U.S. Coin Price Guide

Coin Collecting

Buy Coin Supplies

MacNeil's Standing Liberty Remains a Favorite
By Tom LaMarre

Hermon A. MacNeil created some memorable works, including the statues "The Sun Vow" and "Pony Express." But coin collectors consider his real masterpiece to be the Standing Liberty quarter.

Rich in symbolism and finely engraved detail, the new quarter reflected the spirit of peace and preparedness just before the United States entered World War I. It also revived a classical style in sharp contrast to the abstract and modern trends that were sweeping the art world at that time.

In addition, the coin signified a different direction for its designer. MacNeil was known mainly for works depicting American Indians and Western pioneers.

Production of Standing Liberty quarters began in 1916. Despite the artistic merit of the design, its life was cut short after only 14 years (none were struck in 1922). Because of wearability and striking problems, and the decision to issue a George Washington commemorative, the last Standing Liberty quarter was minted in 1930.

The series was short, but it produced some memorable rarities, including the 1916 and 1918/7-S Standing Liberty quarters. Almost as interesting as the coins themselves is the story of how they came into existence and inspired a greater awareness of artistic values in the world of coins.

The $2,300 Design

The Barber quarter had been around since 1892, and although it did the job, no one was thrilled with the design. In December 1915, a competition was held to come up with new designs for the dime, quarter and half dollar. MacNeil, Adolph Weinman and Albin Polasek were invited to submit entries.

Each sculptor was promised $300. An additional $2,000 would go to the creator of each model that was accepted for production. The deadline for entries was April 16, 1916.

Polasek was the only loser. Weinman's entries were selected for the dime and half dollar. MacNeil's design was chosen for the quarter.

MacNeil reportedly found a rooftop studio in the heart of New York City. There, according to a contemporary account, he could work on his coinage design "high above the dirt and noise of the street."

MacNeil decided to place a standing Liberty figure on the obverse of the quarter. Initially there was a dolphin on each side of the pedestal below Liberty, representing the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The Panama Canal had recently opened, and even though the canal had inspired its own commemorative coins in 1915, MacNeil apparently thought a further tribute would be appropriate on the new quarter.

A bronze cast of the obverse with dolphins still exists. Originally intended for the preparation of dies, it turned up at a garage sale in 2001.

MacNeil eventually changed his mind about the dolphins. After the deadline for entries had passed, he requested and received permission to make some changes to the design during the next few weeks. The dolphins, which had been ridiculed by Mint workers, were nowhere to be seen on the revised obverse that appeared on production quarters.

On the reverse of the quarter, MacNeil depicted a low-flying eagle flanked by 13 stars.

The winning entries in the coin design competition were unveiled on May 30, 1916. At that time a press dispatch said that Treasury Secretary William MacAdoo, Mint Director Robert W. Woolley and the Commission of Fine Arts had found them to be "most satisfactory from an artistic point of view."

Hermon Atkins MacNeil

Mint Director Robert W. Woolley was so involved overseeing the preparation of the quarter design at the Mint that the Gettysburg Times predicted it would be known as the "Woolley quarter" or simply the "Woolley." In reality, the designer was Hermon Atkins MacNeil, described by The Iowa Recorder as a "sculptor of prominence."

"The designer of the new quarter is Hermon A. MacNeil, N.A.," the June 8, 1916, issue of Cornell Magazine, published by Cornell University, reported. "Mr. MacNeil was commissioned recently to execute the statue of Ezra Cornell which is to be unveiled by the University in 1918. He is the sculptor of the memorial bust of Robert Henry Thurston in Sibley College."

Cornell had reason to be proud of MacNeil. He had taught there, and at the Chicago Art Institute.

MacNeil was born in Massachusetts in 1866. He graduated from the Normal Art School in Boston and studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and the Julian Academy. By the turn of the century, he had returned to the United States and opened his own studio.

