Spielberg's Lincoln: A numismatic mistake

Last night, I saw Stephen Spielberg's film, Lincoln.  I was throughly enjoying the cinematic experience until one of Lincoln's adversaries told Lincoln that people from back home hate him so much, they won't even use half dollars with his portrait on them.   Hmmm.  Lincoln's portrait on the half dollar while he was still alive?  The mere thought is absurd.  Lincoln was the president -- not the king.  Certainly he would not be so arrogant as to put his own portrait on a coin.

The words were supposedly uttered in 1864.  The illustration above shows an actual 1864 half dollar. Is Lincoln dressed as a woman on the obverse or is he in an eagle costume for the reverse?  Probably not. In 1864, the nation was suffering through the seated liberty coin design for all denominations.  No Lincoln to be found.  The only time Lincoln was depicted on a half dollar was in 1918 for the Illinois Commemorative half dollar.  He appeared on the Lincoln cent starting in 1909.

Film writer Tony Kushner has a number of historical inaccuracies in the film.  This is to be expected in a dramatic work.  As pointed out by historian, Eric Foner, author of The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery, the film offers a tremendous exaggeration in Lincoln's role in passing the thirteenth amendment abolishing slavery -- an amendment that he did not initiate, and only started to support in mid 1864.  And as I point out, the important contains an important  error in a numismatic reference.


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