Mercury dime mystery
By Ken Zurski
When the newly designed 10-cent coin was introduced to the U.S. Mint in 1916, many assumed 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.
This confused many observers who thought the profile resembled the features of a man not a woman. In the end, Weinman’s admission didn’t matter.
The coin became known as the Mercury dime.
But more confounding was Weinman’s inspiration.
If as the sculptor professed, it was a woman, not a man; then who was the model?
In 1917, the Reading (Pennsylvania) Eagle newspaper seemed to know the answer 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.
Munson’s figure had become 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.