As 1916 approached, United States Mint officials determined that with the current designs on the silver coins then in production reaching the 25-year mark, new designs would be needed. Under an 1890 law, Mint officials were prohibited from changing coin design...READ MORE
As 1916 approached, United States Mint officials determined that with the current designs on the silver coins then in production reaching the 25-year mark, new designs would be needed. Under an 1890 law, Mint officials were prohibited from changing coin designs without congressional approval until 25 years had passed since the designs were introduced into circulation. The silver dime, quarter dollar, and half dollar in production in 1915 — what today collectors call the Barber coins — all had been first released in 1892, so they met the legal criteria.
The replacement designs are today considered by a majority of collectors to be the most beautiful coins of those three denominations — the Winged Liberty Head dime (aka the Mercury dime), the Standing Liberty quarter dollar and the Walking Liberty half dollar.
Mint officials followed the advice of the Commission of Fine Arts — a federal panel that continues to advise the government on artistic matters, including coin designs — and invited three prominent sculptors to submit designs. The designs of two of those men were selected for the three coins; Hermon A. MacNeil’s designs won approval for the quarter dollar, and Adolph A. Weinman’s designs were selected for the quarter dollar and half dollar.
Not everyone in the Mint hierarchy supported the idea of using outside artists; the strongest objections apparently came from Mint Chief Engraver Charles Barber, who was hardly unbiased. His designs were the ones being replaced. However, Barber also had a strong understanding of the minting process and knew that beautiful coins aren’t always practical, including the High Relief gold double eagles of 1907 designed by Augustus Saint-Gaudens. While a small number of the High Relief coins were struck for circulation in 1907, Barber successfully persuaded his superiors that the relief needed to be drastically lowered for efficient production; he lowered the relief of the coin, which remained the version struck for the remainder of the coin’s existence.
As 1916 progressed, Barber (and both artists, to be fair) insisted on tweaking the designs of the three coins. Because of the delays, only the new Winged Liberty Head dime was introduced into circulation in 1916; the approved versions of the quarter dollar and half dollar were not struck until December 1916 and both coins did not enter circulation until early 1917 with the 1916 dates. Significant design changes were made to both sides of the quarter dollar in 1917, resulting in two distinct subtypes for the coin; production of the dime and half dollar continued with no significant design changes.
The Standing Liberty quarter dollar was struck through 1930. After a one-year gap in production for the denomination, a new design was introduced in 1932 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the birth of George Washington; variations of that coin remain in production today.
The Winged Liberty Head dime was struck through 1945 and replaced in 1946 with a design honoring President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who died early in his fourth term in office in April 1945. The Walking Liberty half dollar was last struck in 1947 and replaced in 1948 with new designs honoring Benjamin Franklin (the Walking Liberty half dollar holds the distinction of being the last U.S. coin struck for circulation with a Liberty figure until 2000 when what is generally called the Sacagawea dollar was released).
However, the designs’ last chapter had not been written.
When the American Eagle 1-ounce silver bullion coin was introduced in 1986, it bore the obverse design from the Walking Liberty half dollar. The design was selected by Treasury officials as an iconic representation of Liberty. Other classic U.S. designs have also been resurrected for commemorative and bullion coin programs — the Indian Head 5-cent coin’s designs appear on a commemorative silver dollar and the American Buffalo .9999 fine gold bullion coins; the obverse of the Saint-Gaudens double eagle has appeared on the American Eagle gold bullion coins since their introduction in 1986. And, in 2016, all three 1916 silver coin designs were resurrected in gold for a Centennial celebration.
In September of 2014, the Mint announced that some new, special versions of the 1916 Winged Liberty Head dime, Standing Liberty quarter dollar and Walking Liberty half dollar would be struck in .9999 fine gold to mark the centennial of each coin in 2016.
The original coins were struck in .900 fine silver when issued in 1916. While many collectors would have liked to see the Centennial versions also struck in silver, the Mint lacked authority to do that without congressional approval (that pesky 1890 law again). However, over the years, Congress had ceded some of its authority for gold and platinum coinage to the Treasury Department, which meant the Mint could reissue the three coins in gold versions without seeking approval for Congress.
In June 2015, mock-ups of 24-karat gold 2016 coins were released to much fanfare. Despite all the attention the story got over the summer, the U.S. Treasury did not sign off officially on the products until late 2015. The Mint announced Nov. 14 that it would officially move forward with production of centennial editions in 2016.