Background and History
The 1916 Standing Liberty Quarter is an important key date coin, with its rarity resulting from both the extremely limited mintage and the circumstances of its release. Representing the first year of issue for the new series designed by Hermon A. MacNeil, the entire mintage of just 52,000 pieces was released into circulation with little notice given to the change in design. By the time the rarity of the issue was realized, very few pieces had been saved and the coin was extremely scarce in uncirculated condition. This served to create one of the rarest and most desirable key date coins of the 20th century.
The 25-cent coin, or Quarter Dollar, was one of three silver denominations that received new designs in 1916, replacing the previous designs by Charles Barber in use since 1892. In fact, since no silver dollars had been struck since 1904, and would not be struck until 1921, all silver coinage at the time would future a new design. The designers of the new coins were chosen through a competition, which was relatively unheard of at the time. The quarter denomination would be designed by Hermon MacNeil, while the dime and half dollar would be designed by Adolph Weinman.
It took most of 1916 for MacNeil to complete his work on the new design, and various sketches of his ideas are known along with a very limited number of struck patterns. The obverse design would would feature a woman representing Liberty, stepping forward from an opening in a gate, as per MacNeil’s words “to the gateway of the country.” The reverse would feature an eagle in flight, perhaps inspired by the Gobrecht Dollars of the 1830’s. Other features included an olive branch and a shield on the obverse and a pattern of stars on the reverse.
The obverse also had a feature which would be criticized, perhaps, or at least publicly known in later decades. This was the partly exposed breast of Liberty, unseen on any previous American coinage design, and according to many sources the reason why MacNeil modified both sides of the design in 1917, creating a completely different type of the Standing Liberty Quarter. Modern research in documentation of the period, however, shows that MacNeil was not satisfied with his work in the first place, and wanted to adjust the design to his tastes.
Production of the original design would commence in the final weeks of 1916. By this time, it was too late to ship the 1916-dated dies to the branch mints and too late to strike a reasonable number of quarters at the Philadelphia Mint. Nonetheless, limited production of the new design would take place and perhaps without realizing it, the Mint would create a rarity which would later find much demand from collectors.
During the last two weeks of the year, a total of 52,000 1916-dated Standing Liberty Quarters were struck by the United States Mint in Philadelphia. No Proofs were minted, and in fact, no Proofs of this design were ever sold to collectors. It seems that not much news coverage was devoted to the change in design at first (this would later follow in various newspapers, when the design was carefully studied, and the exposed breast was discovered) and the coins quietly entered circulation. Soon, 1916 had passed into 1917, and the obverse dies were replaced to reflect the new date.
Around this time, many individuals had taken up the habit of setting aside examples from the first year of production for a new series. In this instance, it is generally assumed that the public set aside 1917-dated coins of the same Type I design, while the 1916-dated coins circulated freely. This was the result of the lack of attention given to the change in design upon its initial limited release.
When coin collecting became more popular in the following decades and the awareness of the rarity of the 1916 Standing Liberty Quarter increased, people began looking in their pocket change for examples of this rare issue. By this time, most were in circulated condition and only a handful of examples had been lucky enough to escape such a fate. The lower survival rate particularly for uncirculated examples has helped enhance the rarity of this key date and solidify its importance within American numismatics.
Finest Known and Values
It is often the case that for the first year of issue of a new series a number of examples are saved as souvenirs, but this does not appear to be the case with the 1916 Standing Liberty Quarter, which were initially released mostly unnoticed. Luckily enough, a reasonable number of examples were soon retracted from circulation, or did not circulate at all, allowing some uncirculated and about uncirculated specimens to have survived. Most of these, however, show multiple bagmarks and are somewhat weakly struck, making MS-65 or finer specimens with a fully struck head (FH) true rarities within the series.
The finest example that has been graded by either PCGS or NGC is a single MS-67FH+ specimen, which stands out above three others, graded MS-67FH. Ten pieces have been graded as MS-66FH, while only seven MS-66s have been graded without the Full Head designation. In gem condition (being MS-65) 24 MS-65’s have been graded and 69 MS-65FH’s. Especially the latter number appears to be heavily influenced by resubmissions, as gems, either with or without the Full Head designation are infrequently offered at public auction. NGC has graded 3 MS-67FH examples, those also amongst the finest known.
Eye-appeal is very important when determining the value of 1916 Standing Liberty Quarters. Nicely toned examples, in any grade, usually sell for a premium. The highest price paid for a coin of this issue was $149,500 for a PCGS MS-67FH. Another auction result which stands out for a coin of this issue is one in the same grade and holder, which sold for $ 143,750. Other auction results for NGC coins in the same grades are $97,750 in 2006 and $ 74,750 in 2007. The highest price realized for a certified example without the Full Head designation was for a NGC MS-67 which sold for $ 40,250 in 2006.
Because of the low mintage of this issue and high demand, even heavily circulated examples sell for at least a few thousand dollars, with the price increasingly sharply for moderately circulated coins. Most of the lower grade coins only have a partial date, with some coins only having part of the 6 visible. A circulated coin with a full date in Very Fine condition sells easily for $ 8,500 at the minimum, while Extremely Fine coins with original surfaces usually selling for a few thousand dollars more.