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Few issues demonstrate the deleterious effect of political aspiration on coinage history better than the Type One Standing Liberty quarter. Pursuant to the Mint Act of September 26, 1890, the federal government began to take action in the mid-1910s with the desire to replace Charles E. Barber's quarter design. Following an open competition, the Treasury Department approved Hermon Atkins MacNeil's design on December 28, 1915. The usual refinement period, exacerbated by Barber's notorious lack of cooperation, chewed up the majority of the following year. Although the Philadelphia and Denver Mints had coined more than 8 million 1916-dated Barber quarters, the parent facility was apparently impressed enough with MacNeil's Standing Liberty motif to begin production as rapidly as possible. Accordingly, Mint employees coined a mere 52,000 1916 Standing Liberty quarters between December 16 and 31. Another 12,201,200 pieces followed from all three Mints in the first half of 1917. By the middle of the year, however, political forces had arrayed against MacNeil's groundbreaking design. Numismatic scholars have shed much ink on the demise of the Type One Standing Liberty quarter. More often than not, Liberty's exposed breast has been cited as the reason behind the federal government's modification of MacNeil's original work. While this is essentially true, novice historians have tended to overstate the role of the Society for the Suppression of Vice in this process. In actuality, someone with considerably more political clout was stirring the coinage design cauldron. On April 16, 1917, Treasury Secretary William G. McAdoo had written to Representative William Ashbrook of Ohio in protest to the Type One quarter design. On April 30, Ashbrook introduced McAdoo's bill before Congress. The document called upon the Mint to modify the original design by increasing the concavity of the fields and repositioning the eagle with relation to the stars. To support this aspiring law, McAdoo asserted (albeit erroneously) that the Type One coins would not stack properly. This proposal became Public Law 27 on July 9, 1917 and specified that no major changes should be made to the design other than those specifically stated. Since the approved modifications would have had a definite effect on the stacking qualities of the quarters, why did the Mint circumvent the law and further modify MacNeil's original design? While many numismatists see the jealous hand of Chief Engraver Barber at work, the real culprit was actually McAdoo himself.
Although not known to casual historians, McAdoo had married President Woodrow Wilson's daughter in 1914. Through this familial alliance, as well as his position as Secretary of the Treasury, McAdoo hoped to springboard himself into the White House after Wilson stepped down. However trivial the complaints from the Society for the Suppression of Vice may have seemed to many Americans, an aspiring politician such as McAdoo could not afford to ignore them. Accordingly, the Treasury Secretary fabricated the charge of improper stacking to mask his real intentions. While the Mint did carry out the authorized modifications, it also significantly altered the basic design by using a chain mail vest to cover Liberty's exposed breast. The Treasury Department did not even attempt to modify Public Law 27 to reflect this change, but it did enter into the Congressional Record the fact that McAdoo did not like the Type One design-the only statement of truth in the entire process. While McAdoo's presidential hopes were dashed in the elections of both 1918 and 1924, the illegal changes he ordered for the Standing Liberty quarter remained in use until the design's eclipse in 1930.
As the first year of the design and one of only four Type One deliveries, the 1916 Standing Liberty quarter is the most important issue in the entire series. With only 52,000 pieces struck, this P-mint quarter is also among the premier rarities of 20th century coinage. Since curious citizens were content to set aside examples of the numerous 1917-dated quarters, many of the 1916 pieces probably perished in the avenues of commerce. Nevertheless, enough of these coins were saved to provide average Mint State specimens for advanced collectors. On the other hand, deep pockets alone will not secure a Superb Gem representative.
Description and Analysis courtesy of Heritage Auctions and may not be republished without written permission.
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