Longacre on Feathered Tiara

The following letter by James Longacre in the Library Company of Philadelphia (from box 3, folder 6) describes his use of the “feathered tiara” on the three dollar gold piece and its potential application to the Indian cent. As you can tell from the letter, the feathered tiara was an important design theme for Longacre as it was also used on the $1 gold and also on the 1871 Seated Liberty pattern obverse. It also explains why the type of feathers is different on the cent versus the two gold coins.

“From the copper shores of Lake Superior, to the silver mountains of Potosi from the Ojibwa to the Aramanian, the feathered tiara is as characteristic of the primitive races of our hemisphere, as the turban is of the Asiatic. Nor is there anything in its decorative character, repulsive to the association of Liberty; more beautiful in itself, to u. It is more appropriate than the Phrygian cap, the emblem rather of the emancipated slave, than of the independent freeman, of those who are able to say “we were never in bondage to any man”. I regard then this emblem of America as a proper and well defined portion of out national inheritance; and having now the opportunity of consecrating it as a memorial of Liberty, ‘our Liberty’, American Liberty; why not use it? One more graceful can scarcely be devised. We have only to determine that it shall be appropriate, and all the world outside of us cannot wrest it from us.

In its application to the coinage; the general type determined, its form or fashion in detail, may be varied to indicate the valuable material of which the coin is formed, distinctively; as for instance – the form upon the Three Dollar piece, the erect but tremulous plume, from the tribes of the south; might be used to indicate our gold coins, as being derived from the region where gold is found. The straight pointed feather which I have taken from the headdress of the Ojibwa or Chippewa nation whose home is around Lake Superior, where the most remarkable copper deposit in the in the world is found. I would appropriate to the cent, as being chiefly composed of copper – while an intermediate but equally distinctive form could be found for our silver coins, in the picturesque fashions of the Creeks or Cherokees. This would form a systematic arrangement, and could be so designed as to mark at a glance the relative value of the material of which any piece of coin might be made.

However fanciful this idea may at first appear, I believe it will be difficult to discover, or fix upon, anything more conclusively appropriate, or liable to less serious objection, as a system of numismatic design to distinguish our coinage, while its full development would serve (if thought requisite) to employ in carrying it out, the best artistic talent we possess. It is only to recognize the principle; and any apparent difficulties in its elaboration could be readily disposed of.”