In the last Coin History article covering the Winged Liberty Head, or Mercury, Dime, I discussed the significant changes that happened to United States coinage in 1916. Misguided by the wrong interpretation of a law, the Mint was compelled to believe that it had to change the Half Dollar, Quarter Dollar, and Dime given they had been in circulation for 25 years. That wrong reading of the law led to the birth of the Mercury dime as it did the Standing Liberty Quarter, the subject of this particular Coin History article.
The Standing Liberty Quarter measured slightly larger than the current Washington Quarter at 24.3mm and weight 6.25g. It was composed of 90% silver, 10% copper, and has a reeded edge. The coin’s design was done by Hermon Atkins MacNeil, an American sculptor. It was minted from 1916 to 1930 with the exception of 1922 when no Quarters were produced by the United States Mint.
Much of the history of the Standing Liberty Quarter is the same as the Mercury Dime in that, it came to being because of a misreading of legislation that had passed two decades prior. For that reason, I am purposely copying much of that historical background from the Mercury Dime Coin History article. If you don’t want to reread it, no worries. Just skip down to the Design section which will be new material.
Standing Liberty Quarter Legislation
The inception of the Standing Liberty Quarter begins some 26 years prior to the coin actually being released. That was when the United States Congress passed an act that gave the Director of the Mint wide ranging authority to change coin designed after it had been in circulation for at least 25 years. You can read the relevant section of the Act at this link but below is the key statement in the Act:
The Director of the Mint shall have power, with the ap- euthorized emblems, proval of the Secretary of the Treasury, to cause new designs or models of authorized emblems or devices to be prepared and adopted in the same manner as when new coins or devices are authorized. Limitation on But no change in the design or die of any coin shall be made oftener geindesign etc. than once in twenty-five years from and including the year of the first adoption of the design, model, die, or hub for the same coin: -rovsos. Provided, That no change be made in the diameter of any coin: coin diameter. And provided further. That nothing in this section shall prevent Standard silver dollar the adoption of new designs or models for devices or emblems already Five-cent nickel authorized for the standard silver dollar and the five-cent nickel piece, piece as soon as practicable after the passage of this act. But the Director of the Mint shall nevertheless have power, with the ap-proval of the Secretary of the Treasury, to engage temporarily for this purpose the services of one or more artists, distinguished in their respective departments of art, who shall be paid for such serv- ice from the contingent appropriation for the mint at Philadelphia.”
Approved, September 26, 1890.51st Congress of the United States of America
Reading the Act, it is clear: The Director of the Mint can change the design of coinage, without the approval of Congress, if that coin has been in circulation for 25 years. But it doesn’t require the coins to be change. That distinction is what we can thank for the birth of the Standing Liberty Quarter as well as the Mercury Dime. Mint official read the Act in 1915 as a requirement that they had to change the designs given that the Barber Dime had been in circulation since 1892. The same was true for the Barber Quarter and Half Dollar.
Under this misguided interpretation of the Act, the Mint set forth with the process of determining the next design for the Quarter Dollar coin.
DESIGN SOLICITATION & SELECTION
Prior to April 1915, the United States Mint was exceptionally busy both materially as well as politically. Since 1905, multiple administrations had been pushing the Mint to change coin designs. A win of sort had happened in 1907 and 1908 with the redesigns of the Double Eagle, Half Eagle, and Quarter Eagle gold coins. This was further compounded why the design change of the Cent, from the Indian Head Cent to the Lincoln Cent, in 1909. Up to that point, Mint officials had largely been able to avoid changing the Dime, Quarter, and Half Dollar, citing legislative limits that the coins had not been in circulation for 25 years. But there was another and equally important internal aspect to this situation.
Charles E. Barber.
Mr. Barber had been the Mint Chief Engraver for 36 years by 1915 and was the designer and engraver of the Dime, Quarter, and Half Dollar that were in circulation at the time. There appears – although not explicitly stated any any research I could find – to be little appetite within the Mint to go against the long time designer. The coinage he designed had been introduced in 1892 and were striking similar across the three coins. Interestingly, the birth of these designs were also shrouded in controversy as, after a failed competition, then Mint Director Edward Leech directed Barber to prepare new designs for the three coins. Effectively Barber had been given free reign and he took advantage of it. Upon the release of the Barber coinage, the public outcry was harsh with many not liking both the similarity in look of the coins, but the overall designs themselves.
Indeed, many Numismatics consider the Barber coinage some of the ugliest in U.S. coinage history.
