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History of the Standing Liberty Quarter

Standing Liberty Quarters

The United States Mint began producing coinage in 1792, issuing numerous denominations and a variety of designs over the years. It was nearly 100 years, however, before there was any regulation as to how often designs changes occurred.

The Coinage Act of 1890 prohibited the mint from changing a coin’s design unless the design had been used for at least 25 years (though Congress could approve changes before that time period was reached). Previously, changes to designs could occur at any point and sometimes even changed after being in use for as little as a month.

In 1916, the mint determined a new coin design was needed to replace the popular Barber design. At that point, the design had been in circulation for 24 years and U.S. Mint officials incorrectly interpreted the 1890 law as requiring a design change every 25 years, rather than permitting it. And thus, the Standing Liberty design was introduced.

Designed by Hermon A. MacNeil, the Standing Liberty is representative of the artistic vigor of the early 20th century. Lady Liberty is standing in the opening of a wall or parapet, wearing a flowing gown, holding a shield and olive branch, to simultaneously symbolize protection and peace.

The first subtype of this coin has drapery across Liberty’s body exposing her right breast, which caused public disapproval for the design. The 1896 Silver Certificate had a similar display of partial nudity, reportedly causing consternation and disapproval from various groups, resulting in some bankers refusing to handle the notes. The mint’s official explanation was, “the recently adopted design for the quarter dollar has been modified slightly for the purpose of increasing its artistic merit.”

Approximately halfway through 1917, a second design was introduced to cover Liberty’s upper body with a coat of chainmail, remaining through the end of the series, though there were two slight variations as in 1925, the date, located just below Liberty’s foot, was recessed to protect it from premature wear. For quarters minted in Denver or San Francisco, the mintmark is located to the right of the bottom star in the left column.

The reverse shows an eagle in flight, wings outstretched. On Type 1 examples, there are seven stars on the left and six stars on the right, with no stars below the eagle. Type 2 examples have five stars on the left, five stars on the right and three stars below. The eagle is also slightly higher within the design.

Because of the design differences, ANA’s grading guide lists separate criteria for Type 1 and Type 2 coins. There are slight variances in grading Type 1 and Type 2 quarters, but there are more similarities than differences. The most prized Standing Liberty quarter dollars are those that have a “full head” or FH. The criteria for having a full head on Type 1 designs is having a “complete definite raised line of hairline separation from the forehead, cheekbone and throat areas. The design must be continuous, even though the border line may not.” The criteria for having a full head on Type 2 designs is “the three leaves must be complete down to their connecting point, the ear hole must be visible, and there must be a complete, unbroken hair line from the forehead to the jaw area and around under the ear hole to its termination at the back of the neck.”

The Standing Liberty is one of the most iconic, and perhaps somewhat controversial, designs of American coinage. Shop Standing Liberty Quarters, from bags or rolls to PCGS or NGC certified coins, now at APMEX!

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