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Long Beard's Blog

04 Sep 2020

Three Timeless Classics That Nearly Weren't

Coins-United States | Long Beard

The subject of this week's blog, as happens with great frequency, occurred by accident while researching the next series I believe I'll embark on while attempting to complete the extremely tough Seated Liberty Dime series. The subject at hand ties in perfectly with that of last week's which dealt with how coinage is redesigned. Upon reflection, perhaps "by coincidence" may be a better term of words to "by accident", as you'll discover as I had of three true American coin classics that nearly never came to be. Whether by fate or error I'll leave that for you to decide. Enjoy!


What began in 1904 under the administration of President Theodore Roosevelt, and later dubbed the American Coinage Renaissance, was now in it's eleventhyear as Robert W. Woolley assumed his appointed post as Director of the U.S. Mint in early 1915. The new Director was no fan of the designs which circulated bearing those of Chief Engraver, Charles E. Barber. An opinion he clearly had no trouble conveying. With new designs for thecent, nickel and gold coin already in circulation for some time, he turned his attention to the remaining dime, quarter and half dollar. According to U.S. Code 31, paragraph 5112 (d) (2) of the Coinage Act of 1890, "The director of the mint shall have power...to cause new designs....be made oftener than once in twenty-five years.". With Woolley's strong dislike of Barber's designs, his assumption was that the act's wording was written as being literal and that he mustchange the three remaining denominations beginning in 1916. In April of 1915, acting upon his interpretation, a competion was solicited to those qualifiedin the field of artsto submit new designs. Adolph A. Weinman's designs had been chosen to replace the dime and the half dollar, while those of Hermon Atkins McNeil wereapproved forthe quarter.


If a misinterpretation weren't enough to add intrigueto thecreations of 1916, controversy and myth surround the quarter and Hermon McNeil. The finalized designs of the obverse depict Lady Liberty standing between two pedestals, an olive branch in her right hand and a shield in her left. Thirteen stars vertically adorn the pedestals, seven on the left and six on the right.LIBERTY appears at the top with "In God We Trust" split between the tops of each pedestal and the datebeneath Lady Liberty. The reverse features an eagle in flight slightly below center with "United Statesof America" encircling above. Between the wins E. Pluribus Unumand the denomination spelled out at the bottom. Again, thirteen stars-seven to the left of the eagle and six to the right.


Although the striking of these new quarters had not occurred until thefinal few weeks of 1916, the mystery of it's design began and continued into the new year. With mystery comes myth, much of which persist to this day. While war was raging in Europe, the United States had remained neutral. Yet here was a new coin which symbolized that America was ready for both peace or war, despite President Woodrow Wilson running his re-election campaign on the theme "He kept us out of war".Further controversy arose as it pertained to Lady Liberty herself, garbed in a robe which exposed her left breast. Herein lies where myth begins and fact ends. As with many artist of his day, Hermon McNeil had studied in Europe before returning to the United States and applying hisskill. The designs he created were of a cosmopolitan theme popular at the time, particularly in Europe, more than that symbolizing peace or war. Both of these points could be made equal as it applies to the reality behind his design. Looking at the bare breastassumption, one which enraged the public,originates largely from the Society For the Suppression of Vice and a gentleman by the name Anthony Comstock.Supposedly, apersonal war had been raged by Comstock against the "immoral quarter" through strong and repeated complaints to the Treasury Department. This, according to Walter Breen in his book, Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins. Breen also asserts that the re-design in 1917 came from the Treasury complaining thatdue to it's design the coins did not stack well. Both points of which are easily debunked. The first, Anthony Comstock died on September 21, 1915. Over fourteen months before the first quarter had been struck.Noted researcher and author, Roger Burdette, confirms as much stating that revealing images have and still are found throughout federal and government buildings.Second, the re-design occurred most likely based on the controversy over it's design. On April 2, 1916 President Wilson sought a formal declaration of war with Germany by Congress. With 52,000 coins dated 1916 and another twelve million estimated in 1917, Liberty was now dressed for war with the change to chain mail covering her breasts. Further dispelling these theories, newspaper articles of the time reported numerous accounts of an anxious public flocking to acquire the new quarters. Of which, few mention a bare breast in the design much less a publicoutrage.


In conclusion, onemay only wonder had it not been for the misunderstanding of a law, three of the most icon and highly prized coin designs would not exist. The Winged Liberty (Mercury) dime, the Standing Liberty quarter or the Walking Liberty half dollar. And lest we forget the ever popularAmerican Silver Eagle bullion obverse.

Comments

Mike

Level 7

Now I know the mint did an anniversary of three coins in gold. That was 2016. I believe it was these three I'm not sure. But collectors had been screaming the year be for to come out with a silver set. Just think of these done in silver. There beautiful today but new in a set they would of been fantastic. And they would of sold more. Allot more.I would love to see these three in a MS 70!!! Instead 9100 dimes.we're returned because of the reverse. The band's were not split. They have done more detail in gold. This was not right. So they held on to the till the end of the year and sold them. Your blog on these three coins was excellent they are classic designs. Why can't they make designs like these today. Thanks.

I. R. Bama

Level 5

Three of my all time favorites. Great blog, I enjoy your writing style

slybluenote

Level 5

Agreed. I also have these 3 designs in my collection as well. Great blog Long Beard!

Stumpy

Level 5

I was unaware of the facts behind the fiction. Those are three of the greatest coins ever designed and should be in all top 5 lists anywhere, anytime. Thanks for the knowledge.

Kepi

Level 6

Great blog! I have always loved these three coins! Classic's!

coinsbygary

Level 5

In this case, I'm glad that, "what if" never happened. The Mercury Dime, Standing Liberty Quarter, and Walking Liberty Half-Dollar are etched in history and can never be taken away!

Mokie

Level 6

Three of the finest coins to ever grace our commerce. So happy the renaissance of American coins occurred.

Golfer

Level 5

Always like the designs of these silver quarters. Especially the eagle. Nice history lesson and blog.

What great blog. I love the research! Three of the most classic American designs could have never been made past the trial phase, but I'm glad they did.

"SUN"

Level 5

A great era for coin designs

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