The History Of the Standing Liberty Quarter Design

Centennial celebrations are a big deal. When it comes to the numismatic hobby, this was especially true in 2016 when the 100th Anniversary of three coins from a particularly popular coinage series was celebrated: the Mercury Dime, Standing Liberty Quarter, and the Walking Liberty Half Dollar. Struck in 24 karat gold, the series was a hit and an overall celebration of the beautiful coins that were first struck in 1916.

The Standing Liberty Quarter design, in particular, has been one that has accumulated a lot of attention over the years. Following the not-so-well received Barber coinage at the same time as replacing it, the brand new quarter design would not go without a bit of controversy despite its popularity as time went on.

The Designer - Hermon MacNeil

Born in Prattville, Massachusetts, on February 27, 1866, Hermon MacNeil completed his first design or sculpture at the young age of 11. From then on, he would learn a number of artistic skills and eventually, would be accepted to teach drawing at Sibley College at Cornell University. In an attempt to further his education and training, MacNeil would take a trip abroad after taking leave of his teaching position. Told that he should learn the French language, MacNeil started attending the Julienne Art School in Paris, France and would learn under his main professor and sculptor, Henri Scrapu.

While winning a number of awards at the school, MacNeil made his way back home to the United States where Augustus Saint-Gaudens had made quite a name for himself. It was under Philip Martiny, another sculptor, that MacNeil would find himself working for doing professional work. In 1894, Hermon MacNeil would finally have his first studio in Chicago, Illinois, alongside being asked to teach in the evenings at the School of Art Institute at Chicago. Through work experience and travel, MacNeil’s best-known works when all said and done include but are not limited to:

  • 4 bas-reliefs for the Marquette Building in Chicago (1890-1895)
  • Pedimental decorations for Anthropological Building at Pan-American Exposition at Buffalo (1901)
  • Gold Medal struck in celebration of the Buffalo Exposition
  • McKinley Memorial, portrait statue, Columbus, OH (1900-1905)
  • United States Quarter, 1916, Standing Liberty Quarter
  • General George Rodgers Clark, portrait statue for temple in Vincennes, IN
  • Statue of General George Washington for Washington Arch in New York City (1918)
  • Bas-relief frieze done for Missouri State Capitol (the 1920s)

MacNeil’s career would be highlighted from the 1890s all the way into the early 1940s. He would do works for buildings at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, the Paris Exposition in 1900, the Pan American Exposition in Buffalo in 1901, and the Panama Pacific Exposition in San Francisco in 1915. He specialized in American Indian and pioneer citizens for memorials and public buildings throughout the United States.

The Standing Liberty Quarter Design

With the less than successful Barber coinage on its way out, the order of the Standing Liberty Quarter was put into place by then President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt. He was unimpressed with the Barber quarter and decided that it did not meet artistic expectations. There were many artists and designers that submitted a new look for the quarter and Hermon MacNeil was ultimately the chosen designer.

MacNeil’s design on the obverse was representative of Greek and Roman architecture which epitomized MacNeil’s background in design. It embodied a measure that was taken to awaken the interest in the country and its own protection. The reverse of MacNeil’s design captured the rare beauty that is an American Bald Eagle taking flight.

The Design Requested By Law

The law that was put into place to redesign the quarter had its share of stipulations, much like any United States minted coin. The obverse was to have the word “Liberty” in congruence with the representation of Liberty. As it is known now, the Standing Liberty Quarter depicts a full-length figure of Lady Liberty with her head turned towards the left while stepping forward. In the design, she is shown moving forward through a gateway that represented the country and the wall behind her reads “In God We Trust”. Her left arm has risen as it bears the shield for the symbolization of protection. Her right hand holds the olive branch of peace while the area above her reads “Liberty.”

That same law made it mandatory for the representation of an American Bald Eagle to be on the reverse. That same reverse also depicted the inscribed words “United States of America”, “E. Pluribus Unum”, and “Quarter Dollar”. The described inscriptions are also connected together along the outer edge of the coin by the 13 stars that represent the original 13 colonies.

With Great Coins Come Great Controversy

A lot of great coins in history have been asked to be redesigned because of the public’s reaction to them. The design of the Standing Liberty Quarter was no different. With as many times as a woman has appeared on a coin design, one would think that the acceptance of women as liberated beings would not be hard to accomplish. This was proven to be false as the design was thought to be obscene. This was never the intent of MacNeil in the initial stages of the design and the final selection committee for the submitted ideas. While women were still thought of as the “protected species” among men, the thought of her bare breast being on the coin was shocking to the public. With this controversy eventually came a redesign when the first design was discontinued in 1917. The design would ultimately feature Lady Liberty with a suit of armor covering her body underneath her robe.

The coin series would be produced from 1916-1930.

Source: Standing Liberty Quarters (Revised) by J.H. Cline;