America's earliest coins portrayed Liberty. Not rulers and politicians. Just Liberty. A symbolic representation of the country's highest ideal. In the beginning, Americans had an affair of the heart with Liberty. She was their muse and they were aflame in their love for her. They talked about her everywhere, in their churches and taverns and town squares.Read Nystrom's review here.
But she hasn't appeared on our circulation coinage for more than sixty years, not since the beautiful "Walking Liberty" half-dollar. It represented Liberty striding gracefully into the rising sun of the future, arm extended in peace and carrying a bounty of riches. It was a beautiful representation, because abundance accompanies Liberty wherever she goes. Our devotion would be no less if it were not true, but it is one of her secrets: Liberty creates prosperity. ...
... Today's coinage, looking each year more like subway tokens, celebrate the state. Just as words replace deeds and paper substitutes for gold, politicians have displaced ideals. The American state, which was created to serve Liberty, is now commemorated instead.
Archaeologists have long understood the value of coins. The images depicted on them can reveal much about a particular civilization's culture and tradition. It doesn't require much effort to imagine what future generations will conclude about us based on the way our coins idolize the state.