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Washington Money

March 29th, 2022

When the topic of Washington Money comes up, especially these days, it’s likely to be one of those wry discussions of campaign financing, the latest Congressional scandal, or the eye-rolling monologue of a cable news anchor.

Well, not this time. Sorry.

While the subjects mentioned above are fascinating in the extreme, you have to know, right up front, that I am a life long coin collector – on a good day, a “numismatist.”

So for me, Washington Money means coins or bills that are in some way related to the penultimate American Founding Father, George Washington.

Most people, when they think of money and George Washington, think of the dollar bill or the quarter.

The portrait which first appeared on the quarter in 1932 was designed by John Flanagan, inspired by the well known bust of Washington by Jean Antoine Houdon. The Washington Quarter’s introduction coincided with the two hundredth anniversary of the first president’s birth.

And let’s be clear… that coin was made of solid silver, .900 fine, with no little coppery stripe around the edge like on the quarter coins of today.

What about Washington on the dollar bill? Hasn’t he always been there?

No, but the Washington image we know so well has existed since it was first created by the American artist, Gilbert Stuart in 1796, three years before Washington’s death. Known as the Athenaeum Portrait, it was recently displayed at the National Gallery of Art in, where else, Washington, DC.

Washington first appeared on the dollar bill in 1869, and his wife, Martha Washington appeared on the one dollar silver certificate of 1886.

George Washington’s earliest appearance on a coin-like object was on 18th century copper tokens struck after the successful conclusion of the American Revolution.

One of the earliest, dated 1783, bears a Washington portrait encircled by the words “Georgius Triumpho” (George Triumphant). The portrait on this piece, struck by an English private mint, looks suspiciously like that of King George III. To be fair (and balanced) the reverse shows an image of Lady Liberty, protected by a screen supported by… the fleur-des-lis of France. (Was this an overture for a lucrative coining contract with the now independent USA?)