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What does Robert Woolley have to do with the American Silver Eagle?

Robert woolley

Robert W. Woolley did a great service to the American Silver Eagle when he took over as Mint director in 1915. He misinterpreted mint law [1]. He was of the belief that coin designs need to be updated every 25 years, by law. This gave us the most beautiful ‘Walking Liberty’ design for the Silver Eagle.

American Silver Eagle’s design and history

One of the reasons the American Silver Eagle is popular is its modern design steeped in history. It has the ‘Walking Liberty’, on the obverse and the ‘Heraldic Eagle’ with shield and 13 five-pointed stars, on the reverse [2].

When Robert W. Woolley, came into office, he initiated a redesign of the dime, the quarter and the half dollars. The designs by the Mint engravers, Charles E. Barber and George T. Morgan were considered old fashioned and not up to scratch.

A ‘coin design’ competition, a novel idea for that time, was launched. Adolph A. Weinman’s designs won and were used for the dime and the half dollar [3]. Weinman created a revolution of sorts when he designed something fresh and different, miles apart from the conventional ‘bust’ coins that were the norm then. The design was radically different from the earlier ‘Seated Liberty’ [4] by Barber which was scoffed as “….poor, commonplace, tasteless, characterless, and the execution is like thereunto” by the ‘The Galaxy’ (1876).

Weinman portrayed a glorious Lady Liberty walking towards the rising sun, carrying branches of laurel and oak, symbolizing civil and military glory. The hand of the figure was outstretched in bestowal of the spirit of liberty [3]. Art historian Cornelius Vermeule considered this original ‘half dollar’ by Weinman one of the most beautiful U.S. coins.

With so much history behind it and its iconic image in public minds, the ‘Walking Liberty’ design was revived much later for the Silver dollar. The reverse of the American Silver Eagle designed by the twelfth Chief Engraver of the U.S. mint, John M. Mercanti in 1986, depicted the heraldic eagle with 13 five-pointed stars symbolizing the first 13 colonies.

The American Silver Eagle has been minted every year from 1986 in the bullion version and the uncirculated and proof versions. As per the U.S. mint’s sales figures, 44 million Silver Eagles were sold in 2014, 2 million more than 2013. And it has crossed the 32 million figure as we write this post (Sep’2015) [5].

The Silver Eagle has enjoyed great popularity owing to its beautiful design (Thanks to Woolley!), for its connection to history, easy accessibility and affordability. It has been a coin true to every single American. From the avid collector to the investor to the historian and the common man. True Liberty!
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[1] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liberty_dime#Release_and_production.3B_name_controversy

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Silver_Eagle

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walking_Liberty_half_dollar

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Seated_Liberty_coinage

[5] http://www.usmint.gov/about_the_mint/index.cfm?action=PreciousMetals&type=bullion

One thought on “What does Robert Woolley have to do with the American Silver Eagle?”

  • Raul

    What are the best coins to buy for bullion value only and what are the best plcaes to get them? What are some legitimate companies for purchasing bullion including Chinese companies?Thanks!

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