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All Posts Tagged With: "Pinacle Rarities"

The Original Commemorative Quarter

1893 Isabella QuarterContent Partner: Pinnacle-Rarities

We’ve entered the last year of the popular modern commemorative quarter program. For better or worse, all fifty states have created designs and the final mintages will hit the nation’s cash registers during the remainder of the year. While I find these final five designs attractive, they (like their modern predecessors) lack the historical depth and symbolisms many of their classic commemorative cousins encompassed. And, as I look over the 2008 proof set that just crossed my desk, my mind goes back to the original commemorative quarter.

The 1893 Isabella Quarter, was created for the Columbian Exposition. $10,000 of the funds intended for the Board of Lady Mangers at the Expo was delivered in the form of forty thousand of these commemorative quarters. The board had been formed at the urging of woman’s rights activist Susan B. Anthony, who felt both genders should be represented in the managerial makeup of this great national project the expo had become. The inclusion of a coin to commemorate female contributions to industry seems almost trifling by today’s standards. But the Woman’s Suffrage movement was full steam ahead at the time. In fact, women didn’t legally win the right to vote until Colorado adapted an amendment to allow them to do so, during this year, 1893. A cause Anthony had championed over the previous two and a half decades. What seems like just a novel idea now, was a veritable coup at the time. The quarter served not only to raise money for the cause, but as a sort of name recognition ad for the woman’s rights movement. And it fueled the growing fires of suffrage. The coins were to be sold at the fair for $1 each. A premium over face that was obscene to some. For this and a variety of other reasons, thousands went unsold during the fair. The balance was slowly sold off to dealers during the coming decade.

The dies were prepared by Charles Barber, presumably from sketches done by Kenyon Cox. Later research has brought this into question. But regardless of where the original ideas came from, the coin is wrought with symbolism – especially the reverse. The use of a monarch on the obverse is somewhat controversial, but considering what event the coin was supposed to commemorate, it was a natural choice. Queen Isabella was the backing Christopher Columbus needed to fund his adventure. The reverse is simply described in most numismatic literature as a kneeling woman holding a distaff, the spool used to hold unspun cotton. This image is now reported to represent “woman in industry.” This may be the case but, Barber’s image would have meant a lot more to the people in his time. (more…)