US Coins

1916 busy year for United States Mint production

Fourth segment of cover feature published in its entirety in the Feb. 1, 2016, Monthly issue of Coin World:

How the Winged Liberty Head dime has fascinated collectors since its inception is quite a journey.

1916 was a busy year for the United States Mint.

The year witnessed the introduction of not one, not two, but three coins bearing newly designed obverses and reverses. The Winged Liberty Head dime and Walking Liberty half dollar, designed by the hands and creative mind of sculptor Adolph A. Weinman, and the Standing Liberty quarter dollar, executed by sculptor Hermon A. MacNeil, represent the first separation in designs for each the those three circulating U.S. coin denominations. (Earlier, the three denominations shared the same obverse designs and, sometimes, the same reverses.)

The results of Weinman’s efforts, specifically for the Winged Liberty Head dime, were overwhelmingly embraced by Mint and Treasury Department officials, collectors and other members of the public.

Read the rest of this feature on the Winged Liberty Head dime's 100th anniversary:

Mint Director Robert W. Woolley detailed the dime’s designs in the 1916 Annual Report of the Director of the Mint.

“The design of the dime, owing to the smallness of the coin, has been held quite simple,” Woolley wrote. “The obverse shows a head of Liberty with winged cap. The head is firm and simple in form, the profile forceful.

“The reverse shows a design of the bundle of rods, with battle-ax, known as ‘Fasces,’ and symbolical of unity wherein lies the Nation’s strength. Surrounding the fasces is a full-foliaged branch of olive, symbolical of peace.

In Numismatic Art in America: Aesthetics of the United States Coinage, author Cornelius Vermeule labeled Weinman’s Winged Liberty Head dime as “the first individual and imaginative design for this small denomination in American numismatic art.”

Vermeule contends that Weinman’s inclusion of the wing or “wings implied” on the obverse were not, as the sculptor indicated as “liberty of thought,” but were incorporated because, like his one of his mentors, sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, he “liked the effect of feathers in relief on his coins and medals.”

Weinman’s reverse design, however, must stand or fall solely on foliage and lettering. “Here, the fasces of war and justice are set off by the olive branch of peace, the whole experience being carried out in a bold and lifelike, yet detailed, plasticity,” according to Vermeule.

When the Winged Liberty Head dime was retired after 30 years of production, replaced by Chief Engraver John R. Sinnock’s Roosevelt dime, the latter “as a work of art … offered nothing that Weinman had not devised in 1916,” according to Vermeule.

New York City coin dealer Thomas L. Elder, not one noted to be publicly expressive, declared upon its introduction that the Winged Liberty Head coin was “the handsomest American coin.”

“The winged head of Liberty is a real portrait of great beauty and finish,” Elder was reported as saying. “Our American girl in this instance is youthful, refined, and of gentle expression. The addition of wings to the head is taken from ancient art of Greece and Rome. … The head is not unlike those of Roty and Champlain shown on so many modern French coins and medals.

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“… we have here a coin which is second to none we have issued, and it will compare favorably with any in Europe, which is saying much.”

Many other numismatic notables of the day expressed their opinions on the Winged Liberty Head dime that were published in the December 1916 issue of the American Numismatic Association journal, The Numismatist:

Among them:

??J.W. Scott, New York City: “The new dime is the best piece of work that the United States mint has turned out in a century.”

??Edgar H. Adams, New York City: “The new dime, in my opinion, is one of the handsomest coins of the denominations that has been issued for regular circulation in this country. ...”

??B. Max Mehl, Fort Worth, Texas: “From a business standpoint I think any new issue is a good thing for the numismatic profession, as it seems to stimulate interest not only among collectors, but among non-collectors, and is the means of bringing out a considerable number of new collectors.”

??Howland Wood, New York City: “The new dime by Adolph A. Weinman is without doubt the finest example of our new coinage which was begun in 1907 with the advent of the $20 and $10 gold pieces.”

Redesign genesis

Minutes from the Dec. 3, 1915, meeting of the Commission of Fine Arts — a committee established five years earlier by Congress to review the artistic merit of proposed coin and medal designs — reveal the first discussions toward coin redesign.

Treasury Secretary William G. McAdoo directed Mint Director Robert W. Woolley to appear before the CFA panel for that specific purpose.

At the Dec. 3, 1915, CFA session, Woolley, with Chief Engraver Charles E. Barber present, informed CFA members that before seeking outside design contributions, the Mint directed Barber to prepare a number of preliminary designs for their consideration.

“The Director stated that although the same design has been heretofore used for all three of the old coins, it was the intention to use distinctive designs for each of the new coins,” according to the minutes of the CFA meeting. Woolley met with CFA members for lunch on Dec. 4, 1915, to further discuss the redesign project.

Col. William W. Harts, the CFA’s secretary and executive officer, penned a follow-up letter dated Dec. 9, 1915, to Woolley. In it, Harts outlined developments from the discussions, including those of a CFA committee appointed to draft a reply to Woolley on the coinage redesign initiative.

“Mr. [Herbert] Adams, as Chairman of his committee, has just sent me the enclosed informal letter for transmission to you,” Harts wrote to Woolley. “He informs me that he talked with each of the three sculptors mentioned, in this letter, but had tried to give them the impression that he had simply been asked by the Treasury Department to consult with them to ascertain if they would freely cooperate with the Mint on the practical side, if asked to make the designs.

“The Commission would appreciate it if these sculptors were not informed that they had been suggested to you by the Commission.”

Two of the three sculptors were Weinman and MacNeil. The third was Albin Polasek.

Determined not to repeat the debacle when the Mint first pursued design competitions in 1891, Mint officials consulted with the artist and sculptor members that comprised the Commission of Fine Arts, which was not in existence at the time of the 1891 experience.

Two competitions scheduled in 1891 had sought designs to replace the Seated Liberty issues of Christian Gobrecht. The first, by invitation only, pursued the talents of the period — Herbert Adams, Kenyon Cox, Daniel C. French, Olin Warner [Levi] Herbert, Will S. Low, Miller MacMonies, H.S. Mowbray, Charles S. Neihaus, Augustus Saint-Gaudens and J.Q.A. Ward.

None of the invitees had felt particularly distinguished by their selection. In fact, the artists dictated to U.S. Mint officials a series of recommendations that included sufficient time to execute their contributions, proper compensation, having the finished work juried by a panel of experienced artists, and having the obverse and reverse of a coin be from a single artist.

The invitation-only competition was scrapped in favor of a public design competition. The submissions of designs from more than 300 less-experienced artistic contributors left U.S. Mint officials less than thrilled with the results. Chief U.S. Mint Engraver Charles E. Barber wound up exercising the design responsibilities himself.

The efforts for the 1916 redesign were another matter, with U.S. Mint officials soliciting the submission of designs from Weinman, MacNeil and Polasek, according to Renaissance of American Coinage 1916-1921 by Roger W. Burdette.

The self-absorbed Barber, who considered no one as talented as he where coin art was concerned, was notified through a March 3, 1916, letter from Woolley of the final design selections, Weinman’s and MacNeil’s, from among some 50 sketch models considered, after review by Woolley and McAdoo.

In thanking Barber for his own contributions toward the redesign, Woolley also instructed Barber to have “satisfactory” working models from the approved designs for the dime, quarter dollar and half dollar made and delivered to the Mint no later than May 1, 1916.

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