Featured An Introduction to the Standing Liberty Quarter

Discussion in 'US Coins Forum' started by johnmilton, May 6, 2020.

  1. johnmilton

    johnmilton Well-Known Member

    We were up a 60:30 to this morning to get to the "senior hour" at the food store at 7 am. Friday is steak night for us, and two pounds of tenderloin cost over $30, no, it was not prime beef. A meat packer today said that his business is "the new toilet paper."

    Time for another piece from the archives, this one from 2011.

    Although the Barber dimes, quarters and half dollars have many fans in the collector community, there are more than few numismatists who find these coins to be dull, bland and uninspiring. Back in 1892 when the U.S. mint introduced the Barber coins many people at the time were less than impressed with their appearance. Almost immediately there were moves afoot to replace them, but since that required an act of Congress, the designs stayed in place.

    According to laws that are still in place, the Secretary of the Treasury can approve of a new design for a coin after the current design has been in place for 25 years. Therefore in 1915 Treasury secretary, William Gibbs McAdoo, initiated the steps to replace the Barber coins. One decision that McAdoo made from the outset was that dime, quarter and half dollar would each have different designs. From the very beginning, in 1794, all of the silver coins had had the same or similar design from the Flowing Hair motif of the 1790s until the Barber coinage. Now each of the three coins would have its own look.

    Professional Artists Submit Designs

    Chief mint engraver, Charles Barber, and his assistant, George Morgan, were asked to submit new designs, but none of their proposals were approved. Instead McAdoo chose to follow the precedent set by Theodore Roosevelt and Augustus St. Gaudens in 1907 and asked professional artists to submit designs. Herman, MacNeil, Albin Polasek, and Adolph Weinman were invited to participate. At first it was thought that each artist would design one coin, but MacNeil was chosen to design the quarter, and Adolph Weinman won the competition to model the dime and half dollar.

    Mint officials devoted far more attention to Adolph Weiman’s dime and half dollar than to Herman MacNeil’s quarter. The dime had to be made in such a way as to be compatible with the coin operated vending machines and pay telephones that were in service at the time. The half dollar received special attention because mint officials hoped that a more attractive design would make that coin more popular in day to day commerce. The quarter received less attention.

    1916 Dolphin Pattern O.jpg

    Photo courtesy Roger Burdette from Renaissance of American Coinage 1916 - 1921 page 113.

    MacNeil’s Quarter Reflects the Concerns of the Time

    Herman MacNeil’s Standing Liberty quarter design reflected the foreign policy concerns of the time. The obverse featured a figure of Ms. Liberty standing in a portal, holding up a shield on her left arm and an olive branch in her right hand. If the coin was placed in the U.S. on a map of the world, she is facing toward Europe where the First World War was raging. The concerns reflected in the design were that The United States needed to protect its interests in Europe and hope for peace. A feature that later collectors would view as controversial was the fact that one of Ms. Liberty’s breasts was exposed. Despite Victorian sensibilities, this feature was not controversial at that time. It was an accepted part of the art form.

    MacNeil’s initial models, which would be similar to the coins that appeared in late 1916 and early 1917, had poorly defined design devices that would not have translated well to the finished coin. MacNeil’s second pass on his design sharpened the design and added two small dolphins at either side of the portals. These dolphins were symbolic of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans that form the east and west boarders of The United States. Interestingly this dolphin symbolism appeared on the Panama-Pacific commemorative gold dollar in 1915.

    1916 Standing Lib.png

    Although the designs are similar, the 1916 and 1917 Type 1 Standing Liberty Quarters differ in some subtle ways.

    As 1916 drew to close, mint officials decided that they needed to issue a token number of quarters to comply with the 25 year design change law. Accordingly 52,000, 1916 Standing Liberty quarters were struck on December 16 thus creating a rare coin that would inspire and frustrate collectors in years to come. The dies that were used to strike these coins were made by Charles Barber and George Morgan using Herman MacNeil’s design ideas. The 1916 Standing Liberty quarters had better detail than many of the coins that the mint system would issue in subsequent years, but they were not perfect. In 1917 Barber and Morgan revamped the design so that its features would be sharper on the coin.

    Herman MacNeil was not pleased with the mint engravers’ work. He wanted the standing figure on the obverse to be the same as the one that had appeared on the 1916 quarters, and he wanted to eagle on the reverse to fly higher, more toward the center of the coin. Barber and Morgan informed MacNeil that the current technology would not allow them to substitute only the figure on the obverse, and the placement of the eagle on the reverse would require an act of Congress because it would be substantive change in the design.

