The United States Mint (Mint) began shipping the first coin in the 2023 American Women Quarters (AWQ) Program. The Mint facilities at Philadelphia and Denver manufacture these circulating quarters honoring Bessie Coleman.
Bessie Coleman was a pilot, advocate, and pioneer who flew to great heights as the first African American and first Native American woman pilot and the first African American to earn an international pilot’s license. Her determination and strong will continue to inspire.
“The first coin of the 2023 American Women’s Quarters™ Program honors the life and legacy of Bessie Coleman,” said Mint Director Ventris C. Gibson. “The woman known as “Brave Bessie” defied the odds and became an aviator. Her tenacious drive and fearless personality helped pave the way for future generations.”
The reverse (tails) depicts Bessie Coleman as she suits up in preparation for the flight. Her expression reflects her determination to take to the skies, the only place she experienced freedom she did not have on the ground. The inscriptions are “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,” “QUARTER DOLLAR,” “E PLURIBUS UNUM,” “BESSIE COLEMAN,” and “6.15.1921,” the date Coleman received her pilot’s license. The reverse was designed by United States Mint Artistic Infusion Program Designer Chris Costello and sculpted by the United States Mint Medallic Artist Eric David Custer.
“As I researched Bessie Coleman’s life, I discovered that the existing photographs and illustrations of her were posed and very familiar,” said Costello. “I challenged myself to create an original, never-before-seen portrait that was not based on any known photo. My wife and young daughter, who is of African and Native American heritage, modeled for my drawing that depicts her in a more active posture—readying her goggles as she takes to the skies. In the background, her Curtiss “Jenny” biplane is seen soaring through the clouds.”
Costello further provides a deeper insight into the image of Bessie Coleman.
“This new portrait of Bessie Coleman depicts her fierce determination and unyielding resolve to become a licensed pilot during a time of stiff opposition to ambitious women of color,” said Costello.
The obverse (heads) depicts a portrait of George Washington originally composed and sculpted by Laura Gardin Fraser to mark George Washington’s 200th birthday. Though her work was a recommended design for the 1932 quarter, then-Treasury Secretary Mellon ultimately selected the familiar John Flanagan design. Of Fraser, Director Gibson said, “I am proud that the new obverse design of George Washington is by one of the most prolific women sculptors of the early 20th century. Laura Gardin Fraser’s work is lauded in both numismatic and artistic circles. Ninety years after she intended for it to do so, her obverse design has fittingly taken its place on the quarter.”
Obverse inscriptions are “LIBERTY,” “IN GOD WE TRUST,” and “2023.” The design is common to all quarters issued in the series.
Coins featuring additional honorees will also ship from 2023 through 2025.