Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Scandal? What Scandal?

I've been hearing rumors of a possibly scandalous coins with Miss Liberty exposed.

When I began collecting coins back in the 1960s, I tried to read everything I could get my hands on and learn as much as possible. I was definitely bitten by the “coin collecting bug” and wanted to know everything I could.

One design I always liked was the design of the Standing Liberty Quarters. There was an allegorical representation of Lady Liberty on the obverse and an eagle on the reverse. But there were two versions of designs that were made for the obverse. The one used in 1916 and in early 1917 displayed Miss Liberty with one exposed breast while the second version had her completely covered, not in flowing robes as she wore in the first design, but instead covered in chainmail armor – quite the major difference.

As a young collector, I learned the public was so outraged by this shocking nudity that they requested – no, demanded –the U.S. Mint immediately protect Miss Liberty’s appearance and cover her up. It was a story I read over and over again and simply accepted it as fact! For many years, as I collected and then later dealt in coins, I heard and read that story many times over.

But thanks to Bob Van Ryzin, editor of Coins Magazine, the myth of the scandal has started to disappear. In an article in the February 9, 2017 issue of the Smithsonian magazine, Van Ryzin was quoted speaking “heresy.”

Van Ryzin says he grew up believing the Liberty legend as a young collector. When he began writing about coins professionally, he could find little evidence that large numbers of Americans were incensed by a 25-cent piece—or that their complaints were the reason the mint altered the coin.

“I don’t know who started it,” he says of the long-accepted story. “But I suspect it was easy for people to believe such a thing.” In other words, it made sense to modern Americans that their 1917 counterparts were so prudish they could be shocked by their pocket change.

But that was not the case. The coin design was changed for several other reasons. In 1917, the United States entered World War I and a chainmail-clad Miss Liberty showed her more properly attired for war. The Type I coins also didn’t stack as well as the Barber Quarters did and there were verifiable complaints from many bankers and merchants.

While the “outraged public” story still flourishes, it is less believable today than it was during my youth. This is another scandal that really wasn’t!

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