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1930s & Earlier / 1916 Booby Quarter
By the 1910s the Art Nouveau movement was influencing the designs of American coinage. In 1916 designer Hermon McNeil created what he thought was an attractive portrait of Lady Liberty for the new silver 25-cent piece. No red flags were raised as the design received official approval for mintage in late 1916 for distribution in January 1917. Instead of winning applause, however, the coin caused outrage because the Standing Liberty figure (as it is known to collectors) has her right breast exposed. Moralists decried the image as obscene and decadent. The public's response was so swift and negative that the Treasury Department modified the die for future strikes to cover the exposed breast with armor--even doing so without the official approval of Congress. Furthermore, the federal government did its best to recall the original allotment of 52,000 coins. That was easier said than done. First, any new coin is largely hoarded by collectors for its novelty. Second, the small mintage of these coins enhanced their desirability among collectors. Third, the infamy attached to this coin made it even more collectible than usual. Therefore most of the 1916 "booby quarters" did not stay in circulation very long before they were stashed away by average citizens as curiosity pieces (and perhaps erotic souvenirs). According to the Treasury Department, however, the public's moral outrage had nothing to do with the more modest revised design. It was supposedly symbolic. With war clouds looming, it was thought that Lady Liberty should be shown as fully protected by armor rather than being seen as partially exposed and vulnerable.