One hundred years this month, Bureau of the Mint officials in Washington and Philadelphia were busy trying to fulfill what they believed to be a statutory requirement to replace the existing designs of the dime, quarter dollar, and half dollar.
Charles Barber’s designs for those three silver coins were introduced in 1892 and thus celebrated their 25th anniversary in 1916. That anniversary was important, at least in the views of Mint officials, thanks to an 1890 law. That law was intended to prevent the frequent redesign of U.S. coinage; under the law, Mint officials were prohibited from redesigning a coin unless it had been in use for 25 years, though the Mint could seek congressional approval for a waver to the rule.
By 1915, however, Mint officials had interpreted the act as requiring design changes every 25 years, not permitting the changes. This interpretation was a misreading of the law and Mint officials were under no requirement to change the Barber designs.
In 1916, though, Mint officials were nine years into a massive redesign of the coinage that had begun in 1907, all for coins whose designs were well past the 25-year “mandatory requirement” — the $10 eagle and $20 double eagle in 1907, the $2.50 quarter eagle and $5 half eagle in 1908, the cent in 1909, and the 5-cent coin in 1913. Redesigning the three lowest denominations of four silver coins would have made sense in 1916 even without the misinterpretation of the 1890 act.
As Coin World has reported throughout this centennial year in our news coverage of the gold centennial versions of the three 1916 silver coins, the resultant designs are the most attractive of the three denominations — the Winged Liberty Head dime, the Standing Liberty quarter dollar, and the Walking Liberty half dollar. And yet, as December 1916 began, officials were close to missing their self-imposed goal.
Numismatist Roger Burdette has done a masterful job of reporting on the 1916 redesign effort in the final volume of his Renaissance of American Coinage trilogy, a series that belongs on every numismatist’s bookshelf, so we will not attempt to retell the entire story here. We’ll just note that the dime had not been released until Oct. 30, and as December 1916 began, officials had yet to finalize the designs for the quarter dollar and half dollar. However, by the end of the month the Mint had succeeded in striking small numbers of the two larger coins, though neither would be released until early 1917. The wait, however, was well worth it — the three 1916 silver coins are beautiful, and the 1916 quarter dollar and 1916-D dime are the key dates for their respective series.
So, do you think the 2016 gold versions will be as popular in the future as the originals?