By now the whole world knows we have a Black man in the White House. But did you know that there are also Black folks on money? Talkin’ bout’ cash money, dollar bill ya’ll? Did you know that Black folks have also designed money?
Isaac Scott Hathaway was the first Black man to design a U.S. coin with Black faces on it. Hathaway designed two U.S. coins. The first coin was the fifty cent piece bearing the face of Booker T. Washington in 1946. The second was of George Washington Carver in 1951.
Isaac Scott Hathaway was born in 1872, although some resources say 1874, in Lexington, Kentucky. Hathaway’s desire to become an artist was a result of a visit to a museum, where he noticed there were no pieces made by or depicting Blacks. At that point, in an early stage in his life, he vowed to represent his people.
Hathaway attended many colleges, including: Chandler College, Pittsburgh Normal College, Cincinnati Art Academy, the College of Ceramics of the State University of New York and the Ceramic College at the State University of Kansas. Hathaway studied art history and ceramics, but he also developed an interest in sculpture.
While an elementary teacher in Kentucky, Hathaway began to make his own pieces in his spare time. He worked in different genres of art, but most of his pieces were sculptures. He is most noted for his busts of famous Blacks, including his hero, Frederick Douglass. The medium of most of his pieces was plaster, but he also worked in bronze.
Hathaway’s success had lasting effects. He taught at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff before moving to Tuskegee Institute. He became a founding member of the Department of Ceramics at Tuskegee Institute.
Hathaway’s works are displayed in a museum bearing his name in Oklahoma City. Isaac Scott Hathaway died in March, 1967.
1946 – Booker T. Washington Silver Half Dollar Coin
Mr. S. J. Phillips, the president of the Booker T. Washington Birthplace Memorial Commission, pressured Congress for legislation to also authorize a Booker T. Washington half dollar, which would help finance the restoration of Washington’s birthplace.
Congress, possibly fearing that voting against the proposal would bring accusations of racism, approved the bill and rushed it into President Truman’s hands. It became law on August 7, 1946.
Current value in mint condition – $125.00 – $175.00
Obverse Description: The bust of Booker T. Washington in the center of the coin. The date at the left. Around the rim, “Booker T. Washington” and “United States of America – Half Dollar – E. Pluribus Unum”.
Reverse Description: At the top, the New York University Hall of Fame with the words below “From Slave Cabin to Hall of Fame – In God We Trust – Franklin County VA”. Around the rim, “Booker T. Washington Birthplace Memorial – Liberty”.
George Washington Carver / Booker T. Washington Silver Half Dollar Coin
Dr. George Washington Carver was a scientist extraordinaire, man of faith, educator and humanitarian. As a botanical researcher and agronomy educator in agricultural, he and Booker T. Washington, the first president of Tuskegee Institute were the pioneers of Tuskegee’s endurance and success.
Hathaway was in a unique position when design work for the second coin featuring a Black image was proposed. The coin, featuring the profiles of George Washington Carver and Booker T. Washington, was authorized for production in September 1951.
Hathaway and Carver were fellow instructors and scientists. Isaac had chaired the Ceramic Department at Tuskegee Institute since 1937 and had become known as the “Dean of Negro Ceramicist” because of his work in perfecting the clays of Alabama into kaolin. Isaac had created a plague and bust of Carver in 1945. His personal association with the scientist and his sketches done in preparation for the sculpted pieces put Isaac’s submission for the coin design in the forefront.
This silver coin was produced from 1951 to 1954. Proceeds were used to establish a memorial park in Missouri for George Washington Carver. The Carver-Washington half dollar was the last of the pre-modern commemorative coin programs.
Current value in mint condition – $125.00
Obverse Description: The busts of George Washington Carver and Booker T. Washington in the center of the coin. The date at the left. Around the rim, “George W. Carver – Liberty – Booker T. Washington” and “United States of America – E. Pluribus Unum – In God We Trust.”
Reverse Description: In the center, A map of the United States. Around the rim, “Freedom and Opportunity for All – Americanism.”
