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Lady Liberty's Cap

Updated on August 14, 2017
Lady Liberty
Lady Liberty

Phrygian Cap

I've found many old silver coins using my metal detector. When I first started detecting, most of what I recovered I had never seen before. I was intrigued by the variety of U.S. coins that had the Goddess of Liberty artistically portrayed, whether she was sitting, standing, walking, bust or side profile, winged, Indian Head; all displayed America's respect and love for liberty. Coins were rich both in precious metal value and in symbolism. It was assumed that liberty, like gold and silver, should be valued and not squandered. Coins did not feature dead presidents, Indian guides, or feminist icons - liberty was the only message. Since 1792, when George Washington rejected the idea of a president's likeness on a coin as monarchial, Lady Liberty's likeness has appeared on more U.S. coins than any other.

Though each likeness is unique and beautiful, especially her "wings" symbolizing freedom of thought on the "Mercury" dime, one feature caught my eye, especially because it's so apparent on the Morgan Silver Dollars: a cap, perched on the back of the head, similar to the blue caps worn by Smurfs in the popular 1980s cartoon. The cap is draped on the tip of a liberty pole in many seated liberty coins minted from 1836 through 1891, and worn by her on many others.

With our precious liberty steadily eroding away one executive order and law at a time by an increasingly bloated government, I'm looking for a strong symbol to remind citizens of how rare and precious liberty is. This could be it - the Phrygian cap. It has a rich history.

Some sources tell us that Roman slaves, when newly freed, wore a "pileus" cap to show their emancipated status, since their hair had been shaved to make them easy to identify and recapture if they attempted escape. It took time for their hair to grow and they needed an immediate, visible way to show they were freed citizens.

When Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC, Brutus and his fellow rebels displayed a pileus upon a wooden pole to show Roman Citizens that the dictatorship was over and their republican system of representative government had been restored. It's not easy to see, especially on smaller coins such as the half-dime, so use a magnifier and look carefully at the pole in her left hand.

Eventually, a red "bonnet rouge" version of the cap became a revolutionary symbol in France in the 1790's. It was also worn in the U.S. before 1800: To freedom fighters, the cap was a very emotional and powerful message. It's time to renew our understanding and appreciation of its importance. Either that, or perhaps a Lady Liberty should be designed wearing a slave collar to symbolize our contentment at being fully domesticated.

Read more:

1857 Seated Liberty Half Dime

What is she holding?

A Phrygian cap on a wooden pole is held in her left hand, typical of the period of neoclassicism in the United States, which can be traced back to ancient Greece and Rome. Ever vigilant, she displays a shield with which to defend our freedom. Coin collectors become historians because they must in order to understand each symbol in the design.


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    • TalkinTom profile image

      TalkinTom 5 years ago from Green Bay, Wisconsin

      Thanks, Geri. You always have been an independent thinker. It's good to see that old-fashioned values are still strong in Alaska.

    • profile image

      Geri 5 years ago

      Good writing. I learned a few things. ;)