Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Dime

“Money is a kind of poetry.” — Wallace Stevens

And some kinds of money are poets’ wives.

Adolph Weinman, the designer of the Mercury dime (pictured above) and the Liberty Walking half-dollar, was primarily a sculptor. In 1913, he sculpted a bust of his upstairs neighbor Elsie Stevens, wife of lawyer (and not-yet poet) Wallace Stevens. Several sources say Weinman later used that sculpture as a model for his dime design, and possibly — though with less documentation — for his half-dollar, below.

A bit of disambiguation: The figure on the Mercury dime isn’t Mercury. It’s Liberty, the Roman goddess Libertas; in her case, Weinman said the wings on the cap symbolize freedom of thought. The odd-looking cap itself, a pileus, is traditional to Liberty, and appears on both coins (without wings on the half-dollar), as well as on the original sculpture. Weinman said the one the model wore was made from the top of an old pair of stockings.

And the original? A photo certainly does make a strong case for at least the dime.

Note: The photo of Elsie Stevens is rotated relative to the original so that it faces the same direction as does the figure on the coin.


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