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First African-American Portrait of Liberty on 2017 Gold American Liberty Coin

First African-American Portrait of Liberty on 2017 Gold American Liberty Coin
Category: Articles
Author Name: Louis Golino
Posted: 01-13-2017

The U.S. Mint made headlines all over the internet when they officially unveiled designs of their 225th Anniversary commemorative coin – the 2017 $100 1 oz. High Relief Proof Gold American Liberty. For the first time in the history of coinage, Lady Liberty was depicted with African-American ethnicity.

First African-American Portrait of Liberty on 2017 Gold American Liberty Coin Obverse Reverse

In 2017, the Mint is celebrating its 225th anniversary. To kick off a year of celebration, the Secretary of the Treasury Jacob Lew and Principal Deputy Mint Director Rhett Jeppson unveiled images of the 2017 $100 1 oz. High Relief Proof Gold American Liberty coin on January 12, during an official ceremony. It was live-streamed, allowing viewers all over the country to take part of the exciting moment.

While the design had been shown in coin media publications last year using the line art drawings, and images of a test-strike even surfaced, the new images are coins which are now being produced. Per usual, the finished product looks even better than the artist’s design!

2017 American Liberty High Relief 1 oz. Proof Gold Coin

This 2017 $100 Gold American Liberty coin is the second in the American Liberty coin program, but the first in a new series of 1 oz. high relief, .9999 fine (24-karat) gold coins meant to celebrate the diversity of culture and ethnicity throughout our great nation. The purpose of the series, as envisioned by the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee which originally proposed the American Liberty coin program, is to create coins with modern images of Liberty that highlight the ethnic and racial diversity of 21st century America.

African-American Portrait of LibertyAfrican-American Portrait of Liberty

The 2017 coin is the first ever struck by the U.S. Mint to depict Liberty as a young, African-American woman. She is shown wearing a diadem, or crown, of stars, which is a tribute to the Statue of Freedom that sits at the top of the U.S. Capitol’s dome. The obverse also has dual dates, “1792” and “2017,” representing the Mint’s 225th anniversary, and the usual inscriptions, “LIBERTY” and “IN GOD WE TRUST” on the obverse.

This design was submitted by Artist Justin Kunz, who is a member of the U.S. Mint’s diverse Artist Infusion Program (AIP). An Assistant Professor of Illustration at Brigham Young University, he has done design work for the well-known massively multiplayer online game World of Warcraft. His design was brought to fruition by the work of U.S. Mint Sculptor-Engraver Phebe Hemphill. The initials of both men are present on the design.

During the ceremony, Jeppson stated him and the other officials who eventually selected Kunz’s design were moved by his work. "If we see ourself in that and it speaks to us, that’s really powerful and it makes us feel inclusive."

All-new Eagle in Flight

All-new Eagle in Flight

The reverse of the 2017 gold coin shows an American bald eagle with its wings positioned in a downward thrust.  It was not known for sure if that design, recommended by the CCAC and the CFA, would be selected by the Treasury Secretary until the design was officially unveiled on January 12.

This design was submitted by AIP artist Chris T. Costello, and was engraved by U.S. Mint Sculptor-Engraver Michael Gaudioso. Both Michael’s and Gaudioso’s initials are present on the coin, along with “100 DOLLARS,” “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,” “E PLURIBUS UNUM,” and “1 OZ. .9999 FINE GOLD.”


Another notable feature of the 2017 gold coin is that its edge bears the edge lettering “225th ANNIVERSARY” and 13 stars, representing the 13 original States. Unlike other edge lettering found on U.S. coinage, this text is raised from the smooth surface and not incuse.

Future coins in the series will feature representations of Liberty as Native-American, Hispanic-American, Asian-American, etc. on the obverse side, while each coin’s reverse will have a different image of an American bald eagle.

The 2017 gold coins will have a maximum mintage of 100,000 coins, which is twice that of the 2015 coin.

2017 Silver American Liberty Medal

Accompanying the release of these exciting American Liberty gold coins are 1 oz. silver medals of the same design. This is a system that began with the 2015 American Liberty gold coin and the 2016 silver medal that shared designs.

The U.S. Mint is also expected to issue a special four-piece set of the silver medals with different finishes such as reverse proof and others for 2017. Each medal will be produced at a different branch Mint - Philadelphia, Denver, San Francisco, and West Point. This serves as a fine way to honor the work of those Mints for the historic anniversary.

