This is the first of several segments on the Standing Liberty quarter dollar, published in the May 2016 issue of Coin World Monthly:
On May 23, 1916, Hermon MacNeil was informed by the director of the Mint that his designs for the new quarter dollar to be released later that year had been accepted “and are hereby approved.” The Standing Liberty quarter dollar had just been born.
A week later, the Mint announced the new designs, not only for the quarter dollar but also for the dime and the half dollar. “The first of the new coins will be struck shortly after July 1st, the beginning of next fiscal year,” the Mint promised.
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In the lengthy press release, the Mint called the new designs “a radical departure” from the traditional approach of having the obverses of the three denominations share the same design, as on the Liberty Head designs current in use in 1916 and the Seated Liberty designs before them.
The designs for the 25-cent coin, which would be called the Standing Liberty quarter dollar, are arguably the most beautiful for the denomination in its long history. It is a short series, issued only from 1916 to 1930, totaling 37 different coins by date and Mint mark. It has one significant die variety and most collectors consider a collection incomplete without an example, making for a total of 38 pieces. The series is not a good one for completists who are on a limited budget, particularly if Mint State coins are preferred; the series will be pricey at those levels, with the two key coins in the series (the 1916 issue and the major die variety) both bringing six-figure prices in Mint State 60 and up. For those who could never afford even a well worn example of the two keys, both can be cherrypicked at prices that are often at their bullion value — if you know your coins.
The design would undergo minor revisions from the original 1916 version to the first 1917 version; a major revision later in 1917; and another minor though sorely needed tweak in 1925. The major change in 1917 would years later spark a myth about the reason for change — a myth involving nudity and a supposedly shocked public that is still widely repeated today despite a complete lack of any supporting documentary evidence.
Here’s the fascinating story of the beautiful Standing Liberty quarter dollar.
Designing, then redesigning it
Since 1907, the United States had been engaged in coinage redesign, a project unmatched in its achievement of stunning results. By 1916, only the four silver coins had not been redesigned (and the silver dollar had last been struck in 1904).