Things began to change however in April 1915 with Robert Woolley taking office as the Mint Director. Shortly after taking office, on April 14, 1915, he asked the Superintendent of the Philadelphia Mint, Adam Joyce, to request from Barber new designs for the Dime, Quarter, and Half Dollar. At the same time, Assistant Secretary of the Treasure, William Malburn requested the views of the Treasury Department’s legal team to make sure that new designs of coins could indeed be done in 1916. The Solicitors Office replied on April 17, 1915 that there was no reason the designs of the coins could not be changed. Effectively nothing happened between April and October 1915 that has been recorded. It is possible that Barber indeed worked on designs during the seven month period but that is unclear. Further, we do know that Barber was called to Washington, D.C. by Director Woolley in October 1915 but it is unknown if Barber provided Woolley with designs and sketches during those meetings.
In December 1915, Director Woolley met with the Commission of Fine Art in which he asked the Commission to review sketches produced by the Mint’s engraving department. Barber was present at the meeting but records indicate that he was there merely to explain the coin making process, not necessarily to present or defend any sketches. It is known that the sketches presented were from Barber. Additionally, Director Woolley indicated to the Commission that the coinage had to change due to it being in use for 25 years, a misinterpretation of the law as mentioned previously. The Commissions response to the designs appears to have been lackluster. They were not pleased with any of them and Director Woolley indicated that if they did not like what had been presented that they should select sculptors to submit designs for the new Dime, Quarter, and Half Dollar. Whether this was a ploy to get the Commission to accept the Mint’s work or a genuine suggestion, the Commission to him up on it. Within weeks the Commission had selected three sculptors to submit designs and arguably, some of the most beautiful coins were the result of it.
The three sculptors tapped to submit proposals were Adolph Weinman, Hermon MacNeil, and Albin Polasek. They were told that they could submit multiple sketches and each did so by February 1916. On February 23, 1916 the three sculptors met with Director Woolley in New York City to present their sketches and to answer any questions. Five days later, on February 28, Weinman was informed that his no less than five of his entries had been selected. His designs were selected for the Obverse and Reverse of the Dime and Half Dollar and the Reverse of the Quarter. Meanwhile, MacNeil was informed that his design for the Obverse of the Quarter and Polasek was informed that none of his designs were accepted. Shortly thereafter, members of the Commission of Fine Arts raised concerns around the five designs entrusted to Weinman, feeling it was a case of putting too many eggs into one basket. Woolley capitulated, by force majeure or in agreement, and the Reverse of the Quarter was also added to MacNeil’s docket of work.
As you would expect, Chief Mint Engraver Barber was not pleased. He was informed on March 3, 1916 – the same day that the new coins were announced to the public – that his designs were rejected and that the designs of Weinman and MacNeil would be used for the coins. Further, he was told to expect models to arrive at the Philadelphia Mint no later than May 1, 1916. In the press released, the Treasury indicated that they desired to have the new coins in production in roughly two months. However, given that the models were not expected to arrive by the latest May 1, that likely was never really an option. It was optimist. Further, Barber provided little help. Numismatic Historian Walter Breen indicated in his book Walter Breen’s Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins that Barber became “sullen and totally uncooperative” after being informed his designs had been rejected. He made the work of Weinman and MacNeil all-the-more difficult by creating often times unnecessary obstacles in the way of the artists to finalize their designs and models. In fairness to Barber, he was essentially being asked to eliminate is own life’s work.
As with many early coins in our coinage history, the model that MacNeil used for the Obverse of the Standing Liberty Quarter is a bit of a mystery and has its own twists. For his part, MacNeil never revealed the identify of the model but those around him suggest that it was Doris Doscher. Ms. Doscher would later become Doris Doree and a star in the silent film era. This theory was introduced as Leary as May 1917 and was generally accepted for many years and Doscher became known as “the girl on the Quarter”.
In 1972 however, drama entered the model identity discussion. That year, several newspapers reported that the model had actually been Irene MacDowell, a Broadway actress but that her name had been concealed because her husband did not approve. Adding further fuel to the discussion, in December 2003, Timothy B. Benford Jr. wrote in The Numismatist that the deception was to fill designer MacNeil’s wife who saw Irene MacDowell as a potential romantic rival. Whether this later story is true or false is not completely solved up to today For his part, in 1982, Doris Doscher’s widower stated that his wife had indeed posed as the model for Standing Liberty Quarter.
