Thursday, October 28, 2010

Of Phrygian caps and nostalgia for real money

The "Mercury Dime" was, I think, one of the most beautiful coins the U.S. has ever produced.

For one thing, it still had intrinsic value, being made of .90 silver. For another thing, it was a work of art. I still have a few in my boyhood coin collection, stored away somewhere.

It is pretty enough that some think it is a Saint-Gaudens, but, in reality it is the work of Adolf Weinman, another American sculptor of considerable renown. Weinman also produced the most beautiful U.S. silver coin of all, in my opinion - "Walking Liberty" - which appeared on half-dollars 1916-1947. (If you clicked on the link and are confused at the date of issue on the illustration, you should know that the U.S. Mint still produces many of these coins annually for bullion-traders, not for circulation.)

The most beautiful U.S. coin of all time, gold OR silver? The Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle, bar none. The Double Eagle is a gold coin with a face value of $20. A $50 face-value version (1 oz.) is also minted for bullion-trading purposes now. Of course, face-value means nothing nowadays, since you would hardly take one of these coins out shopping. The gold spot price for one ounce on 28 October 2010 was $1,388. Incidentally, a 1933 Double Eagle is also the most valuable coin in the world today, one at auction in 2008 fetching just under eight million dollars.

But back to the "Mercury Dime."

Everyone calls it a Mercury Dime because everyone, myself included, has always assumed the face on the obverse of the coin is that of the Roman messenger-god Mercury. Those pesky winged helmets again. But au contrare - further research leads to the discovery that it is really the image of the mythological goddess of liberty, and is properly called "Winged Liberty."

This (of COURSE) brings us to the subject of Phrygian caps. It's not a helmet at all, by gosh, and you can plainly see that it is not a helmet if you study the image of the same lady, Walking Liberty, on the above linked half-dollar. No, sir, it's a cap. A Phrygian cap. Phrygia being the central part of Anatolia, which is itself the western two-thirds of the Asian part of Turkey.

But you knew that. Or, at least, I'm sure Soubriquet did. Soubriquet knows all.

Suddenly I've run out of things to say about the Mercury Dime. ::Scratches head and slowly walks away::


  1. A Phrygian cap was, of course, a precursor of the winged helmet, a device that made later warrior-dudes incredibly desireable in the eyes of woman.

    I understand the wings on the original phrygian caps were capable of fluttering, which sometimes gave away the inner demeanour of even the most composed-appearing Phryges.

    The Phrygians invented ice-boxes, and were the first warriors of the eastern mediterranean lands to have air-conditioned horses.
    Unfortunately, in the third century b.c., there was a great leak of chlorofluorocarbon gases from the refrigerator plant and the Phrygians were compelled to flee toward America, where they waited, in cold-storage, for the coming of columbus, roads, cities, motor-vehicles, when they could defrost, de-suspend their animation and become surly taxi-drivers of the modern age.

  2. Marianne on French stamps wears a Phrygian cap. Smurfs wear Phrygian caps. I rest my case. Forget the wings, horned helmets it is.

  3. Where exactly are all these women made lustful at particular headgear?

    If these caps are the precursor to winged helmets (which, according to Soubriquet) send women into frenzies of passion, why are they on females on both counts?

    Have we confused Phrygians with the inhabitants of Lesbos? Or Amazons?

  4. @Soubriquet - They became surly taxi drivers? I think you may be a bit overserved today.

    @A. - You are still on the horns of this dilemma? Does no one want to comment on my post about coins? I've heard about Marianne, of course, as well as her sister Maxine. So true about the cap, but then they ALL wore those caps during the revolution. Or have you not seen any of the paintings of the period? Actually, the 7 dwarfs wore them as well. They never reached retirement age though. I have one which I wear over my normal baseball cap, just to cover the wings.

    @Stephanie Barr - Why are you yelling at ME? I only made a post about pretty coins. It was Soubriquet who brought up fluttering wings and hearts. The truth must be hitting close to home, eh? A bit flushed with emotion, are we? :)

    That's why I keep my wings covered when I go to Walmart. I still have hopes someone will want to talk about Beaux-Arts sculptors.

  5. I love coins! I walk, head down, through the streets looking for dropped coins. This is not because they are that beautiful, in fact UK coins are pretty badly designed I would say, but the thought of finding large numbers of them, especially the gold coloured ones, excites me!

  6. I never looked at coins this way, but i see it now... great post.

  7. In Terry Pratchett's wonderfully silly Going Postal the job of Post Master General involves wearing a winged hat-one of the prime selling points of the position.

    I never gave the dime much thought, though I do like it's looks and I guess I must have assumed that was Mercury as well.

    Of course, I didn't get see them when they new the way you did.

  8. I don't know what is on our coins these days, never mind yours.

  9. I was, I admit, a little underwhelmed by the beauty of the engraving.
    I bought, for my beloved, a roman Denarius, of the emperor Constantine's reign, to remind her of her visit to York with me, now that coin's meaningful to me.
    Did you know Constantine was proclaimed Emperor of Rome whilst he was in York?



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