Standing Liberty Quarters

The sensationally beautiful Silver Standing Liberty Quarter series began in 1916, while World World I was raging in Europe. The political climate in the United States remained focused on an agenda of being progressive, as demonstrated in new coinage designs of the era. Nine years earlier, President Theodore Roosevelt had a heavy hand in initiating more classical design motifs for the U.S. gold coins, most importantly taking advantage of accomplished sculptors of the day who were above and beyond the aesthetic potential of the civil servants at the U.S. Mint. Following that monumental accomplishment, as the Coinage Act of 1890 had authorized, silver coins were eligible for changes, likewise taking advantage of celebrated sculptors:

“ … the Director of the Mint shall nevertheless have power, with the approval of the Secretary of the Treasury, to engage temporarily the services of one or more artists, distinguished in their respective departments of art, who shall be paid for such service from the contingent appropriation for the mint at Philadelphia.”

Hermon MacNeilU.S. Mint Chief Engraver Charles Barber’s design had marked the quarter, dime and half dollar for the preceding quarter century, and the public was ready for something different. The opportunity arose to issue a coin that, as a contemporary government report put it, “was intended to typify in a measure the awakening interest of the country to its own protection.” Just as with the new gold coinage, a competition was held to select the design. The artist chosen for the silver quarter was a prominent sculptor of the day, Hermon Atkins MacNeil, who was known for his works on Indians and American history and his notable 1916 sculpture, “Intellectual Development,” at Northwestern University. And thus, the design of the Standing Liberty Quarter would be his enduring legacy.

Hermon MacNeil Northwestern 1916MacNeil’s obverse design features a standing, frontal view of Liberty, a portrayal reminiscent of ancient Greek sculpture. Her left arm is upraised, bearing a shield in a posture of protection. Being drawn from the shield by her right hand is a drapery, while this same hand offers up an olive branch. A mixed message certainly, but one that told our European neighbors we were ready for anything, war or peace. The inscription LIBERTY is at the top of the obverse, the date below, with the motto IN GOD WE TRUST flanking the figure of Liberty.

The reverse design, as mandated by law, depicts an American eagle, here shown in full flight. The legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and motto E PLURIBUS UNUM are above, while the denomination QUARTER DOLLAR is below. The final product seems to reflect the influence of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, who was the most famous sculptor of the time and, some years earlier, a mentor of MacNeil.

Hermon MacNeil Quarter Sketch

Miss Liberty Controversy

The identity of the model for the obverse Lady Liberty of the quarter is a bit of a controversy. As early as 1917, the model used by Hermon MacNeil to conceptualize the depiction of Liberty was reported to be Doris Doscher, who would later become a silent film actress under the stage name Doris Doree. This was accepted for many years, and logically so, as Doscher was the model for many notable works including the sensational Karl Bitter sculpture in front of the Plaza Hotel in New York. Doscher became well known as “the girl on the quarter” with a long and varied career, and she died in 1970 at age 88.

In 1972, however, a quarter-century after MacNeil’s death, newspapers reported that the actual model was Broadway actress Irene MacDowell, then aged 92, whose identity was said to have been concealed because of the disapproval of her husband, who was a tennis partner of MacNeil. In a 2003 Numismatist article, Timothy B. Benford Jr. suggested that the supposed deception was to fool MacNeil’s wife, who saw MacDowell as a potential romantic rival. However, in 1982, Doscher’s husband seems to have cleared the issue, making an official statement that despite the MacDowell claim, his wife had posed for the quarter.

Doris Doscher and Plaza-Abundance

Lady Liberty Coverup and Capitulation

The first Standing Liberty Quarter coins came off the Philadelphia presses on December 16, 1916 and the series continued through 1930. A mere 52,000 pieces were minted in those last two weeks of 1916 and were released to the public along with 1917-dated coins in early 1917. Shortly after the release, there was public outcry over the exposed right breast of Lady Liberty, apparently being too racy even for the very progressive atmosphere of the times.

Whether this one factor caused a design change is not absolutely certain, because there was also contention regarding stacking issues with the original 1916 design. In any event, the original “Type I” design was changed in 1917 to cover the right breast with chain-mail – which was a medieval braided-metal mesh of armor – as well as minor changes to the back of the coin which moved three stars beneath the eagle, thereby raising and centering the eagle. Thus, the Type II Standing Liberty Quarter, with a more discreet Lady Liberty, was born.

After a few years in circulation it became apparent that the coin’s date was wearing too fast. In 1925, the mint made another change and the date area was lowered so the date would be protected by the rim of the coin. These recessed-date coins were thus referred to as Type III.

In production for only fifteen years, the spectacular Standing Liberty Quarter suffered an early demise, when in 1932, the 200th anniversary of George Washington’s birth brought forth a new circulating commemorative – the Washington Quarter – which is sadly still in circulation today instead of the treasured and strikingly beautiful Lady Liberty.

Collecting Standing Liberties

The Standing Liberty series was issued from 1916 through 1930, and over 226 million coins were struck at the Philadelphia, San Francisco and Denver mints. The mintmark can be found just to the left of the date, while the designer’s initial M is to the right. No coins were struck in 1922, and no proofs were authorized, although several satin-finish proofs of 1916 and 1917 are reported to exist.

As one of our most beautiful coin designs in all of numismatics, the Standing Liberty Quarter is very popular with collectors today. The series is collected in its entirety by date and mint or as part of a 20th Century type set. Unlike many other series, it is possible for many collectors to complete a full set in uncirculated condition, which is a valued treasure that a proud few will have the pleasure of owning.

Philadelphia Denver San Francisco
1916
1917 Type 1 1917-D Type 1 1917-S Type 1
1917 Type 2 1917-D Type 2 1917-S Type 2
1918 1918-D 1918-S
1919 1919-D 1919-S
1920 1920-D 1920-S
1921
1923 1923-S
1924 1924-D 1924-S
1925
1926 1926-D 1926-S
1927 1927-D 1927-S
1928 1928-D 1928-S
1929 1929-D 1929-S
1930 1930-S
Mint Issues: 15 10 12
Total Issues: 37

One of the key dates for the series is the issue dated 1916. With a mintage of only 52,000 pieces, and being the first year of issue, it has always been sought by collectors. However, it does exist in larger numbers than one would expect. As with any new design, both collectors and the general public saved numerous examples.

The rarest Standing Liberty Quarter is the famous Type II 1918/7-S overdate issue. Created when two differently dated hubs were used to prepare a single obverse die, the error was not discovered by numismatists until a number of years later, long after most of the coins had entered circulation. This coin is rare in all grades, but especially so in the higher ranges of mint state. The mintage figure for this interesting variety is unknown, but obviously miniscule. For years, one saw many otherwise complete sets that lacked only the overdate. It’s literally one of the most desirable collector coins of the 20th Century.

Full Head Liberty

Other less rare but still challenging dates in high grade are 1920-S, 1926-S and the toughest date to find with a fully struck head on the Liberty figure, 1927-S. No coins in this series can actually be called common in gem condition, but 1917 Type 1 and 1930 quarters appear in full-head gem uncirculated condition most frequently. Many other issues are periodically available in gem condition, but not very often with a full head.

When grading this design, the points to inspect carefully on the obverse are Liberty’s right knee and the center of the shield. On the reverse, the eagle’s breast and left wing will first show wear. Coins graded “full head” are much scarcer than those without this fully struck feature, demanding substantial premiums for the grade.