The year was 1916, and the world was at war. Europe was in turmoil.
The French were embroiled with the Germans at Verdun. The Russians launched a
winter offensive advancing west. The Japanese had three cruisers guarding
the Suez Canal. Germany began attacking ships in the Atlantic Ocean. Portugal,
Italy, Romania and England were at odds with Germany. Bulgaria and Romania were
battling. England and the Ottomans were fighting. South Africa
occupied Namibia. Ireland revolted against England. The United
States invaded Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and invaded Mexico in a search and
destroy mission against Pancho Villa. The U.S. Senate agreed (82-6) to
participate in World War I, and German saboteurs blew up a munitions pier on
Black Tom Island, NJ, killing seven people. It must have seemed as if the
world was falling apart, and powerful symbols of patriotism, liberty and freedom
were the order of the day on U.S. Coinage. So when the 25 years' tenure
expired on the Barber quarter (under the Act of 1890) in 1917, Mint Director
Robert W. Woolley announced the design of Hermon A. MacNeil would replace the
existing circulating quarter. The Standing Liberty Quarter debuted.
The Standing Liberty Quarter was the last of three coins to be issued from
the winners of the December 28, 1915 design competition held by the Treasury for
a new dime, quarter, and half dollar. Since this meant the end of the
Barber era of coinage, it was no wonder Charles Barber was uncooperative in
working out the mechanical requirements for striking the quarter, but George
Morgan, the mint's assistant engraver, provided the necessary assistance.
The obverse of MacNeil's quarter design displays a standing, frontal view of
Miss Liberty positioned on a step in the opening of a waist high wall. On
her left arm is a shield, held in a defensive posture. From behind the
shield to her extended right hand, which is holding an olive branch, is a piece
of drapery from her toga. This draws the viewer's eye from the shield to
the symbol of peace, expressing the notion that the United States will defend,
or keep the peace. The inscription LIBERTY is at the top of the obverse,
and the motto IN GOD WE TRUST appears across the top of the wall with 13 stars
running vertically along the opening (7 to Miss Liberty's right and 6 to her
left). The date appears on the riser of the step on which she is standing.
As mandated by law, the reverse of the Standing Liberty Quarter displays the
American Bald Eagle. It is shown in full flight, and is believed to have
been influenced by one of MacNeil's mentors, Augustus Saint-Gaudens. The
legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA is centered at the 12 o'clock position and the
denomination QUARTER DOLLAR is centered at the six o'clock position. The
motto E PLURIBUS UNUM is between the eagle's wings. There are 13 stars on
the reverse of the coin as well.
The U.S. Mint went into production early on the Standing Liberty quarters,
and struck 52,000 coins in the end of December 1916; however, the coins were not
released until the initial issue of the 1917 quarters was, on January 17, 1917.
As all Coin Collectors know, this created quite a stir within the collecting
community, and the 1916 dated Standing Liberty quarters have been held in high
demand, and have sold at a premium ever since.
It has been reported that once the new quarters went into circulation,
a public debate ensued over the classical Greek pose of Miss Liberty with her
right breast exposed. Was this Art or Smut? The followers of Anthony
Comstock and the Society for the Suppression of Vice began a campaign against
this "immoral" coin. They wanted the coin withdrawn from circulation
because it was a corruption to society. Comstock carried enormous
political clout, and began exerting it upon the Treasury Secretary William G.
Comstock may have thought he won in his fight when a new design was released
in the latter half of 1917, but the reality of the matter was that Hermon
MacNeil had petitioned McAdoo in January of 1917, even before the release of the
first issue, to modify the design. Most of the design modifications were
to expand the life of the coin in circulation, but MacNeil also wanted to add a
chain-mail vest to Liberty thus covering the exposed breast (as suggested by
some authors from studies of MacNeil's sketches), and to reconfigure the stars
on the reverse of the coin to add balance. By the time MacNeil's proposal
reached Congress to modify the quarter, so did the political hammer of the
Society for the Suppression of Vice. Modifications were approved under the
false presumption that the coins would not stack due to the relief. This
law was enacted on July 9, 1917, but what was not written into the
Congressional Record or the law, was that Miss Liberty's exposed breast was
to be covered.
Along with the debate over the lewdness of the coin, came the whispers and
the gossip as to what kind of woman would pose for it? In what appeared to
be a fairly clever ruse (Numismatist, 12/03), Miss Dora Doscher (a.k.a. Doris
Doree), a silent screen actress and model for MacNeil's sculpture Abundance,
publicly confessed to being the model who bared her bosom. As a matter of
fact, she turned it into a career becoming known as The Girl on the Quarter."
In 1972, at the age of 92, Irene MacDowell claimed she was the true model for
the Standing Liberty quarter. MacDowell had been a model, and a Broadway
Actress. So, what is the story? The MacDowell and MacNeil families
were friends. In fact, Irene's husband and Hermon MacNeil were tennis
partners, and MacNeil's wife kept Hermon on a short leash especially when Irene
was around. To eliminate family strife, Irene and MacNeil convinced
Doscher to take the credit. Some experts believe it was Doscher who was
the model, and some believe it was MacDowell, and others believe the image of
Liberty was a composite of both, but it seems those most familiar with MacNeil's
life and works profess it could be none other then Irene MacDowell.
The Standing Liberty quarters were issued from 1916 through 1930. There
are three Types in the series. The Type I (1916-1917) displays the Bare
Breasted image of Liberty on the obverse with 13 stars flanking the eagle on the
reverse. The Type II (1917-1924) features Liberty wearing a chain-mail
vest on the obverse, and 13 stars on the reverse, i.e. five stars flanking the
eagle on each side with three stars below the eagle. The Type III
(1925-1930) features a recessed step riser on which the date is struck, and upon
which Liberty is posed. This modification was an attempt to preserve the
date on the coin from wear.
MacNeil's quarter is one of the favorites among Coin Collectors. They
were produced at the Philadelphia (no mintmark), the San Francisco ("S"
mintmark) and the Denver ("D" mintmark) facilities. The mintmark is
displayed on the obverse appearing to the left of the date and MacNeil's initial
"M" appears to the right of the date. The Standing Liberty was
manufactured continuously from 1916 through 1930 with the exception of 1922.
Although there were not any authorized proofs within this series, there were an
estimated 5 Satin Proofs struck in 1916, and approximately 10 (Type I) in 1917.
A Coin Collector will find a special grading designation within this series.
That designation is "FH" (full head). This designation is more an
indication of the quality of the strike rather then the grade or condition of
the coin. There are three features that must appear on the quarter to
qualify as "FH": 1) the three leaves in Liberty's hair must be fully visible; 2)
the hairline along Liberty's brow must be complete; and, 3) the ear indentation
must be evident. Standing Liberty quarters that carry the "FH" designation
will cost the Coin Collector substantially more, and are highly prized.
With the series being relatively short (only 15 years), and with over 226
million coins being struck, this is not a particularly difficult group of coins
to acquire in circulated grades. The key dates and the most challenging
within the series are: the 1918/7-S overdate, the 1920-S and 1926-S in high
grade, and the 1927-S "FH" (full head).
With the 200th Anniversary of the birth of George Washington occurring in
1932, the Standing Liberty quarter series was cut short. Many numismatists
consider the Standing Liberty Quarter Dollar more beautiful then the Walking
Liberty Half Dollar, and that has certainly contributed to its popularity
throughout the decades. This series has everything that any collector
could want beauty, history, and a great story.