US Coins

Meeting the deadline for new 1916 dime production

Fifth and final segment of cover feature published in its entirety in the Feb. 1, 2016, Monthly issue of Coin World

German-born sculptor Adolph A. Weinman began to show his artistic talents in 1885 at age 15, five years after emigrating to the United States, locating in New York City. He would eventually be trained and mentored by some of the greatest artists and sculptors of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Weinman first apprenticed for five years under wood and ivory carver Frederick Kaldenberg, while he also studied drawing at Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, an institution established in 1859 and still in existence today. The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art offers education in art, architecture and engineering, as well as courses in the humanities and social sciences.

Weinman’s introduction to medallic art came at age 20 in 1890 under the direction of French-American sculptor Philip H. Martiny, who himself had found work under AugustSaint-Gaudens soon after emigrating to the United States in 1878 to avoid conscription in the French army.

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

Weinman subsequently enjoyed a short-lived stint beginning in 1895 under medallic artist Olin L. Warner, who died nine months after employing the enthusiastic and talented Weinman as assistant director for his studio. Soon after, Weinman was invited to join the studio of Saint-Gaudens. Weinman had earlier studied drawing under Saint-Gaudens at the Art Students League of New York.

After Saint-Gaudens’ departure for Europe in 1898, Weinman affiliated himself for the ensuing five years with the studio of medallic sculptor and artist Charles H. Niehaus.

After his tenure with Niehaus, Weinman formed a two-year partnership with Daniel Chester French before opting to open his own studio. French, one of the founding members of the Commission of Fine Arts, is best known and revered for his monument of a seated Abraham Lincoln inside the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Weinman enjoyed his association with Warner, Saint-Gaudens and French — all three had declined, on artistic grounds, the invitation to participate in the Mint’s 1891 design competition — before embarking on his own.

From his studio at 441 W. 21st St. in the West Chelsea section of New York City, Weinman executed his designs and plaster models for the Winged Liberty Head dime and Walking Liberty half dollar.

Weinman drew his inspiration for the modeling of the Winged Liberty Head dime from Elsie Kachel Stevens, a female tenant who resided in an apartment at the address his artist’s studio shared. Stevens was the wife of Wallace Stevens, a rising attorney and poet whose writings in Collected Poems would garner him the 1955 Pulitzer Prize for American Poetry.

Wallace Stevens had leased the couple’s living quarters from Weinman in August 1909, the month before the couple’s marriage. Sometime in 1913, Weinman convinced his tenant, Elsie Kachel Stevens to pose for a bust.

A photograph of the bust, published in Letters of Wallace Stevens, selected and edited by Holly Stevens, the Stevenses’ daughter, bears a strong resemblance to the Winged Liberty Head dime portrait. 

The bust, reflective of Elsie Stevens from the neck up, exhibits the model with her locks swept up into a bun at the back of her head.

An examination of Liberty’s lips, nose, cheeks, eyes and general facial structure on the dime compared with those of Weinman’s circa 1913 bust of Stevens confirms undeniably that the features found on the coin are those of Stevens.

Holly Stevens, in Letters of Wallace Stevens, Selected and Edited by Holly Stevens, provides details of Weinman’s bust of her mother. “The design he [Weinman] made, using her head, won the competition for the new dime and half dollar issued by the Treasury Department in 1916,” Holly Stevens writes.

Current whereabouts of Weinman’s circa 1913 bust of Elsie Stevens is unknown.

As a Saint-Gaudens protege, Weinman would not find it unusual to employ a live model and merge the live model’s features with classical elements in the final product, a technique Weinman’s mentor followed many times.

“It is in the tradition of Saint-Gaudens to use a plaster or bronze bust as intermediary between a living or ancient Greek model and the ideal Liberty of a coin,” Cornelius Vermeule writes in Numismatic Art in America. “Mrs. Stevens as interpreted by Weinman and the dime of 1916 have enough points in common to make this connection convincing. Liberty’s mass of hair beneath the cap and wings, her unusually decisive lips, and her strong yet sensitive chin can be traced to the fragile, angular features of Elsie Kachel Stevens.”

Meeting a deadline

With Weinman’s Winged Liberty Head designs approved for the dime, Chief Engraver Charles E. Barber was tasked with U.S. Mint Director Robert W. Wooley’s directive to have suitable production dies prepared according to Mint standards. Weinman had until May 1, 1916, to deliver models for the dime and half dollar.

Weinman visited the Mint several times during the month of March 1916, usually meeting with Barber. However, on one of those visits, according to Don Taxay in his reference U.S. Mint and Coinage, Barber was unavailable. Weinman received an audience instead with Assistant U.S. Mint Engraver George T. Morgan whom Weinman considered more welcoming that his superior.

Because of personal medical issues, however, Weinman would not be able to meet the May 1 deadline for the dime and half dollar models. He requested and received an extension from Mint Director Robert W. Woolley of between 10 days and two weeks.