MacNeil's "Sun Vow" was displayed at the 1900 Paris Universal Exposition and won a silver medal. It was made at the American Academy in Rome and cast in bronze in Paris. Today it is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

MacNeil designed an award medal for the 1901 Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo. It was presented to Victor D. Brenner, who later designed the Lincoln cent. MacNeil also designed a 1926 medal commemorating the tercentenary of the purchase of Manhattan.

For the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair, MacNeil created the "Fountain of Liberty." Other works by the sculptor include "The Moqui Runner," "A Primitive Chant," "The Coming of the White Man," the McKinley Memorial in Columbus and the Marquette Memorial in Chicago.

MacNeil's work was included in an exhibition held in conjunction with the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam, and at a show staged in 1936 in New York City under a Works Progress Administration banner. The WPA was a Depression-era agency that provided employment on federal projects. Many artists and sculptors were commissioned to paint murals or create sculptures for post offices and other government buildings.

MacNeil died in his home on Long Island Sound in 1947. It had been 17 years since the last Standing Liberty quarter was struck. One of MacNeil's last works was the statue "The Pony Express," dedicated in 1940 in St. Joseph, Mo.

On the 100th anniversary of MacNeil's birth, Hermon MacNeil Park was dedicated in College Point, Queens, N.Y. The guest of honor was the woman believed to be the model for the Standing Liberty quarter.

Doris Doscher

She was an actress who starred in "The Birth of a Race" (sometimes shown with the alternate title "The Story of a Great Peace") in 1918. But when she appeared on the television program "I've Got a Secret" in April 1966, her secret was that she was the model for Liberty on the Standing Liberty quarter.

Time magazine also credited Doscher as the model for the coin at the time of her death in March 1970.

Doscher, sometimes going by the name Doris Doree, starred in several silent films. "The Birth of a Race" is the story of two brothers in a German-American family during World War I. One fights for the United States, and the other for Germany. Doscher played Eve, the wife of one of the brothers.

Doscher was also a professional model. She was the model for the "Pulitzer Fountain of Abundance" by Karl Bitter, completed by Isadore Konti and Karl Gruppe in 1915. The fountain represents Pomona, the Roman goddess of orchards, and stands in front of the Plaza Hotel in New York City.

Doscher also modeled for "Faith, Hope and Charity," "Diana of the Chase," "Memory," "Kneeling Madonna" and Hermon MacNeil's "The Angel of Peace."

Possibly the earliest published reference to Doscher as MacNeil's model for Liberty on the quarter was an item in the April 8, 1917, issue of The Syracuse Herald.

Doris married Dr. William Baum. She had a radio show on health and beauty and wrote a newspaper column, and she was a guest of honor at the dedication of Hermon MacNeil park.

Doris Doscher Baum, however, was not the only woman to claim the honor of being the model for the Standing Liberty quarter.

Irene MacDowell

Long after MacNeil died, a former Broadway actress and professional model, Irene MacDowell, claimed that she was the model for the Standing Liberty quarter. MacDowell was the wife of MacNeil's tennis partner. For the sake of everyone concerned, it was thought best to keep her role as model a secret and let Doscher take the credit.

Irene broke the silence in 1972, at the age of 92, recalling that she posed for MacNeil for 10 days, wearing a white, sheet-like drapery that she described as "a kind of classical robe."

MacDowell was described as statuesque and "handsome." She frequently posed for MacNeil and reportedly was a model for some of the figures on the "Soldiers and Sailors Monument" in Albany, N.Y.

Patterns

Except for the matter of the dolphins, MacNeil had the quarter dollar design nailed down almost from the beginning. Patterns showing the development of the design are rare. One pattern is nearly the same as the Standing Liberty quarter as issued but lacks MacNeil's initial on the obverse.

Another pattern has a reverse without stars, the eagle is flying higher and there are laurel branches at the sides. Examples exist with and without the designer's initial.

Pattern 1916 Standing Liberty quarters are rarer than Walking Liberty half dollar and Mercury dime patterns. In the 1930s, a few 1916 Walking Liberty half dollar patterns were found in circulation. A 1916 Mercury dime pattern was discovered in pocket change in the early 1960s. In the case of the Standing Liberty quarter, however, no such circulation finds have been reported.

