Brand awareness goes back thousands of years. Emperors used their profiles and statues to ensure their influence and allegiance. If we leap forward into the post-WWII decades, America’s advertising historians might point to whiz kid Donny Deutsch, who famously helped clients build consumer loyalty for their brands.
In between those two eras, 13 colonies banded together and launched a successful revolution based on the ideals of liberty and freedom. But their leaders needed powerful images to brand those ideals into concrete goals. Let’s look at some of those early symbols that have now passed the test of time, plus a few new versions!
Why an Eagle?
Our national bird could have been a turkey, if Benjamin Franklin had had his way. We briefly looked at his favored fowl in this Heads & Tails blog. The hat tip to the bald eagle, though, goes to Charles Thomson of Pennsylvania. Thomson served both the first and second Continental Congress as the all-important secretary, recording meeting minutes from 1774 to 1789. It was Thomson whose drawing of an eagle “on the wing and rising” placed amid the most discussed design elements that finally produced a national seal in 1782.
Since then, the eagle has had notable looks, but none quite like the Type 1 and Type 2 for the Gold American Eagle first released in 1986. Type 1 featured the “family of eagles” reverse designed by Miley Busiek Frost to symbolize the American family, caring for one another. In 2021, the U.S. Mint unveiled the Type 2 reverse by Jennie Norris, showing an up-close profile of the handsome head of a bald eagle. The feathering is so real, you want to touch it!
Even the casual student of early American political history knows the Founding Fathers looked to ancient Greece and Rome for examples that would help them form a balanced government. But of all the Greco-Roman gods and goddesses the Fathers could have chosen to brand this grand experiment in democracy, none was better than Liberty.
Many collectors of classic coins would argue that the full-length figure of Liberty striding purposefully towards a new day is the most satisfying half dollar obverse to collect. Mint Sets from the 20th century often becomes the nucleus of an entire collection, like this one.
Contemporary designs of Liberty are perennial favorites – especially since the installation of the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor in 1886 with her right arm aloft, holding the torch of enlightenment, lighting the way to freedom for immigrants.
A New Symbol of Freedom
In 1927, President Calvin Coolidge handed sculptor Gutzon Borglum a set of drill bits. For a chief executive known far and wide for his terse comments, President Coolidge is quoted as telling Borglum, “This memorial will be another national shrine to which future generations will repair to declare their continuing allegiance to independence, to self-government, to freedom and to economic justice.” In due time, the granite carving would come to be known also as the Shrine of Democracy.
For his commission on the Black Hills of South Dakota, the son of Danish immigrants who was raised in Nebraska chose to commemorate the following four presidents:
- George Washington, as our nation’s Founding Father
- Thomas Jefferson, who wrote the Declaration of Independence and signed the Louisiana Purchase
- Theodore Roosevelt, who conserved open land by signing legislation that established five national parks: Wind Cave in South Dakota; Sullys Hill, North Dakota (later re-designated a game preserve); Mesa Verde in Colorado; Crater Lake in Oregon, and Platt, Oklahoma (now part of Chickasaw National Recreation Area).
- Abraham Lincoln, who led the country through the Civil War and believed in preserving the nation at any cost
What other coins might you collect whose symbols united us in the pursuit of liberty and freedom?
Wood, Margaret. “Our National Bird – Pic of the Week.” November 27, 2015. Library of Congress. Accessed June 30, 2023. https://blogs.loc.gov/law/2015/11/our-national-bird-pic-of-the-week/
Library of Congress. “Charles Thomson (1729-1824).” Accessed June 30, 2023. https://www.loc.gov/collections/continental-congress-and-constitutional-convention-from-1774-to-1789/articles-and-essays/to-form-a-more-perfect-union/charles-thomson/
“American Bald Eagle on the Great Seal of the United States.” Accessed June 30, 2023. https://www.greatseal.com/symbols/eagle.html
Mancy, Dylan. “75 Surprising Facts About Mount Rushmore.” Accessed June 30, 2023. https://www.travelsouthdakota.com/trip-ideas/story/75-surprising-facts-about-mount-rushmore