MacNeil's Standing Liberty Remains a Favorite
By Tom LaMarre
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
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
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
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
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
Cornell had reason to be proud of MacNeil. He
had taught there, and at the Chicago Art
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.