Once the models were completed, Weinman shipped them to Woolley for his approval. Weinman received notice of the approval by letter in late June 1916. 

Woolley also notified Philadelphia Mint Superintendent Adam M. Joyce in a June 24 letter of his approval. 

“The dime is all right,” Woolley wrote in his June 24 letter to Joyce, and ordered dies made for all three production facilities as quickly as possible to meet the demands of commerce. 

Final dies for Weinman’s Winged Liberty Head dime were not to be ready until the eventual production and introduction in October 1916, but the needs of commerce still demanded production of dimes.

The last of the Barber dimes were minted at the Philadelphia Mint beginning in June 1916, with 18.49 million coins eventually recorded struck. Another 5.82 million Barber dimes were struck at the San Francisco Mint.

As final Barber dime production was being executed, slight modifications were implemented in the die development process for Weinman’s Winged Liberty Head dime designs to improve striking. During these progressive changes toward final production dies, the technical staff at the Philadelphia Mint tested the modifications, producing a number of 1916 experimental pieces.

These patterns are cataloged in the Judd pattern book as edited by Q. David Bowers and also by pattern specialists online at The 1916 patterns differ slightly in the size and placement of Liberty’s head, the date and lettering, and the inclusion or absence from the obverse right field of Weinman’s vertically overlapping designer’s initials AW.

Two experimental strikes, both attributed as Judd 1981, are housed in the National Numismatic Collection in the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History. Liberty exhibits a thinner head and neck and is missing Weinman’s designer monogram when compared to the final production coins.

Also, the pattern depicts periods between IN GOD and WE TRUST on the obverse that are absent from the general circulation strikes. Fewer than a dozen 1916 Winged Liberty Head dime patterns are known to exist today, some in private hands.

A Judd 1981 piece graded Proof 62 by Numismatic Guaranty Corp. sold in an August 2005 sale by Heritage Auctions for $54,050. A Professional Coin Grading Service Proof 58 example of the Judd 1981 design sold in an August 2012 Heritage auction for $79,312.50.

Writing in the August and September 1970 issues of The Numismatic Scrapbook Magazine, Frank S. Robinson, who owned one of the fewer than a dozen 1916 experimental pieces, identifies a number of other differences between the experimental pieces and the finished coins.

The date on most of the experimental pieces is smaller than on the circulation strikes and is positioned completely underneath Liberty’s shoulder. On the circulation strikes, the date juts from beneath the shoulder.

Liberty’s neck is also positioned at different distances from the rim on the experimental pieces, according to Robinson. Robinson surmised that not centralizing Liberty’s portrait on the experimental pieces was an indicator that Weinman’s monogram was not originally intended to appear on the final dies.

Coin World’s managing editor William T. Gibbs, writing while news editor in the July 3, 1991, issue of Coin World, said collectors should not automatically assume that, if their 1916 Winged Liberty Head dime is missing Weinman’s initials, the piece is one of the experimental strikes.

“Overpolishing of the die and debris-filled dies could account for the missing monogram, as could severe wear on the coin,” Gibbs wrote.

Not Mercury 

Sometime after its introduction late in 1916, the Winged Liberty Head dime was christened with the moniker “Mercury dime,” a misnomer that has stuck with the series for collectors to this day.

Widespread acceptance of the misnomer became more prevalent circa World War II, when production of the series was reaching its eventual culmination.

To the Romans, Mercury was the god of commerce, property and wealth, and messenger to the gods.

As messenger to the gods, Mercury is widely depicted adorned with a brimmed hat with wings affixed to both sides. Research indicates his hat is referred to as a petasus, the style of hat worn by most messengers and travelers during the era in which Mercury was revered.

Weinman addressed the public’s misinterpretation of his Winged Liberty Head dime design in a letter sent to Frank G. Duffield, editor of the American Numismatic Association’s journal, The Numismatist, for publication in the December 1916 issue. Duffield wrote to Weinman after receiving a reader’s inquiry seeking an explanation of the sculptor’s dime designs.

“In response to your letter of November 14 requesting a word of explanation as to my reasons for selecting a winged female head for the design of the obverse, and the fasces for the reverse of the new dime, permit me to say that the law on the coinage of the United States stipulates that on all subsidiary coins shall appear upon the obverse a figure or representation of Liberty,” Weinman wrote. “Hence, the head of Liberty, the coin being obviously too small in size to make the representation of Liberty advisable. The wings crowning her cap are intended to symbolize liberty of thought.

“As to the reverse of the dime, the law does not stipulate what is to appear on this side of the coin, while it does specifically state that upon the reverse of the quarter dollar and the half dollar shall appear the figure of an eagle.

“I have selected the motive of the fasces and olive branch to symbolize the strength which lies in unity, while the battle-ax stands for preparedness to defend the Union. The branch of olive is symbolical of our love of peace.”

Whether identified in numismatic references or by hobbyists as Winged Liberty Head dime, Mercury dime or both, the dimes struck between 1916 and 1945 bearing Weinman’s designs are still widely sought after today. 

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