1916

The design process was so involved and took so long that you might say Liberty had to crawl before she could stand up and walk. The Standing Liberty quarter was scheduled to be released on July 1, 1916. A New York Times story with a July 2, 1916, dateline jumped the gun and claimed the coin made its debut as planned. In reality, however, the Mint was having trouble preparing the design for production, and another six months would pass before the Standing Liberty quarter went into circulation.

In September 1916, Albert Norris, chief clerk of the Philadelphia Mint, explained that die-makers usually had trouble when designs were prepared by artists who were not familiar with the mechanical requirements of coin production. The problem with the Standing Liberty quarter was that the relief was too high for the design to strike up properly.

Production of Standing Liberty quarters did not begin until Dec. 16, 1916 and was limited to the Philadelphia Mint in the first year of the design. By Dec. 31, 1916, only 52,000 had been struck. They were released in early January 1917.

Soon Philadelphia coin dealer Henry Chapman was offering 1916 Standing Liberty quarters for a dollar apiece. Speculation was widespread, and the Treasury Department responded with a January 1917 release of the mintage figure (incorrectly stated as 62,000 instead of 52,000). A press dispatch said the statement was being issued "to correct any impression that the coins are rare" and to thwart the "sharpers."

An original roll of 1916 Standing Liberty quarters was available as late as the 1950s. Today it's a different story. A Mint State-60 example is valued at $16,500.

Peace and Preparedness

Possibly more than any other coin, the Standing Liberty quarter succeeded in capturing the spirit of its time. With World War I raging in Europe and a presidential election campaign stirring things up at home, themes of peace and preparedness were on everyone's mind.

According to the official description of the Standing Liberty quarter, the design was "intended to typify in a measure the awakening interest of the country to its own protection." Liberty was depicted stepping forward to the gateway of the country. In her raised left arm was a shield from which the covering was being drawn, symbolizing the nation's readiness to defend itself. In her right hand was an olive branch representing the desire for peace.

As the New York Times put it, the new quarter symbolized "America Awake." Another writer, however, saw in the design "some too darkly veiled allegory of the Woman's Party and the suffrage movement."

The Standing Liberty quarter had a sculptural quality that set it apart from all previous quarter dollars. The Numismatist described it as "strikingly beautiful." The New York Times called it a "silvern beauty."

The Mansfield (Ohio) News said the Standing Liberty quarter was "fair to look upon," but claimed the design should have been used on a medal instead of a coin, which it described as a "dirt collector."

Changes

Legend has it that there was a public outcry against Liberty's exposed right breast on the Standing Liberty quarter. But if this were the case, it doesn't seem to have been mentioned in newspapers of the day.

MacNeil himself was dissatisfied with the original design and told a friend he was making a stand for changes. Treasury Secretary William G. McAdoo and Rep. William Ashbrook of Ohio, who also happened to be a member of the American Numismatic Association, lobbied for the passage of legislation. Public Law 27 of July 9, 1917, made the changes to the Standing Liberty quarter official.

In addition to adding a covering of mail to Liberty, what was perceived to be her "bowlegged" appearance was eliminated, her head was lowered, the covering of the shield was pulled tighter, and the border was made less ornate.

On the reverse, the eagle was repositioned so that it was flying higher, and the arrangement of stars was changed, with three stars placed below the eagle.

Two bronze casts of the revised reverse were made. One of them, which surfaced several years ago, may have been kept by MacNeil as a back-up. The other bronze cast, measuring more than six inches in diameter, is in the Smithsonian.

McAdoo approved the revised Standing Liberty quarter design on Aug. 19, 1917. A prominent numismatist, Farran Zerbe, reported that the eagle was higher on the modified design, the features of the Liberty head were stronger, and Liberty's "undraped bust" had been given a "corsage of mail."

Collectors classify Standing Liberty quarters of the original design as Variety 1, and the revised version as Variety 2.

