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1916 Standing Liberty Quarter – Bronze Cast by Hermon MacNeil

Reprinted with permission from the Stack’s Minot Collection Catelog, Lot 1378 & 9 – May 21, 2008

Photos and descriptions used with permission and courtesy of Stacks

Hermon MacNeil’s approved obverse design for the 1916 Standing Liberty Quarter. Possibly unique bronze cast intended for preparation of dies, September 1916.

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 TRUST draped across Miss Liberty, to 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 TRUST 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 (lot 1379) were rescued in a similar manner. It was not until 2001 that the present consignor 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.

Description

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 TRUST. 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.

Diameter of cast: 6 inches (157 millimeters) by 5-5/16 inches (150 millimeters), irregular.
Diameter of design: 5-1/8 inches (130 millimeters)
Thickness: Approximately 4 millimeters at greatest point.
Weight: 358.64 grams

Photos and descriptions used with permission and courtesy of Stacks

Hermon MacNeil’s alternate reverse design for the 1917 Standing Liberty quarter (Type II). Possibly unique bronze cast intended for preparation of dies, February 1917.

This magnificent metal cast is the product of another of the Mint Bureau’s failures to deal forthrightly with sculptor Hermon MacNeil. In October 1916 MacNeil offered to help finalize the quarter designs, but the mint decided “…it was deemed inexpedient to authorize Mr. MacNeil to come to Philadelphia.” As with the dolphin-laurel leaf obverse (lot 1378) the mint engravers had scrapped the sculptor’s original reverse design, replacing the two olive branches in front and behind the eagle, with a total of 13 small stars. The flying eagle remained low on the coin as if it were just rising skyward. This mint concoction was used on both 1916 and 1917 Type I quarters.

As 1917 opened mint director von Engelken was eager to release the newly designed quarters. A small quantity of coins dated 1916 had been struck to mark the official release year, but a revised, more detailed obverse created by the mint’s engraving department graced the 1917 coins. On the day the new quarters were to be released, von Engelken got a worried telephone call from the Philadelphia Mint. Sculptor Hermon MacNeil, the coin’s designer, had stopped in, looked at many of the pattern quarters that had been made, and left in an agitated frame of mind.

The reason for MacNeil’s distress was that, not only had the approved obverse been changed, but so had the reverse. The original reverse design had a flying eagle flanked by two branches of olive – a symbol of peace.

It took nearly a week of negotiation and intervention by the Commission of Fine Arts, but MacNeil was allowed to make revisions to his design. This resulted in the Type II quarter design. For the reverse, the artist liked the stars on the mint’s version and experimented with various arrangements. On January 26 he wrote, “I have three arrangements of the same elements now instead of only one of which I am confident is a great improvement”

A week later he noted,

I met the Director of the Mint here in New York and showed several new arrangements which I had made for the reverse of the quarter and out of them selected one for trial… the only visible change on this reverse is the taking of three stars from the top and placing them underneath the bird, the lettering to be in the same place as the 1st original design. The whole look of the design I am sure will be greatly improved by this slight change and the restoring of the lettering as first designed.

This design, as cast in bronze for MacNeil, is one of the alternatives. It is remarkably like the adopted version except in the placement of three stars. Here, they are located one in front and two behind the eagle. On the adopted design all three are placed below the eagle.

Rarity and Condition

As with the 1916 obverse, above, rarity is meaningless when applied to this wonderful piece. This is the only known cast example of any of MacNeil’s reverse designs, and although it does not have the artist’s initial or monogram, it is unquestionably original.

Like its companion, the 1916 obverse, this piece is in virtually perfect condition with deep golden yellow coloration on the face and just a few small flecks of discoloration here and there.

Description

This is a bronze bas-relief cast apparently made from Hermon MacNeil’s alternate reverse model for the revised 1917 Standing Liberty quarter (Type II).

Diameter of cast: 6-3/16 inches (158 millimeters) by 6-3/16 inches (158 millimeters), irregular.
Diameter of design: 5-1/4 inches (133 millimeters)
Thickness: Approximately 4 millimeters at greatest point.
Weight: 424.0 grams

Sources and additional information:

Burdette, Roger W. Renaissance of American Coinage 1916-1921. Seneca Mill Press. 2005. pp.48-50, 75-84, 113.

Cline, J.H. Standing Liberty Quarters. Fourth edition, Zyrus Press. 2007. p.32, illus.

Gilkes, Paul. “Casting About For Answers.” Coin World, June 14, 2004.

www.USpatterns.com website.

Thanks to researcher Roger W. Burdette for his guest cataloguing of this and the following lot.

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