Monday, March 19, 2007

My Country Tis of Thee...

An interesting look back on attitudes toward the depiction of nudity in the early 1900s...

The Bare-Breasted Liberty Quarter - 1916 & 1917 Standing Liberty Type (EXCERPT)

By Susan Headley in

World War I was raging in Europe, and at home industrial technology continued to advance at breakneck pace. A style of artistic construction called Art Nouveau, characterized by elegant, flowing lines, and new freedoms of expression, reached its peak of popularity in America, as the musty old conservative ethic of the long Victorian Era finally breathed its last gasps. Surely placing a topless Miss Liberty on our coinage would be okay; we're an enlightened nation, right?

A competition was held, and several top sculptors were invited to submit designs to be considered for use on the coinage. The design selected for the quarter dollar was Hermon A. MacNeil's, which depicts Miss Liberty standing between two large pedestals, holding an olive branch in her right hand, and a shield in her left. She wears a flowing garment that slips off her right shoulder to expose her breast.

The dies for the 1916 Standing Liberty Quarter were ready for production by July of 1916. But production didn't begin until the last half of December that same year.

The 1916 production run of Standing Liberty Quarters consisted of 52,000 pieces, all of which were produced at the Philadelphia facility, and all of which left the mint by December 29, 1916. This small mintage made its way through the Treasury distribution system in early January of 1917, and awaited release into circulation. In the meantime, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Denver began striking the 1917 Standing Liberty Quarters, and sent them out for distribution as well.

On January 17 of 1917, the bare-breasted Standing Liberty Quarter finally entered circulation, and the outcry was immediate and loud. Religious leaders used words like "obscene" and "filthy" to describe the visage of our beautiful Miss Liberty with her breast exposed. Citizens' groups rallied their memberships to lobby Congress to have the disgusting coin recalled.

Congress had little choice but to submit to the clamor. The bare-breasted Liberty Quarters began disappearing from circulation. MacNeil was obliged to modify his design. Miss Liberty would need to be properly covered, according to the citizens of our enlightened nation. It is easy to imagine that MacNeil might have been a little resentful about the modification chore he had to undertake. Rather than simply rearrange the drapery on Liberty's shoulder to cover the offending breast, he crafted a suit of armor instead, and chastely clothed Miss Liberty nearly to the neck in chain mail.

The Three Types of Standing Liberty Quarters: The Standing Liberty Quarter needed a third design change starting in 1925 because the date was wearing off too quickly. The design was re-cut so that the date was recessed, rather than raised. A summary of the Standing Liberty Quarter types:

Type I - Liberty's breast exposed (1916-1917)

Type II - Liberty clothed, 3 stars below eagle on reverse (1917-1924)

Type III - Same as II, but date is recessed (1925-1930)

Source: http://coins. od/famousrarecoi nprofiles/ p/breastedlibert y.htm



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