Was There Really a Naked Lady on a U.S. Coin?

By Dr. Sol Taylor
"Making Cents"
The Signal
Saturday, December 10, 2005

n response to various e-mails, we answer every one individually; we also report some of the more commonly asked questions. They include:

Q: I was told that some of the silver dollars we got at Las Vegas casinos 30 to 35 years ago might be valuable. What is a "CC" mint mark and where is it located?
A: The "CC" mint mark stands for "Carson City" and is located under the eagle's tail on several dates from 1878 to 1893. Most "CC" dollars are worth much more than other mint-marked dollars, even in well-used grades. The most common "CC" dollars are 1882-CC, 1883-CC and 1884-CC, which in mint condition run about $175, retail. Other dates run quite a bit more. Since most casino operators knew this fact 30 to 35 years ago, very few "CC" dollars ever wound up in the slot machines.

Q: I have two 1943 pennies are they are not copper. Is that unusual?
A: You are probably too young to remember World War II, but in 1943, the cents minted that year were made of a zinc-coated steel combination and looked like dimes when brand new. They tend to turn dark or even rusty in time. Used 1943 cents are worth a few cents; in mint condition they are worth $1 or more for bright, shiny pieces.

Q: I was told that the 1916 and 1917 quarters featured a naked lady. Since I have never seen one, is that true?
A. It is only slightly true. The first designs showed a standing Liberty figure wearing a wrap-around garment that left her right breast exposed. In 1917, when many of these new quarters began to reach the public — very few were made in 1916 — the hue and cry was immediately taken to heart, and the design was reworked to cover her top with chain mail. Other minor changes were also made.

Q: I heard that silver bullion was once worth almost $50 an ounce. Now it's about $8. When was this?
A: A run-up in bullion prices in the late 1970s caused a panic buying spree for gold and silver, creating daily raises in market values. Silver peaked at about $48 an ounce early in 1980. It has never been nearly that high since — although it is higher today than in has been in the past two decades. Last week, gold topped $500 an ounce for the first time since 1983; silver topped $8.30. Economists attribute the relatively high bullion prices to the return of deficit spending and inflation, rising interest rates, a weakening dollar and heavy gold buying in Asia. The silver price run-up in 1980 had the effect of reducing the supply of "common" circulated silver coins, as they were worth more for their silver content than their numismatic value. Many tons of such coins were melted and converted into silver ingots and bars. A common silver dime was worth $2.50. Today it is worth about 50 cents, even at $8.30 an ounce.

Q: I was told that rare coins are a good investment. How true is that?
A. It is very true — as long as you agree on the definition of "rare." An uncirculated 1916 quarter is a rare coin and has appreciated steadily over the decades; so have hundreds of other low-mintage coins. Modern coins (since 1970) are generally not rare, and in cases where ten of millions — or even "only" tens of thousands — have been minted, they do not fit into the "rare" category. Today, coins considered "rare" generally sell for thousands of dollars at auction. The idea of a $2 coin being "rare" is an oxymoronic concept. Coin collectors who specialize in rare coins have done exceptionally well, investment-wise.

Q: I see there are three tiny initials on the new pennies — "VDB." What do they stand for?
A: The initials "VDB" stand for Victor David Brenner, the designer of the Lincoln cent. In 1909, his initials appeared briefly on the back of the coin. They were discontinued for several years and restored to their present location below Lincoln's shoulder, on the truncation of his bust, in 1918. All of our coins bear their designer's or engraver's initials.

    Dr. Sol Taylor of Sherman Oaks is president of the Society of Lincoln Cent Collectors and author of The Standard Guide to the Lincoln Cent. Click here for ordering information.