USA Coin Album: The Standing Liberty Quarter Dollar

Posted on 4/11/2017

A handsome coin with a complicated evolution.

2016 marked the centennial of three remarkable coin types that are perennial favorites with collectors. The US Mint celebrated that anniversary with 2016-dated gold strikings of the Mercury dime, the Standing Liberty quarter dollar and the Walking Liberty half dollar. In the excitement (and occasional controversy) over these commemorative pieces, entirely forgotten is the great effort that went into creating the 1916 originals.

A century ago there was general agreement among both numismatists and the Treasury Department that the existing 1892 designs for these three denominations were dowdy and something of an embarrassment when compared to the coins being struck by European mints. As their statutory minimum period of coinage would be achieved in 1916, the decision was made to seek entirely new designs distinctive for each piece. These were obtained through a 1915-16 invitational competition. Lacking confidence in its own artists to come up with something contemporary and inspiring, and discouraged by the results obtained through earlier open design contests, the US Mint invited three sculptors of proven talent and capability to submit designs for the new coins. The plaster models submitted by Hermon A. MacNeil were selected for use on the quarter dollar and the Philadelphia Mint's Engraving Department set about reducing these models to steel hubs.

1916 Judd-1988 25c Reverse

Pattern coins struck in June of 1916 reveal that the obverse was essentially as seen on the circulating issue struck in December, but the reverse was then quite different from what the public encountered. MacNeil's model is basically what would later become the reverse of the Type 2 coins struck beginning in mid-1917. The only notable difference is that in place of the familiar stars are olive branches flanking the eagle, each one sporting a bow at its bottom. The sculptor submitted a revised obverse model two months later and this was approved by Treasury Secretary William McAdoo. This version is quite different from the coin as issued. The escutcheon of Liberty's shield displays an eagle, rather than the Union shield of the circulating coin. Flanking Liberty are dolphins surmounted by olive branches and the motto IN GOD WE TRUST is inscribed across the drapery that she holds in her right hand. Missing altogether are the stars at either side of the gateway.

1916 MacNeil 25c Obverse

It was shortly afterward that Hermon MacNeil was taken out of the loop and the Mint's own sculptor-engravers began to tinker with the approved models. It's not certain whether Charles Barber or George Morgan made the changes, but it was most likely Morgan. The Mint reverted to the earlier approved obverse and it created an entirely new reverse on which the olive branches were removed, the eagle was dropped down to nearly touch the lettering, and 13 stars were arranged around the eagle, seven left and six right. The Roman font used by MacNeil was replaced with sans-serif letters, creating a mismatch in style between obverse and reverse.

Secretary McAdoo viewed sample coins from the new hubs in November of 1916 and found the obverse wanting in sharpness. Mint Director F. J. H. von Engelken mulled over the situation and determined that there wasn't time to fix the hub if any coins were to be struck for circulation that year. Instead, an insignificant production of 52,000 pieces occurred at the Philadelphia Mint December 16 to establish 1916 as the date of adoption, and a new model was prepared incorporating McAdoo's requests that would be used for 1917's coinage. Only samples were distributed of the 1916 issue until the following year, when the greater bulk was released concurrently with the 1917-dated pieces.

When Hermon MacNeil received some specimens of the new quarter in January, he was surprised that his latest approved models had not been used. McAdoo and von Engelken agreed that he be permitted to submit revised models that were a compromise between his originals and the coin as it then stood. This ultimately became the Type 2 issue that went into production that July. Aside from a 1925 alteration that recessed the date into Liberty's pedestal to protect it from wear, this version of MacNeil's quarter remained in production through 1930.

1917 Type 1 25c Obverse

Ironically, the 1917 edition of the Type 1 quarter struck up more sharply than any of Type 2 issues. This coin series became a nuisance for the three mints, as it wore out dies rapidly and rarely produced a satisfying impression. When the bicentennial of George Washington's birth was celebrated in 1932 with what was supposed to be a one-year-only quarter dollar, the Mint jumped at the chance to retire MacNeil's troublesome design. The resumption of quarter dollar production in 1934 saw John Flanagan's Washington type continued.

Columbia Pictures logo

The Standing Liberty quarter was a splendid design, no matter how difficult its inception, and one well-known company liked it enough to borrow MacNeil's Liberty for its own purposes. Columbia Pictures used this same image, albeit with longer hair, as its corporate logo from 1924-27.

David W. Lange's column, “USA Coin Album,” appears monthly in The Numismatist, the official publication of the American Numismatic Association.

Stay Informed

Want news like this delivered to your inbox once a month? Subscribe to the free NGC eNewsletter today!


You've been subscribed to the NGC eNewsletter.

Unable to subscribe to our eNewsletter. Please try again later.

Articles List

Add Coin

Join NGC for free to add coins, track your collection and participate in the NGC Registry. Learn more >

Join NGC

Already a member? Sign In
Add to NGC Coin Registry Example
The NGC Registry is not endorsed by or associated with PCGS or CAC. PCGS is a registered trademark of Collectors Universe, Inc. CAC is a trademark of Certified Acceptance Corporation.