    1917 Type I Quarter All.jpg

    1917 Type I Standing Liberty Quarter

    1920 Type 2 Quarter All.jpg

    1920 Type II Standing Liberty Quarter. Note that the date was in a vulnerable position.

    MacNeil Revises His Design

    Accordingly Congress authorized changes to the design of Standing Liberty quarter design, and MacNeil proceeded to revamp his work in ways that exceeded his originally stated intentions. MacNeil raised the eagle on the reverse as he had stated that he would do earlier, but the artist made significant modifications to the standing figure that appeared on the obverse. The most significant of these changes was that Ms. Liberty was now covered from the waist up with a coat of chain mail.

    For many years collectors have assumed that MacNeil made these changes because there had been objections to the “obscene” depiction of Ms. Liberty on the original design. In fact the reason was quite different. By 1917 The United States had entered World War I, and MacNeil wanted his Ms. Liberty to boost the war effort. Now she dressed for war and ready to defend U.S. interests. Unfortunately MacNeil’s modifications changed the metal flow when the coin was struck, and many pieces suffered a loss of detail. This problem would persist for the life of the series.

    1929 Head.jpg

    "Full Head" detail.

    Today a small, but dedicated group of collectors look for “full head” Standing Liberty quarters. The number of pieces that qualify for that designation is comparatively small, and some date and mint mark combinations are quite rare. The rarest dates in the series are 1916, 1921, 1923-S and the famous overdate, the 1918 over 7-S. The “full head” designation does not mean that the rest of coin is well struck. A Standing Liberty quarter with the “full head,” fully struck rivets on the shield and full gown line detail is a major prize, and a very scarce coin.

    1929 Type 3 Quarter All.jpg

    1929 Type III Quarter. Note that the date is in a recessed area.

    Additional Modifications in 1925

    In 1925 the mint made one last change to the Standing Liberty quarter. On some pieces the date was poorly struck and almost unreadable even on Mint State examples. For all pieces the date was exposed and tended to wear off the coin after a limited amount of time in circulation. In 1925 the date was recessed into a more protected area, which improved that aspect of the design. Still the coin continued to give the mint problems.

    1932 Quarter All.jpg

    A 1932 Washington Quarter

    The Great Depression caused a huge drop in demand for new coins. As a result the U.S. mint system did not issue any quarters in 1931. In 1932 Congress authorized the Washington quarter which ended the Standing Liberty quarter series well before its 25 year run. Herman MacNeil’s design, while beautiful when it was properly executed, had too much detail for a mass produced coin that was the size of a quarter. His decision to further complicate the design with even more detail in 1917 doomed the Standing Liberty quarter to an early retirement.
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  3. Lawtoad

    Lawtoad Well-Known Member

    Awesome post. Standing Liberty Quarters have long had an allure for me. A short series, but truly one of the most beautiful designs (to me at least).
    john65999, capthank and johnmilton like this.
  4. bradgator2

    bradgator2 Supporter! Supporter

    I had never heard of the dolphin part. Were any actually minted with those?

    edit, added:
    "On July 18, Woolley wrote to a numismatic enquirer that the new quarters would begin to be struck about September 1. By the time of that letter, he had resigned as Mint Director to become head of publicity for President Wilson's reelection campaign; Fred H. Chaffin became acting director. On August 18, Wilson nominated Woolley's successor, Friedrich Johannes Hugo von Engelken, who was promptly confirmed by the Senate. Von Engelken was supposed to be sworn in on the 21st; his swearing in was delayed until September 1 by President Wilson's failure to sign his commission. One of von Engelken's first acts as Mint Director was to inform MacNeil of McAdoo's acceptance of the design changes, telling him he could place his monogram (a small "M") on the coin; it appears on the wall, to the right of the two low steps which Liberty descends. The bronze casts were made by the Medallic Art Company; on September 6, MacNeil wrote to von Engelken that they would shortly be shipped to the Philadelphia Mint.