The two 2016 silver medals (struck at West Point and San Francisco) were a huge hit, selling out at the Mint in minutes due to their gorgeous designs. This could very well happen again; especially if the U.S. Mint releases such a collectible set. Mintages for the silver medal have not yet been announced.

2017 Enhanced Uncirculated U.S. Mint 225th Anniversary Set

The Mint will also issue a special enhanced uncirculated coin set to mark the anniversary. Details have not yet been made available, but this set, the first of its kind, will likely feature examples of the coins normally included in Proof and Mint sets, but with each coin having an enhanced uncirculated finish.  It is not known at the present time if the set will include an American Silver Eagle.

The enhanced uncirculated finish is an approach that was first used on the 2013-W American Silver Eagle and was also used on the reverse of the 2014 Civil Rights Act commemorative silver dollar. Different parts of the design of a coin receive different degrees of laser frosting to highlight each portion of the design.  For example, the 2013 silver eagle had three different finishes: mirrored brilliant, lightly frosted, and heavily frosted.  The combination of finishes creates a very interesting and distinctive look to the coin.

The U.S. Mint’s year of celebration may include other possible coins or sets and special events.

2017-P Circulation Lincoln Cents

Without any announcement in advance, the U.S. Mint added "P" Mint marks to Lincoln Cents struck at the Philadelphia Mint in 2017. A collector found such a coin in his change recently, and then Coin World confirmed with the Mint that this was done as part of the Mint's 225th-anniversary program. This particular commemorative action by the Mint might cause quite a stir, as it is the first time in numismatic history that the U.S. Mint has struck a cent with this Mint mark. The U.S. Mint has already stated the Mint mark would be removed in 2018.

Brief History of the U.S. Mint

Brief History of the U.S. MintPrior to the establishment of the U.S. Mint in 1792, various forms of currency existed in the U.S. The original settlers used forms of barter and commodities. Once the 13 colonies were established they began to Mint their own currency, and coins from the empires of the day also circulated. 

Following the establishment of the Federal United States, President George Washington said on January 8, 1790 that it was of great importance to have “uniformity in the currency, weights, and measurements of the United States.”  In addition, the Mint’s creation is embedded in the constitution.

On March 3, 1791 Congress approved a resolution calling for President Washington to establish a federal Mint and the personnel and equipment needed to run it. On April 2, 1792 legislation was passed to create the Mint that is known simply as “The Mint Act.” The legislation called for one side of each coin to have designs emblematic of Liberty, and the other side to have an eagle, a practice that continues on most U.S. coins to this today.

The Mint was set up in Philadelphia, since that was the capitol until 1800, and the first Mint Director was David Rittenhouse. The first coins struck were copper “dismes” in 1792, and in 1794 the first silver coins were issued - half dollars and dollars with the Flowing Hair design. The first gold coins were issued in 1795.

In 1873 the Mint became part of the Department of the Treasury, which is why its administrative headquarters moved to Washington, DC. In subsequent years, the Mint in Philadelphia moved to different facilities, and to this day that is probably the most important branch Mint for coin production.  It is also where the Mint’s team of medallic sculptors and artists work to create the designs that appear on U.S. coins 

The Mint also created other branch Mints in Denver, San Francisco, and West Point, and several others over the years. This includes many that no longer operate, such as Dahlonega and Charlotte.

The Mint produces circulating coins, silver and gold bullion, and numismatic coins and medals.  It is the nation’s sole manufacturer of legal tender coinage, and a vital piece of U.S. government. 225 years after its establishment, it is still striking coins that will astound even the most aged collector!

2017 American Liberty High Relief 1 oz. Proof Gold Coins are coming soon.

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About The Author

Louis Golino Author Name: Louis Golino
Louis is an award-winning numismatic journalist and writer specializing on modern coins. He has been writing a weekly column for CoinWeek since May 2011 called “The Coin Analyst,” which focuses primarily on modern U.S. and world coins and developments at major world mints. In August 2015 he received the Numismatic Literary Guild’s award for Best Website Column for “The Coin Analyst,” and in August 2021 the column received the NLG award for best column on modern U.S. coins. He has also received other awards for his writing. He is also a contributor to several magazines, including Coin World, where he writes a bimonthly feature;The Numismatist, the American Numismatic Association’s monthly publication, where he writes a monthly column on modern world coins; and and other publications. He began writing about coins in 2009. He is a founding member of the Modern Coin Forum hosted by ModernCoinMart and has written articles for MCM since 2014. He has collected classic and modern U.S. and world coins since he was about 10 and first joined the ANA in the 1970’s. He has been writing professionally since the early 1980s.

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