History Month

Each February, the United States recognizes, remembers and celebrates the important people and events that have shaped the African-American experience in our country. To commemorate Black History Month this year, we’re celebrating with some of our favorite coins.

1995 $5 Civil War Gold Coin
Housing and commercial development was being urged toward American Civil War battlefields increasingly in the 1990s. Surcharges from the sale of commemorative coins were seen as one means of funding these sites’ preservation as public trusts. Toward this end Congress approved a three-denomination coin set consisting of a copper-nickel-clad half dollar, a silver dollar and a gold half eagle, each of which would be offered in both uncirculated and proof editions.

The obverses of all three coins were designed by Connecticut artist Donald Troiani. The San Francisco Mint struck both editions of the half dollar, as well as proofs of the silver dollar. The uncirculated strikes of the silver dollar came from Philadelphia, while West Point provided both issues of the gold half eagle.

Despite competition from the vast 1995 coin program for the Atlanta Olympics, the Civil War Battlefields commemoratives sold reasonably well. The notable exception was the half eagle, which posted the lowest sales figures yet for this denomination in the modern commemorative series. The half dollar was selected for inclusion in that year’s Prestige Proof Set, which helped its overall sales considerably.

American Liberty 225th Anniversary Coin
The American Liberty 225th Anniversary Coin is a one-ounce gold coin minted to commemorate the 225th anniversary of the U.S. Mint. It was released on April 6th, 2017. A companion series of one-ounce silver medals bearing the same designs was released on October 6th later that year.

The design of the coin, which was the first minted depiction of Lady Liberty portrayed as an African-American woman, sparked a national conversation as a record-high number of viewers watched the U.S. Mint’s live-streamed unveiling in January 2017. The 2017 coin was a result of the exploration of concepts for a new and modern Liberty and was directly inspired by the controversial 2015 African American Liberty designed by another AIP artist.

The usage of an African-American woman on the design sparked a minor controversy within the numismatic community, as some coin collectors voiced their disapproval There is a mintage limit of 100,000 for the gold coins. 14,285 pieces, or 14.3% of the total possible, were sold on the first day that the coin became available on the US Mint catalog.

Booker T. Washington Memorial Half-Dollar
In 1946, the U.S. Mint made history when it released the Booker T. Washington Memorial Silver Half-Dollar — the first-ever U.S. coin to honor an African-American individual. Since that time, groundbreaking leaders and events in African-American history have been featured on 90% silver commemorative coins.

The half dollar was designed by Isaac Scott Hathaway. The obverse depicts Booker T. Washington and the reverse shows the cabin in which Washington was born (now the Booker T. Washington National Monument) and the Hall of Fame for Great Americans with the words “From slave cabin to Hall of Fame.” It was minted in silver between 1946 and 1951.

2009 District of Columbia Duke Ellington Quarter
In release of the Duke Ellington quarter the  U.S. Mint Director Ed Moy said: “Like many great Americans who succeed in what they love doing, Duke Ellington was equal parts talent, hard work, passion and perseverance,”

Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington was born and raised in Washington. He and other black music legends, such as Ella Fitzgerald, helped establish the city’s U Street as an entertainment corridor.

The Ellington coin beat out designs featuring abolitionist Frederick Douglass and astronomer Benjamin Banneker. The coin with Ellington resting his elbow on a piano was officially released Jan. 26 2009.

“With Duke on the coin, we are sending an important message to the world that D.C. is a lot more than a government town,” D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton said.

Prior to the Ellington quarter, the only U.S. coin to depict a black person was a 2003 Missouri state coin that featured explorers Lewis and Clark with a black slave named York, Mint spokeswoman Carla Coolman said. Commemorative coins have also featured black figures but those coins weren’t put into circulation.

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