130 mm inner diameter, within an approximately 11 to 13 mm border, irregular. Approximately 4 mm thick at greatest point. 358.64 grams. On seeing this spectacular piece for the first time the reaction is, "Wow! So that's what a Standing Liberty quarter is supposed to look like!" But after a moment, the eye is drawn to two playful dolphins aside Liberty's feet, then to the motto IN GOD WE TRVST draped across Liberty, two sprigs of laurel and last, the missing olive branch. What kind of Standing Liberty quarter is this? The truth is this is what Hermon MacNeil had intended his new quarter to look like.
In May 1916 MacNeil submitted his first design models for the new quarter. This first obverse looked much like the regular quarters dated 1916 and familiar to collectors. But over the next weeks MacNeil became increasingly dissatisfied with his work. With changes in mind, MacNeil requested permission from Mint Director Robert Woolley to revise the obverse. The sculptor said he wanted:
"1. To bring the head of the figure a trifle lower so as not to appear to be holding up the rim of the coin.
2. To prevent the figure appearing 'bowlegged.'
3. To minimize the sagging of the covering of the shield by having it pulled up a little tighter.
I should also like to see the letters of the word Liberty slightly smaller."
Since Adolph Weinman, who was designing the new dime and half dollar, had already been given permission to change his original compositions, Woolley agreed.
During July and August 1916 Hermon MacNeil radically rearranged and modified the elements of his obverse design. Except for the names given to parts of the design, nearly everything was changed. The overall relief was made more pronounced, and drapery softened. Starting with the border, the original dot-dot-dash pattern was replaced with a cable or chain surrounding the central elements. The portal walls through which Liberty steps were plain -- unadorned with either motto or detail. On the upper step at the base of the wall are two dolphins, one on each side of Liberty's feet. The dolphins represent the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, much as they did on the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition gold dollar designed by Charles Keck or Robert Aitken's $50 gold piece. Above each dolphin's tail is a laurel branch symbolic of civil triumph; at the upper rim is the word LIBERTY in letters somewhat smaller and much sharper than on the first obverse.
The figure of Liberty differs completely from that on the first design, although she is still semi-nude. She now wears cross-laced sandals in the ancient Roman style and carries a shield embossed with an eagle. The shield covering is also more closely fit and less baggy. A long sash or ribbon engraved IN GOD WE TRVST connects the shield and her outstretched right hand ending near the laurel branch. There is no olive branch of peace, the whole new design being more militant and actively protective.
Treasury Secretary McAdoo approved the design on August 19, and asked MacNeil to provide a photograph showing the proposed location of the artist's monogram or initial. (This photo still exists.) This was done and the new mint director, F. J. H. von Engelken, replied on September 1:
"Placing of signature under head of dolphin on right of Quarter Dollar approved. You are at liberty to use either the letter 'M' alone, or that monogram of two letters."
MacNeil was asked to expedite delivery of bronze casts and these were scheduled for delivery on September 9. From this point forward the Mint should have made reductions and struck a few pattern pieces for von Engelken and others to examine. But from here to the end of the year official records are silent. No pattern coins are known. Do some exist, hidden in an old cigar box in Virginia or Tennessee?
One bronze cast reached the Philadelphia Mint. Another, the present example, must have remained in MacNeil's College Point, NY studio -- a backup in case the first one were lost or damaged.
Pedigree of this Cast
After Hermon MacNeil died, the contents of his studio were reportedly hauled to the dump. Some of his drawings and other items were salvaged by a neighbor, commercial illustrator John A. Coughlin. Mr. Coughlin is the source of the famous flying eagle drawings purchased by Eric P. Newman, and of MacNeil scrapbooks and letters now preserved in the Smithsonian Archives of American Art located in Washington, DC. It is possible this bronze cast and its companion (the reverse design offered below) were rescued in a similar manner. It was not until 2001 that the consignor to our May 2008 Minot Collection sale purchased these casts at a garage sale. They were bought mostly as curiosities although there was some thought they were connected to the Standing Liberty quarter design.
Rarity and Condition
"Rarity" is a weak term when applied to this beautiful 1916 cast by MacNeil. One copy probably is entombed in a basement vault at the Philadelphia Mint along with other casts, galvanos and models. Since first gaining national publicity in 2004, no one has come forward with anything similar. This historic piece is not only likely unique in any private collection, but it is one of only a very few original casts or galvanos of coin designs available to collectors. The piece is in virtually perfect condition, the main designs toned in pale gold and exhibiting a few small flecks of discoloration here and there. A small incuse mark (some sort of centering mark?) is noted at center of face near the folds of drapery.
This is a bronze bas-relief cast apparently made from Hermon MacNeil's approved model for the 1916 Standing Liberty quarter. It was plated with nickel or similar metal. Liberty is walking forward through a plain gate or portal. She holds a partially uncovered shield in her left hand; her right hand holds the end of a sash inscribed IN GOD WE TRVST. To left and right are branches of laurel, symbolic of triumph; below each is a dolphin symbolic of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. At the rim and encompassing all is a cable or chain design emphasizing unity and strength. The graceful figure is in medium relief with somewhat soft modeling to her gown. Lettering is in strong relief, somewhat smaller than on the previous design. Motto letters are incuse and thin on the sash connecting hand and shield. Shield has 13 stars exposed surrounding an eagle. Artist's initial (M) appears below the dolphin on the right.
Sources and additional information:
Burdette, Roger W. Renaissance of American Coinage 1916-1921. Seneca Mill Press. 2005.
Cline, J.H. Standing Liberty Quarters. Fourth edition, Zyrus Press. 2007.
Gilkes, Paul. “Casting About for Answers” Coin World, June 14, 2004.
Hermon Atkins MacNeil papers, #2425. Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library.
Hermon Atkins MacNeil papers, 1885-1947, Smithsonian, Archives of American Art, Microfilm reels 2726 and 2727.
National Sculpture Society, Exhibition of American Sculpture Catalogue, National Sculpture Society, NY 1923
From our (Stack's) Minot Collection sale, May 2008, lot 1378. Special thanks to Roger W. Burdette for his guest cataloging of this lot.