Jackie Robinson Coins
The Jackie Robinson Silver Dollar Coin
Over sixty years ago, American Baseball’s Major League was hobbled by segregation. The field of competition was closed to Blacks.
Then in April 1947, one man braved the taunts and insults and opened America’s pastime to men of every race and color. Jack Roosevelt Robinson’s athletic prowess and courage on the field was mirrored by the dignity and integrity with which he lived his personal life.
His example has stood for the generations that have followed. And history has accorded a special place for the man that fans of all races came to cheer as “Jackie.”
Act of Congress
By an official act of Congress, the U.S. Mint was commissioned to strike gold and silver commemorative coins honoring this American sports legend.
The mintage of these coins was limited to 100,000 five-dollar gold coins and 200,000 silver-dollar coins – the lowest number of authorized silver coins in the modern commemorative era.
Current value in mint condition – $225.00
Obverse Description: Depicts Robinson stealing home plate, as he did during the 1955 World Series between the New York Yankees and the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Reverse Description: Features the Jackie Robinson Foundation’s 50th anniversary logo of Robinson’s breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball, surrounded by inscriptions highlighting two of Robinson’s other achievements: “Rookie of the Year 1947,” and “Hall of Fame 1962.” An identical 50th anniversary commemorative patch was also worn by all Major League Baseball players during the 1997 season.
1997 – Jackie Robinson 50th Anniversary $5.00 Gold Coin Proof
Current value in mint condition – $1,550.00 – $2,000.00
Obverse Description: The gold five dollar coin, by Mint sculptor / engraver William Cousins, depicts Robinson in his later years as a civil rights leader and political activist.
Reverse Description: Mint Graphic designer Jim Peeds’ baseball design, with the years of Robinson’s life, 1919-1972, and the inscription, “Legacy of Courage,” in the center.
The Jackie Robinson 50th Anniversary $5.00 proof is sold in a special wooden box. The set includes a commemorative patch, pin and Topps Baseball reproduction card.
Other Black Coins
1998 – The Black Patriots Silver Dollar Coin
When people think of the patriots who fought for the United States’ freedom, most are unaware that the first patriot to die was a Black man. Crispus Attucks was killed by the British in the Boston Massacre of 1770.
Attucks was the first but not the only Black patriot. More than 5,000 Blacks fought in the Revolutionary War – although the liberty they fought for would be something only their descendants would enjoy. In Virginia, dozens froze, starved and died. The 1st Rhode Island Regiment was made up entirely of 250 Blacks. British General Cornwallis was completely fooled by double agent James Armistead, a Black man who stood by General Lafayette’s side when Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown.
According to law, the U.S. Mint is authorized to produce up to 500,000 silver dollars to commemorate Black Revolutionary Patriots and the 275th anniversary of the birth of Crispus Attucks. A portion of these proceeds from sales of the coins will support the construction of the Black Patriots Memorial on the National Mall just north of the reflecting pool, between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. Congress first approved the idea for a memorial honoring enslaved and free black Revolutionary War soldiers and a prominent site for the project more than 20 years ago. But after years of planning, the idea has languished due to fundraising issues.
Current value in mint condition – $185.00
Obverse Description: The obverse of the silver dollar, designed by Mint Sculptor/Engraver John Mercanti, is a portrait of Crispus Attucks.
Reverse Description: Designed by artist Ed Dwight, depicting a Black Patriot family, is also the design of the sculpture for the Black Patriots Memorial, honoring not only the black soldiers who fought for freedom, but also the families who supported them.
2007 – Jamestown 400th Anniversary Silver Dollar Coin
In the Spring of 1607, three ships carrying over 100 settlers – the Virginia Company of London – made landfall in the New World. The Virginia Company was charged with establishing an English settlement in North America, and its employees were the first permanent English settlers in what would eventually become the United States. The continued survival at Jamestown of the settlers marked a major historical milestone in the exploration of North America.
Current value in mint condition – $40.00 – $50.00
Obverse Description: The silver dollar depicts “Three Faces of Diversity,” representing the Indian, European and African cultures that converged at Jamestown.
Reverse Description: Depicts the three ships, the Susan Constant, Godspeed and Discovery. These ships brought the first settlers to Jamestown.
