Coins, the Capitol, and 148 Years Ago Today

After being approved in Public Law 100-673 in November 1988, the US Mint released three coins commemorating the Bicentennial of Congress in 1989.

One of those coins, the 1989 Bicentennial of Congress Commemorative Silver Dollar, showcased the Statue of Freedom. Originally called Freedom Triumphant in War and Peace, the statue can be found atop the nation’s capitol building in Washington DC.

1989 Bicentennial Congress Commemorative Silver Dollar Coin Obverse

Sit back, close your eyes and listen. Can you hear the guns firing and smell the burning gunpowder though the veils of time?

At noon on December 2, 1863 as the last section of the statue was raised to the top of the capitol’s dome, people heard the sounds of a 35-gun salute representing each of the states in the union in 1863. The 12 forts around Washington joined in the celebration and answered the salute with gunfire of their own.

With an embossed picture of the nation’s capitol on its cover, a book from 1869 by Dr. John B. Ellis eloquently described the statue.

The Statue of Freedom.

Leaving the Capitol, which we have now explored, we pass into the grounds, and pause to gaze up at the magnificent bronze statue of Freedom, which surmounts the lantern of the dome, at an altitude of 300 feet above the ground. The statue was finally placed in its present position at 12 o’clock on the 2d of December 1863, and was greeted with, a salute of 35 guns from a field battery on Capitol Hill, and with similar salutes from all the defences of the city. It is 19 feet 6 inches high, and weighs 14,985 pounds. It cost the Government, before being raised, to its present position, $23,796.82.

This magnificent statue was the last conception of the lamented Crawford. It represents a female figure in a royal robe, on whose head is placed a helmet cap ornamented with the wings and beak of an eagle. Her right hand rests upon a sheathed sword, the point of which touches the ground at her feet, and her left holds a wreath over a shield ornamented with the Stars and Stripes. Her face is uplifted, and her brow is encircled with a wreath of stars. The face is pure and queenly, and seems glowing with life and noble thoughts. It is one of the noblest works of its kind in the world.

In another book, Roose’s Companion and Guide to Washington and Vicinity updated in 1882, the author provided a slightly different view of the statue. (W.S. Roose was a wholesale dealer in cigars and tobacco located on Pennsylvania Avenue near the capitol. His Guide to Washington was an intriguing marketing ploy for his wares.)

On page 21:  The Dome is of iron, painted white, surmounted by the statue of Freedom, a bronze figure 19 1/2 feet in height. The tip of the feather of this statue is 287 feet 11 inches above the base line of the building east. Capitol hill is within a fraction of 90 feet high; consequently the head of the statue is 377 feet above tidewater. In comparison, it may be interesting to say that the height of St. Peter’s, at Rome, is stated in Knight’s Cyclopaedia to be, from the pavement to the top of the cross, 430 feet, and that of St. Paul’s, at London, 404 feet.

On page 47:  The Statue of Freedom crowns the Dome. It weighs 14,985 pounds, and was placed in position Dec. 2, 1863. The forts then surrounding Washington fired a salute in honor of the occasion. Mr. Crawford received for his model $3,000, and the casting of it, by Mr. Clark Mills, with all the attending expenses, netted an additional sum of $20,796.82.

For another glimpse into an historical view of the statue, John James Priatt published a poem in 1893 in his book, Little New-World Idyls: and Other Poems.

Looking Eastward at Dawn.

What sunken splendour in the Eastern skies
Seest thou, O Watcher, from thy lifted place?—
Thine old Atlantic dream is in thine eyes,
But the new Western morning on thy face.

Beholdest thou, in reapparent light,
Thy lost Republics? They were visions, fled.
Their ghosts in ruined cities walk by night—
It is no resurrection of their dead.

But look, behind thee, where in sunshine lie
Thy boundless fields of harvest in the West,
Whose savage garments from thy shoulders fly,
Whose eagle clings in sunrise to thy crest!

It’s interesting to go back in time to see how the people viewed what was then the relatively new Statue of Freedom.

Today, however, the Architect of the Capitol, on their website, includes history of the statue and information about its restoration in the early 1990s. Sales of the coin above and the other Bicentennial Congress Commemorative Coins contributed to the funds for the restoration.

You can find the above Bicentennial Congress Commemorative Silver Dollar coin on the December 2 entry in the book Days of Our Coins. The other Bicentennial Congress Commemorative Coins, both their obverse and reverse images, can be found on other relevant dates in the book as well.

Architect of the Capitol
Statue of Freedom
United States Capitol Building
Capitol Construction History (see 1830 to 1868)
Capitol Chronology  (see 1863)
The Capitol Dome
Photographs of the Statue of Freedom 

Google ebooks:
The Sights and Secrets of the National Capital By John B. Ellis
Companion and Guide to Washington and Vicinity By W. S. Roose
Little New-World Idyls: and Other Poems By John James Piatt