By Ken Zurski
When the newly designed 10-cent coin was introduced to the U.S. Mint in 1916, many believe the figure depicted on the “head” side closely resembled Mercury, the Greek god of commerce.
But sculptor Adolph Weinman insisted otherwise.
He claimed it was a representation of Lady Liberty, not Mercury on the coin. Despite this admission, the first presumptions stuck. It became – and still is – known as the Mercury dime.
But a more confounding mystery involved Weinman’s lady inspiration. Who was the model?
The Reading (Pennsylvania) Eagle seemed to know the answer to that question in 1917 with a bold proclamation. It was Elise Viola Kachel, they reported, the wife of of American poet Wallace Stevens, who adorns the coin’s face. According to the Eagle, Kachel was asked to sit for Weinman, a family friend, and the resulting sculpture – a bust—strongly resembles the profile on the dime.
Years later, however, Weinman’s son Robert stoked the fire of debate by claiming the inspiration for his father’s work was a woman named Audrey Munson, a popular silent film star and model. Her figure became synonymous with depictions of America’s symbol of freedom, lady Columbia, among other portrayals, and usually in various stages of undress.
Neither woman claimed ownership of the dime’s face. Kachel died in 1963. Her obituary reveals nothing.
Munson never mentioned the coin. In 1919, she was embroiled in a scandalous murder case involving a crazed doctor who professed his love to her by killing his wife. Munson was unfairly blamed for the crime. She spent most of her adult life in and out of mental intuitions and passed away in 1996 at the age of 104.
The Mercury dime was discontinued in the 1940’s.