An 1890 Act of Congress mandated that the design of circulating coins ought not to be changed until that design had been in circulation for at least 25 years. The “Barber coinage” – dimes, quarters, and half dollars designed by the Mint’s longtime Chief Engraver, Charles Barber – was introduced for 1892. This meant that, per the 1890 law, the earliest the Barber coinage designs could be replaced would be 1916 (the twenty-fifth year). Almost all other American coinage was redesigned in the ensuing years, during the second term of Teddy Roosevelt’s administration and the Taft administration: gold coins in 1907-1908, the cent in 1909, and the nickel in 1913.
In April 1915, Robert W. Woolley became the new Director of the US Mint. He seems to have misinterpreted the wording of the 1890 law and believed that new designs were required after 25 years, not just permitted. Woolley asked Chief Engraver Barber – still in office after 36 years – to prepare designs. No further action was taken until later in the year, as the Mint was busy with the Panama-Pacific commemorative coins. In December, Woolley presented Barber’s designs to the Commission of Fine Arts, which was then tasked with advising on the design of American coinage. The Commission disliked Barber’s designs and the design process was opened up.
Three sculptors – Adolph Weiman, Hermon MacNeil, and Albin Polasek – were asked to submit designs for the three coins in question. Initially, Weiman’s designs were selected for both sides of the dime and half-dollar and the reverse side of the quarter. MacNeil’s design was selected for the obverse of the quarter. After concerns were raised about Weiman being in charge of so much, it was decided that MacNeil would design both sides of the new quarter.
MacNeil actually submitted two obverse designs for the quarter. Both were strongly influenced by the geopolitical situation at the time: World War I was raging in Europe, but America had not yet joined the fight. MacNeil’s accepted design shows a standing figure of Liberty, which is the source of the design’s popular name. She faces east, towards the war, carrying an olive branch. MacNeil reportedly used American silent film actress Doris Doscher as his model for Liberty. The reverse bears an eagle flying from left to right.
Barber was understandably upset with his designs being replaced and was unhelpful in bringing them to fruition. The Mint made significant modifications to MacNeil’s original design, and when MacNeil received production versions of his design in January 1917, he was appalled. MacNeil eventually received permission to revise the design himself, resulting in Type 1 and Type 2 variations for 1917-dated coins. The design wore out quickly in circulation and was further revised for 1925. As a result, many early dates are more expensive in uncirculated grades, even though the overall mintage figures for those years are high compared with post-1925 dates.
No Standing Liberty quarters were struck after 1930. The Great Depression reduced demand for quarters and none were struck for 1931; the Washington quarter was introduced in 1932.