The accepted design was one of two that MacNeil submitted in which Liberty is standing, facing to the right. This was in the direction of the European War, to which she is also holding her shield. In her left hand she is holding an olive branch and she is trading through a wall with the inscription “In God We Trust” and 13 stars on the edges of the entrance in which Liberty strides. According to Tom LaMarre, MacNeil posed Liberty this way to show her as “stepping forward in … the defense of peace as her ultimate goal”. Originally, the design also featured two dolphins, symbolic of The Atlantic and Pacific oceans. These, however, were lated dropped.
As for the Reverse of the coin, it was straightforward in design and strikingly similar to the 1836 Gobrecht Dollar – albeit with the Eagle flying to the right instead of the left. However, in his original design, MacNeil had olive branches on the sides of the eagle versus the stars that eventually made it on the Reverse. More on that a bit later.
Keep in mind that, while MacNeil had clearly won the design for the Obverse of the coin, the Reverse had been awarded to him provisionally and he, along with Weinman were submitting designs for it. Originally, the Mint requested that the artists have their models completed by April 15, 1916 which would allow production to begin by July 1 of that year. However, the Mint quickly moved the deadline back further to May 1, 1916.
MacNeil still missed the date. He did not get his bronze casts to the Mint until May 18. But, he was still ahead of Weinman who was even further behind and did not get his casts to the Mint until June 6. By that time, the decision had already been made. Mint Director Woolley formally approved the designs of the Standing Liberty Quarter on May 23, 1916.
Preparation & Controversial Changes
With three coins changing in 1916 – the Dime, Quarter Dollar, and Half Dollar – it is an understatement to suggest that the United States Mint was busy. With new dies and pattern coins being produced by the Mint prior to full scale production, the Mint was in a hurry-up mode to try to get the new coins out to the public by July 1916. Any hiccup in the testing of the coin designs on pattern coins would introduce challenges which exactly what happened, ironically, with all three coins.
Specifically to the Standing Liberty Quarter, the initial pattern coins were struck in June and immediately there were concerns. Effectively because of the designs, the coins have a worn look to them even when they are freshly pressed. Woolley gave this feedback to MacNeil and he was permitted to modify his design of the Obverse. There were a handful of key changes that MacNeil made to the coin’s look in order to help with the concerns.
These changes were submitted by mid-August 1916 and were immediately approved on August 19th. This would allow for the coin to begin production in September as Woolley had indicated in June 1916. By the time the bronze casts of the modified coin had arrived in Philadelphia, the Mint was already struggling with production of the Dime and Half Dollar.
It was that struggle that gave the Mint the idea of changing the design of the Quarter without consulting with MacNeil. One of those changes was the abandoning of the dolphins as mentioned previously. However, the biggest change was to the Reverse of the coin. Fearing they would have similar production problems, the Mint Director Friedrich Johannes Hugo von Engelken authorized significant changes to lower the eagle and removing olive branches that were framing the eagle with stars. As Roger Burdette indicated in his book Renaissance of American Coinage, 1916–1921, by making these changes without consulting MacNeil, the Mint effectively duplicated efforts from designs already rejected by MacNeil and alienated one other country’s best sculptors in the process.
Ultimately there were four key changes made to the 1917 Quarter that make it distinct from the 1916:
- Originally, Liberty had a sash that had “In God We Trust”. This was moved to the top of the half walls on each side of Liberty
- Originally, a complex chain motif surrounded the design of the Obverse. This was shrunk considerably to just being on the rim of the coin
- The dolphins at the feet of Liberty in the original design were removed completely.
- The Eagle that was on Liberty’s shield was replaced with stars design
For his part, MacNeil was not aware the Mint was in the process of changing the designs. Von Engelken continued to drive changes as the pressure mounted to get the coin out by the end of 1916. He felt that Liberty and the shield could be made clearer. The latter as completed but von Engelken did not think it would be possible to modify Liberty in time. Therefore, he directed that in 1917, Liberty’s design would be sharpened.
Add all of this together and it was nearly the end of 1916 before the first Standing Liberty Quarters were struck. In all, 52,000 of them were struck in 2016, ostensively to show that the Barber Quarter had been successfully replaced in its 25th year. Remember, Mint officials were convinced this had to happen. In reality, it wasn’t required but it ended up creating a key date for the entire series.
