With examples of the 2016 Standing Liberty Quarter Centennial Gold Coin popping up at coin shows, it’s likely that the U.S. Mint will provide collectors with a launch date for the issue any day now. That makes this an ideal time to consider the design and history of the original quarter, designed by Hermon MacNeil and first released into circulation 100 years ago. The following facts provide some background and context for the classic issues in the run up to the Mint’s celebration of their centenary.
1) MacNeil’s original design included two dolphins near Liberty’s feet, representing the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
2) 1916 Standing Liberty Quarters had a mintage of just 52,000 coins, as the design was only finalized near the end of that year after several adjustments. Nearly all of those coins entered circulation, and examples grading higher than MS-65 are extremely rare.
3) On the original variety of this issue, Liberty’s right breast is uncovered. A little more than 12 million coins bearing this design were minted before a second variety was issued in 1917. The new version subtly covered Liberty’s chest with chainmail armor, and a persistent rumor held that Variety 1 was retired following complaints about her nudity. Contemporary accounts don’t back this up, however, and it seems more likely the addition of the chainmail was meant to give Liberty a more martial appearance in the midst of World War I.
4) The positions of the 13 stars on the reverse were revised several times. In early mockups, MacNeil placed them on either side of the eagle, both in the field and along the rim. On Variety 1 they all appear along the rim, while on Variety 2 three of the stars are located in the field beneath the eagle.
5) Dora Doscher (sometimes called “Doris”) served as MacNeil’s model for Liberty. She would go on to have a multi-faceted career as actress, lecturer, and advice columnist. There has historically been some confusion over whether it was Doscher or another model, Irene MacDowell, who posed for MacNeil, but a convincing majority of the evidence points to Doscher’s participation.
6) The date on the bottom of the obverse was raised slightly on Liberty’s pedestal, causing it to wear badly in circulation. In 1925, the design was amended to recess the date, alleviating the issue.
7) Because of the high degree of detail and dynamism in this design, the quality of strikes varied considerably. Some areas were particularly prone to being weakly struck, especially Liberty’s head and right leg and the rivets on her shield. Clear execution of these details are important for procuring higher grades of this coin.
8) The Standing Liberty Quarter was only struck for 15 years, from 1916 to 1930. No quarters were issued in 1931, and in 1932 John Flanagan’s now-iconic portrait of George Washington was introduced in honor of the President’s 200th birthday. Washington’s presence on the denomination was supposed to be temporary, but the design was so popular with the public that it has been retained as the quarter’s obverse image ever since.
The above information was compiled with the help of A Guide Book of Mercury Dimes, Standing Liberty Quarters, and Liberty Walking Half Dollars and 100 Greatest U.S. Coins, 4th Edition. Information on key date Standing Liberty quarters can be found here.