America’s most infamous coins

Every coin tells a story. But few more than America’s eight most notorious coins…

Right now the U.S. collectible coin market is an absolute minefield. It is the most competitive coin collecting market in the world. In fact, every one of the top ten most valuable coins of all time is from the U.S.

Some of these coins date back to the 1800’s and all of them are extremely famous. Let me tell you why…

Indian Head Penny

The Indian Penny – featuring a not-so-Native-American!

Indian Head Penny (1859-1909)

The Indian Head Penny is famous for celebrating Native Americans, but it actually doesn’t show a Native American.

According to legend, designer James B. Longacre used a portrait of his 12 year old daughter, Sarah, wearing a headdress. It is, however, more likely that the portrait was based on a classical Greco-Roman statue Venus Accroupie (Crouching Venus).

Either way, the ‘Indian’ is not a Native American! The obverse features the head of Lady Liberty wearing a headdress, while the reverse depicts a wreath as well as the words ‘One Cent’ and a shield in the middle at the top of the coin.

Morgan Silver Dollar (1878-1921)

1878 Morgan Dollar

The design inspired by a school teacher…

For the new silver dollar, designer George T. Morgan decided to portray Liberty as a goddess, inspired by Philadelphian school teacher, Anna Williams who had a fair complexion, Grecian nose and golden hair. Morgan eventually persuaded Anna Williams to sit as the model for Liberty for the obverse of the Morgan Silver Dollar.

In 1878 artists’ models were considered immoral, therefore, Morgan publicly stated that the model was a statue in a Philadelphia museum. Word soon leaked out, however, and it is rumoured that Williams was fired from her teaching job!

‘No Cents’ Liberty Head Nickel (1883)

No Cents Liberty Head Nickel

The coin that created an opportunity for crooks

When the new Liberty Head Nickel was issued in 1883, the denomination was nowhere to be seen, instead a large ‘V’ (Roman ‘5’) was on the reverse.

The coins were the size of the $5 gold coin in circulation at the time which created an opportunity for unscrupulous crooks who came up with a cunning plan to pass them off as $5 by gold plating the new nickels and cutting reeds into the edge by hand. The U.S Mint soon became aware and within a few weeks the design was changed to include the word ‘Cents’ under the ‘V’. The ‘No Cents’ coins are also known as ‘Racketeer’ Nickels.

Lincoln Penny (1909)

The first coin to feature Lincoln’s famous motto

Designer Victor David Brenner added his ‘VDB’ initials to the new Lincoln Penny design in 1909 which was issued to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth.

While the public generally loved the Lincoln cent when it was first released, they didn’t like the prominence of Brenner’s initials. The U.S. Mint quickly removed the initials as it appeared as though Brenner was either boasting or advertising. This was the first cent to feature Abraham Lincoln’s motto ‘In God we trust’ on the obverse.

Morgan Dollar (1921)

1921 Morgan Dollar

Forever associated with the notorious criminal couple Bonnie & Clyde

When notorious outlaws Bonnie and Clyde were shot and killed by police in 1934, a 1921 Silver Morgan Dollar was recovered from the jacket of Clyde Barrow among other possessions. The outlaw lovers were believed to have committed 13 robberies among other felonies between 1932 and 1934.

The hunt for the duo captured the nation’s imagination during the Great Depression and their fame was heightened by their practice of leaving glamourous photos of themselves at crime scenes.

Even more so now, the 1921 coin is forever associated with Bonnie and Clyde.

Roosevelt Dime (1946)

Roosevelt Dime

The stolen design…

In 1945 plans were quickly laid for the introduction of a new coin to honour Roosevelt after his passing. The task was assigned to John Ray Sinnock and coinage began in 1946. Controversy soon arose because sculptor Selma Burke claimed that Sinnock had stolen her design without giving her credit, however Sinnock strongly denied this.

In addition, conspiracy theorists claimed that Sinnock’s initials ‘JS’ (at the base of Roosevelt’s neck) actually referred to Russian leader Joseph Stalin because of Roosevelt’s supposed ‘communist’ learnings.

Franklin Half Dollar (1948)

Franklin Half Dollar

The coin that made a statment

The Franklin Half Dollar was designed by John R. Sinnock and his ‘JS’ initials were again seen by conspiracy theorists as a tribute to Joseph Stalin.

In addition, the crack on the Liberty Bell was controversial, some people saw it as a statement that Liberty in the United States was under threat (despite the fact that the image exactly reflects the bell’s appearance).

Finally, what appears to be a small ‘o’ and large ‘F’ on the reverse (‘oF’ in the United States of America) was rumoured to be a mistake and that the Mint would recall all 1948 coins to correct the ‘error’.

Anthony Dollar (1979)

Anthony Dollar

The Dollar that the public refused to use

The Anthony Dollar was revolutionary – the first circulating coin to feature a historical woman. Susan B. Anthony was an author and protest speaker among other titles but best known as President of the National American Suffrage Association. The coin was also the first small-sized Dollar that was issued for wide circulation.

However, it quickly became notorious – and almost universally rejected – because it was the same colour and about the same size as a quarter. Therefore, it was often mistaken for a Quarter, and the public refused to use it! (Interestingly, it is now a sought-after collector’s item.)


If you’re interested Infamous Notorious and Scandalous Coin Set

You can own all eight of these coins in ‘The Infamous, Notorious and Scandalous U.S. Coin Set’.

Click here to find out more

About Charlotte

Charlotte is the Email and Content Manager for The Westminster Collection
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