Little Rock Nine Silver Dollar Coin
It’s been over fifty years since the famous event when nine Black students entered Little Rock Central High School and became the first to desegregate the all-White student body.
Three factors make or break a commemorative coin as a collectible – subject matter, design and rarity. This commemorative to salute this event has failed in all areas. The design of the coin is very poor to say the least. The challenge is how to depict a subject of this magnitude. The design chosen, nine sets of feet walking with a butt of a gun in view, is not an appealing artistic feature to many. The design barely does the event justice. The design concepts that includes symbols of education, justice, law, liberty, and learning were rejected.
Current value in mint condition – $39.00
Obverse Description: Designed by U.S. Mint Artistic Infusion Program Master Designer Richard Masters and sculpted by United States Mint Sculptor / Engraver Charles Vickers.
Reverse Description: Designed and sculpted by United States Mint Sculptor / Engraver Don Everhart. Depicts Little Rock Central High School building.
2009 – Quarter honoring the District of Columbia – debuted on January 26th, 2009
The design selection process for the D.C. Quarter caused some controversy with the District of Columbia since all of the preliminary designs submitted contained the inscription, “Taxation Without Representation.” This motto refers to the fact that residents of the District of Columbia pay federal taxes but do not have full representation in Congress. The U.S. Mint rejected the inscription on the basis that controversial inscriptions may not be included on coins. The inscription “Justice For All” is used in place of the controversial statement.
The selection of the Duke Ellington design was based on a popular vote of D.C. citizens. Other proposed designs for the Washington, D.C. Quarter included depictions of Frederick Douglass and Benjamin Banneker.
Obverse Description: Features George Washington.
Reverse Description: The coin’s reverse design features an image of celebrated musician Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington seated at a piano with the inscriptions, DUKE ELLINGTON and JUSTICE FOR ALL, the District’s official motto. The District of Columbia quarter reverse was designed by U.S. Mint Artistic Infusion Program (AIP) Master Designer Joel Iskowitz and sculpted by United States Mint Sculptor / Engraver Don Everhart.
Funky New Coins
Former President Bush signed the “Civil Rights Act of 1964 Commemorative Coin Act, H.R. 2040” on Tuesday, December 2, 2008. H.R. 2040 authorizes the Department of the Treasury to mint and issue up to 350,000 silver dollar coins in 2014 in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The bill was first introduced by Rep. John Lewis [D-GA] back in April, 2007. It passed in the House on April 1 2008 and was approved in the lame duck Senate session November 19, 2008. A video speech on the House floor by Mr. Lewis offers thanks for those supporting the bill and highlights several of the historic events the silver dollar will commemorate.
The coin will have the following specifications:
- weight 26.73 grams
- diameter of 1.50 inches
- contains 90 percent silver and 10 percent copper
Sales of each coin will include a $10 surcharge with proceeds paid to the United Negro College Fund.
American Arts Gold Commemoratives
Commemorative medals honor outstanding people, events and sites of special meaning to the American people.
Marian Anderson and Louis Armstrong American Gold Commemorative Medallions
In July 1980, the Treasury began the sale of half-ounce and one-ounce gold bullion medallions in accordance with the American Arts Gold Medallion Act of November 10, 1978 (PL 95-630).
The legislation provided that not less than 1 million ounces of gold be struck into gold bullion coin medallions each year for a five-year period and sold to the public at a price covering all costs.
A different American artist was commemorated on each of the two sizes of medallions.
Current value in mint condition $500.00 – $600.00
Obverse Description: The head of Marian Anderson with her name above the bust.
Reverse Description: The coin shows two hands holding the Earth and sun rays shining from the back, with the words “Unity Gods Way” underneath.
Louis Armstrong Gold Medal
Current value in mint condition $1,000.00 – $1,500.00
Obverse Description: The head of Louis Armstrong with his name below his bust.
Reverse Description: The coin depicts musical notes in the background and a trumpet in the foreground. With the inscription “Ambassador of Jazz”
These coins are a part of The Museum of UnCut Funk Collection.