    By this time, the Mint had experienced considerable difficulties in initiating production of both the dime and half dollar. In the hope of heading off similar problems with the quarter, Mint officials decided to reexamine MacNeil's designs, and subsequently, to adjust them. A number of pattern coins were struck, and von Engelken decided to abandon the dolphins version. By mid-October, patterns with a modified version of MacNeil's original obverse were being struck."
    capthank, Bob Evancho and johnmilton like this.
  5. J.T. Parker

    J.T. Parker Well-Known Member

    Last edited: May 6, 2020
    Stevearino and Bob Evancho like this.
  6. Mountain Man

    Mountain Man Well-Known Member

    Excellent post John. Thank you. This coin and those of this era are my favorite designs, so I took special interest in your article. I too have never heard of the dolphins on the design and wonder why they were removed.
    Bob Evancho likes this.
  7. Kentucky

    Kentucky Supporter! Supporter

    You can always buy one of these...

    I really wanted one and actually bought one from Craigslist for $380
    john65999 likes this.
  8. johnmilton

    johnmilton Well-Known Member

    The big problem with the Standing Liberty Quarter was that the design had much "stuff" on it for a coin that had be made in huge quantities for general circulation. The design was too complicated for the space available. The dolphins would have only added more.

    Creating an attracitve design is only one of the objectives when you design a coin. You have to mass produce it, and it has to wear well in circulation. The Standing Liberty quarter design failed on those counts most of its production run.

    The remarkable thing about the 1917 Type I was that it was so well made. If MacNeil had left it alone, the disgn might have had a longer run. He messed with it, added more detail, and from then on the coin did not have a bright future.
    capthank likes this.
  9. bradgator2

    bradgator2 Supporter! Supporter

    And it didnt have the dolphins!?
    Kentucky likes this.
  10. Kentucky

    Kentucky Supporter! Supporter

    :(:(:( :)
  11. ksparrow

    ksparrow Coin Hoarder

    Thanks for an excellent thread on the SLQ, John Milton. I think it was Breen who pushed the idea of prudes causing the "cover up" of the exposed breast, without evidence.
    The 17 T1 is a beautiful, and readily available type coin.
    quarter standing liberty 1917 FH obv.jpg quarter standing liberty 1917 FH rev.jpg
    capthank, Bob Evancho and wxcoin like this.
  12. txguy

    txguy Active Member

    beautiful coins. i’m looking to pick up a graded one in the near future!
  13. bradgator2

    bradgator2 Supporter! Supporter

    Your avatar is hilarious!
  14. kazuma78

    kazuma78 Supporter! Supporter

    Great write up. Also, the picture of the 1917 type 1 you posted is very well struck and a beautiful specimen. If you still have it and ever decide to sell, please let me know!
    capthank likes this.
  15. LakeEffect

    LakeEffect Average Circulated Supporter

    Another great write up. I was surprised to learn that pay phones were a thing in 1916.
    capthank likes this.
  16. physics-fan3.14

    physics-fan3.14 You got any more of them.... prooflikes? Supporter

    I think they should have kept the angry dolphins. I really like them.

    My biggest problem with the SLQ is that it is completely unknown in Prooflike condition. I haven't quite figured out how I'm going to handle that in my type set.
    kazuma78 likes this.
  17. johnmilton

    johnmilton Well-Known Member

    The mint had a policy in the 'teens and 'twenties to avoid overly bright coins. If you look at most all of the Mint State pieces from that period, they have a satin finish.

    The reason was the artists of the time thought that brightness distracted people from viewing their artwork. Some went as far as to call the brilliant coins "garish." It's one of the reasons why the Proof coins were in the matte format.

    If any the P-L coins type coins you have are from the 'teens and 'twenties, I would be surprised.
    Bob Evancho likes this.
  18. wxcoin

    wxcoin Getting no respect for 64 years

    Great post! The 1916 SLQ is on my bucket list to complete my late mother's birth year set. I'm afraid the bucket may not fill up enough for me to purchase a nice example.
  19. physics-fan3.14

    physics-fan3.14 You got any more of them.... prooflikes? Supporter

    Huh, that's interesting. I guess I hadn't really thought about it like that. I just knew that certain series are available in certain dates. The closest I have is a nearly-PL Peace Dollar, but it misses the mark for fully prooflike:

    JPA937 obverse.jpg JPA937 reverse.jpg
    wxcoin likes this.
  20. Nyatii

    Nyatii I like running w/scissors. Makes me feel dangerous

    I think he left the breast hang out so that you didn't think it was some guy in a cape.
    wxcoin likes this.
  21. -jeffB

    -jeffB Greshams LEO Supporter

    Why am I not surprised?
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