First Latina ‘Icon’ U.S. Coin Debuts Over 100 Years Ago

BY: 
Sofia Jones
 | August 2, 2023

Photo: Wikimedia Commons; illustration by Nuestro Stories

Much has been said about the highly-anticipated debut of Legendary Salsa Singer Celia Cruz on the United States currency next year. And rightfully so. But to say is the first “Hispanic” female icon on the nation’s money would be a mistake. That distinction goes to Queen Isabella of Spain, who appeared on a U.S. coin more than 100 years ago.

Released in 1893, the Queen Isabella Quarter was the first U.S. coin to feature a real woman, Queen Isabella of Spain, according to the U.S. Mint, the federal bureau responsible for manufacturing and producing the nation’s currency.

“The 1892 World’s Columbian Exposition Half Dollar featured Columbus. The 1893 quarter featured Queen Isabella because of her role in providing aid to the journey,” the bureau states on its website.

The coin was made for the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago at the request of the exposition’s Board of Lady Managers, a group tasked with finding female representation in government, and with approval from Congress.

” … The Isabella quarter ranks as the only commemorative quarter in U.S. history,” the Numismatic News explains in their story

“The 1893 Isabella Quarter is in a Class of Its Own.”

The reasoning for placing the Monarch’s likeness on a quarter, and not the traditional dollar coin, remains more of a mystery.

” … back in 1892 officials were on their own in deciding what coins to make as history was of no help. The best guess for the reason the Columbian Exposition half dollar of 1892 was made is that it was the largest silver coin other than a dollar,” the Numismatic News explains. “The dollar might have been more logical, but at the time, the United States was up to its ears in required Morgan silver dollar production. It is possible although not certain that dollars were not a good idea at the time.”

The commemorative quarter was part of the World’s Columbian Exposition which celebrated the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ voyage to the Americas in 1492.

Spain’s Queen Isabella (or Queen of Castille, or Isabella the Catholic, as she is also known) was, and is, best known for enabling Columbus’ voyage to “the New World” — consequently establishing the rule of the Spanish Empire in the Americas — thus making her a prominent figure during the Columbian Exposition.

1893 Isabella Commemorative Quarter Q7305

The commemorative quarter was mostly bought by members of the Board of Lady Managers, according to some coin historians. However, it was supposedly not an instant hit at the time, leading many of the coins to be melted, according to some reports.

Today, thanks to its rarity and unique backstory, the quarter is sold to collectors for hundreds of dollars.

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