It was that fear that drove von Engelken to order that none of the 1916 pieces be released without his approval. Small quantities of the new Quarter were made available to officials and prominent numismatists at the time. However, MacNeil had not hear from the Mint. On January 6, 1917, he wrote von Engelken and includes a money order for $5 to get the new Quarter. He was sent 20 pieces in total and its as at that point MacNeil discovered the drastic changes that had happened to the design. MacNeil followed up with another letter letting his feelings known about the modifications. All indications suggest that Von Engelken and MacNeil spoke by phone but there are no letters to support this nor transcripts of the call. However, the result of that suspected call were evident soon enough. ON January 17, 1917, Von Engelken sent Treasury Secretary McAdoo a letter asking for MacNeil to be allowed to modify the design. Remember that the coin had already been minted for circulation in 1916, even if those coins fundamentally didn’t exist in circulation. Changing the design at this point would have required at a minimum the approval of the Treasury Secretary and, worst case, Congress.
McAdoo called for MacNeil to come to Washington, after which he ordered Von Engelken to provide the sculptor with access to the facilities and help he would need at the Philadelphia Mint. On January 30, 1917, Von Engelken structed Philadelphia Mint Superintendent Joyce to give MacNeil full access to facilities and also instructed him to make sure that Charles Barber kept “his objections to himself while Mr. MacNeil is there.”
For his part, MacNeil had hoped to be able to combine his original Obverse and the modified version but it most of the changed done by the Mint stuck, including the exclusion of the dolphins. On the Reverse, the eagle was repositioned and modified and some of the stars were repositioned on the Reverse. The changes by MacNeil were completed by Mid-February 1917 and the new designs went into production.
The Exposed Right Breast
One of the long debated myths of the Standing Liberty Quarter is the exposed right breast of Liberty on the Obverse. From a collectors perspective, the 1916 and 1917 Type-1 coins are those with the exposed breast while the 1917 Type 2 and through to 1930 have it covered with chain mail. The reality seems to indicate it was more of a political decision, not a public outcry reaction.
By today’s standards, the American of 1916 was vastly more prudent and conservative from a societal perspective. The myth of the 1916 and 1917 Type-1 Standing Liberty Quarter has long stated that because of this societal conservatism that the exposed breast was seen as immoral and even scandalous. However, David Lange in his book History of the United States Mint and its Coinage indicates that there was no public outcry over the exposed breast suggesting that the change was likely prompted by objected from the Treasury Department.
As readers might have figured out by now, MacNeil did not authorize the change to his design, holding true to the common them of the designers lack of input on the modifications made to his original work.
With the final design finally sorted out by mid-1917, production of the Quarter went into full production. The design was slightly modified to recess the date of the coin given that from 1916 to 1924, dates were often heavily worn due to the original design.
Across the life of the Standing Liberty Quarter, 226,770,400 of the coins were struck across the Mint’s three primary facilities in Philadelphia, Denver, and San Francisco. The highest production year was 1920 with over 37 million Quarters struck. The lowest production year was 1916 with just 52,000 minted. No Quarters were struck in 1922. Overall, production numbers were low from the Denver and San Francisco Mints with the Philadelphia location producing the bulk of the total number of Quarters minted.
Collecting Standing Liberty Quarters
The most obvious key date in the series is the 1916 coin. With only 52,000 struck, they are difficult to find and will command thousands of dollars even for coins graded in Good condition. For coins that are Mint State, the coins easily cost over $10,000. Another key date is the 1918-S 8 over 7 error. While an exact number of how many of these exist, the numbers are low and in Good condition will approach the $2000 price range. A third key date coin is the 1923-S due to its low 1.36 million mintage. This coin will cost several hundred dollars in Good condition. The 1921 Quarter, with a production of 1.91 million, can be found for just over $100 in Good condition.
Much of the rest of the Standing Liberty Quarter series is reasonably affordable. Most coins in Every Fine to Extra Fine condition rand from $25 to $140.
LaMarre, Tom (August 2003). “Standing for Liberty”. Coins. Iola, WI: Krause Publications: 64.
Burdette, Roger W. (2005). Renaissance of American Coinage, 1916–1921. Great Falls, VA: Seneca Mill Press. ISBN 978-0-9768986-0-3.
Lange, David W. (1993). A Complete Guide Book to Mercury Dimes. Virginia Beach, VA: DLRC Press. ISBN 978-1-880731-17-8.
Bowers, Q. David (2006). A Guide Book of Washington and State Quarters. Atlanta, GA: Whitman Publishing. ISBN 978-0-7948-2059-6.