A Valuable Mistake

The Philadelphia Mint was a busy place in the autumn of 1917. Workers were making dies for 1917-dated coins to keep up with heavy demand. At the same time, they were preparing 1918-dated dies for the coming year.

Each die required several blows from a hub. By mistake, an obverse quarter dollar die received an impression from a 1917 hub and was sent to the annealing room to be hardened. When it was returned to the die room for additional impressions, it went to the wrong machine and was stamped with a 1918-dated hub. The finished die somehow slipped by the inspector and was sent to the San Francisco Mint, where it was used to strike a small number of 1918/7-S quarters.

The first example of the overdate wasn't reported until the 1930s. At first, collectors thought it was the result of wartime cost-cutting at the Mint and that a 1917 die had been restamped with an "8" so it could be used another year.

Most of the rare quarters had seen years of use before the variety was publicized. As a result, mint-state examples of the 1918/7-S are rare.

Protecting the Date

Early Standing Liberty quarters are harder to find than later issues because the date, often weakly struck to begin with, quickly wore away in circulation. In 1925 a depression was made in Liberty's pedestal to protect the date from friction. The revision was not entirely successful, but occasional Standing Liberty quarters with the date still visible could be found in pocket change as late as the mid-1960s.

Bad Luck

In its own time, the Standing Liberty quarter was considered an unlucky coin. There are 13 stars at the sides of the gateway through which Liberty is passing, 13 stars around the border on the reverse side of the coin, 13 letters in the inscription "QUARTER DOLLAR" and 13 letters in "E PLURIBUS UNUM."

A Wading Bird

An early newspaper item really stretched things when it said the eagle on the reverse of the Standing Liberty quarter was the same as on the Great Seal, but without the shield. The writer might just as well have said that Liberty was the same as on the Barber quarter, but she was shown standing.

The truth was that the eagle on the Standing Liberty quarter was unlike the bird on any other U.S. coin, and that difference caused some problems.

In 1928, a letter to the editor of the New York Times claimed the eagle on the quarter had the feet of a wading bird and was depicted in the act of taking off instead of in full flight. To put it bluntly, the eagle had the feet of a duck.

MacNeil was not amused. He responded with a letter defending the design, but it didn't make much difference. Because of other factors, the Standing Liberty quarter would only be struck two more years.

Mystery of the 1931 Quarter

Quarters were struck only at the Philadelphia and San Francisco mints in 1930. No quarters were struck for circulation in 1931, a Depression year. But counterfeits may exist.

In August 1931, Secret Service agents smashed a counterfeiting ring that had been making and passing fake quarters in Pennsylvania towns for eight months. They were cast from molds in the basement of the home of Anna Kasemar and her teenage daughter Margaret.

The same year, two men were sent to the Atlanta penitentiary for possessing counterfeit quarters. At least one arrest for counterfeiting quarters was also made in New York City in 1931. Some of the counterfeits might have survived and may be the basis for the long-running rumor of a 1931-dated Standing Liberty quarter.

Replacement

In 1931 a design competition was announced for a coin commemorating the 200th anniversary of George Washington's birth. At first a Washington half dollar seemed likely, but government officials instead decided on a Washington quarter.

In February 1931, the Christian Science Monitor reported that the head of George Washington may appear on the quarter in 1932. The first Washington quarters were released in August 1932. No one was sure whether the Washington quarter would be a one-year commemorative or an ongoing regular issue. The Numismatist predicted that if the design were popular, it would remain in production.

Because of the Depression, no quarters were struck in 1933. When production resumed in 1934, the Washington design returned.

Once hailed as a "silvern beauty," the Standing Liberty quarter slipped away quietly. As the New York Times put it, Liberty was a loser on new coin designs picturing presidents, and the Standing Liberty which had adorned the quarter since 1916 was on its way out.

MacNeil intended the Standing Liberty quarter to be a symbol of wartime sentiment. According to the Treasury secretary, it was a "fast-wearing" design that never quite worked out. In the opinion of collectors, it is a masterpiece that will stand in beauty forever.

 



? 1992-2018 DC2NET?, Inc. All Rights Reserved