Hats Off to the Phrygian Cap

Hats Off to the Phrygian Cap

Many classic U.S. coin designs reveal a mysterious looking hat, including: the Walking Liberty, Mercury Dime, Barber Dime, the Seated Liberty Dollar and America’s beloved Morgan Silver Dollar.

Most never give it a second thought, but it’s a Phrygian cap, a fabric cone-like hat with a rounded top that gracefully falls to one side. These types of caps were commonly worn by liberated slaves, who inhabited ancient Phrygia, which is now western Turkey. Often times, freed slaves from the remote territories of Greece and Rome wore them to symbolize their freedom or liberation—for this reason, they became known as “liberty caps.”

Eventually, other cultures began to adopt the Phrygian cap as a symbol of their own freedom and pursuit of liberty. The style regained popularity during Revolutionary France, eventually making its way into the permanent French identity. For centuries, the French version of our Lady Liberty has been depicted wearing the cap on stamps, paintings, official seals, coins, and more to symbolize the “Triumph of the Republic.”

Before the French adopted this symbol of freedom, evidence confirms that American patriots, such as the Sons of Liberty, were wearing them years before the American Revolution. Historical accounts reveal that Revolutionary soldiers wore red Phrygian caps that were embroidered with freedom-themed quotes, like “Liberty or Death.”

In more recent times, Latin American coins, such as  the Pillar Dollar from the Mexico Mint, reveal the same meaningful symbolism of the Phrygian cap. Even today, it’s seen gracing U.S. State flags, and official government seals. Across time and territories, these coins attest to the ubiquity of this ancient yet powerful symbol—and its continuing relevance in our modern world.

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