Adolph Weinman and His Numismatic Legacy

Adolph Weinman's numismatic legacy cannot be understated. His designs were and continue to be some of the most recognizable and prized among collectors, such as the obverse of the beloved American Silver Eagle, and both faces of the recently debuted American Palladium Eagle series, which is getting its first uncirculated issue in September 2020.

Adolph Weinman’s numismatic legacy cannot be understated. His designs were and continue to be some of the most recognizable and prized among collectors, such as the obverse of the beloved American Silver Eagle, and both faces of the recently debuted American Palladium Eagle series, which is getting its first uncirculated issue in September 2020.

Adolph Alexander Weinman was a noted American architectural sculptor, coin designer, and medalist. He was born in Germany in 1870 and came to the United States after his father’s death in 1880. Weinman arrived in the United States at the age of 14.

In his teens he started to exhibit an aptitude for art. He studied at Cooper Union, at the Art Students League of New York and elsewhere. His teachers, mentors, and employers included a veritable who’s who of prominent artists and sculptors of the day, including Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Daniel Chester French, Olin Warner, Philip Martiny, and Charles Niehaus. In 1904, Weinman opened his own art studio. He produced works in a neo-classical style like his famous bronze “Descending Night” a graceful female angel, originally commissioned for the 1915 San Francisco Pan-Pac Exposition.

Weinman was a member of various arts organizations including the National Sculpture Society, the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, the National Academy of Design, and the New York City Art Commission in addition to others.

He thought of himself as primarily an architectural sculptor. His statuary was included in prominent municipal, state, and Federal governmental and commercial buildings all over the Eastern United States. He had a longstanding relationship with the architectural firm McKim, Mead, and White as their sculptor of choice.

Despite his objections, Weinman is most recognized today as the designer of the Walking Liberty Half Dollar and the Winged Liberty Head Dime. He regarded these as minor works according to his son, sculptor Robert Weinman. Other Numismatic and related works included several bronze commemorative medals struck by the U.S. Mint along with various medals and decorations for the American military.

He became an American citizen in 1898 and died in 1952.

Released as the final part of the great coinage redesign envisioned by President Theodore Roosevelt and begun by Weinman’s teacher and mentor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, the Walking Liberty Half Dollar was, and is, hailed as the most beautiful coin struck in silver by the U.S. Mint. It circulated from 1916-1947 when it was replaced by the Franklin Half.

The obverse of the coin depicts Lady Liberty walking over the rocky terrain of the American Landscape. Behind her, the sun rises. She is surrounded by the folds of the Stars and Stripes as she carries oak and laurel branches. The central image of Liberty owes some inspiration to Oscar Roty’s “Sower” design, long used on French coinage.

The reverse of the coin features an American Bald Eagle getting ready to take flight. This image is similar to a design used on Weinman’s medal for the American Institute of Architects, with some minor changes.

Key Dates in the series include 1921, 1921-D, 1921-S, 1938-D, and the 1936 Proof. The coins from 1921 all have low mintages, in part, due to the Pittman Act which required the minting of massive amounts of Morgan Silver Dollars and for the last week of 1921, the initial issue of the Peace Dollar, in high relief. The 1938-D also has a low mintage, which was unusual for the series at that time. The 1936 Proof strike has the lowest mintage from the 1936-1942 proofs.

The Winged Liberty Head or Mercury Dime occupies a space in American Numismatics that only a handful of other series can match. Its popularity rivals that of the Morgan Dollar, the Buffalo Nickel, and the Lincoln Cent. It too was released in 1916 as part of the final batch of issues associated with the coinage redesign started by President Teddy Roosevelt. It was struck from 1916 until 1945 when it was replaced by the long-running Roosevelt Dime.

The obverse featured the left-facing profile of Lady Liberty. She is shown wearing a Phrygian or “Freedom” Cap that features wings on the side. These wings symbolize freedom of thought. This headgear has famously led to the willful confusion between the Roman Messenger of the Gods, Mercury, who is depicted wearing a winged cap and shoes, and this depiction of Liberty. Elsie Stevens, wife of famous American poet Wallace Stevens was the model for this portrait.  

The central image on the reverse of the coin is a fasces, an axe with a handle comprised of rods that have been tied together. The fasces have origins going back to the pre-Roman Etruscan civilization and this contributes to the “Mercury” attribution. In this depiction, the fasces connote strength in unity. It is intertwined with a large olive branch which symbolizes Peace.

Connoisseurs of the series desire “Full Split Bands” on the bands that hold the fasces together, as this is evidence of well-struck examples and early die states. The Key Dates of the series are the elusive 1916-D with the lowest mintage and the scarce 1921 and 1921-D. These 1921 dimes were also impacted by the Pittman Act and the massive production of silver dollars that year. Other popular issues in the series include the 1942/1 overdate die variety and the surviving 1945 Philadelphia struck dimes with full bands.

The American Silver Eagle is one of the most popular silver coins ever to be struck. The series uses the Walking Liberty obverse designed by Adolph Weinman. In part, due to this series, the design has become one of the most appreciated images in modern American coin collecting.

The series has several notable popular and lower mintage issues which include the tough 1995-P Proof. The series was first struck in 1986 and continues to be struck today on 1 oz. .999 pure silver planchets in three distinct finishes: the standard bullion issue, the proof finish, and the uncirculated or “burnished” finish.

The 100th Anniversary of the issue of the Mercury Dime, the Walking Liberty Half Dollar, and Hermon McNeil’s Standing Liberty Quarter occurred in 2016. The US Mint celebrated the popularity of these magnificent designs by issuing a long-anticipated Centennial Gold commemorative series. This included the Weinman-designed Mercury Dime, issued as a 1/10 oz .9999 fine gold coin, the Weinman-designed Walking Liberty Half in a ½ oz. .9999 fine gold coin and the McNeil designed ¼ oz. .9999 fine gold coin. All the issues were faithful reproductions of the original designs, with the added West Point “W” mint mark and gold purity notations. The coins were and continue to be popular with collectors.

2017 saw the introduction to the American Eagle Palladium series. In the first year, it was struck in a standard bullion finish and featured a limited mintage. In 2018 it was struck in a similarly limited proof finish. The coin is popular with collectors due to the historic design rendered in high relief and the scarcity of palladium coin issues all over the world. The series has seen premiums skyrocket in the secondary market.

In early September of 2019, the U.S Mint issued the next first in the series when they released the first-ever reverse proof American Palladium Eagle.  

On September 24th, 2020, the United States Mint is releasing an Uncirculated finish American Palladium Eagle. Just 10,000 of these Uncirculated coins will be issued which is the lowest mintage in the series to date.

The design of the American Palladium Eagle in all its variations was inspired by Adolph Weinman’s Mercury dime design. The obverse of the coins features a high relief design of Weinman’s famous “Winged Liberty design” as it appears on the dime. The reverse also features another Weinman-inspired design as adapted from a gold medal he engraved in 1907 for the American Institute of Architects. The reverse features a stylized eagle clutching a branch in its beak.  

To commemorate the lasting contributions of Weinman to the field of numismatics, ModernCoinMart is proud to be the home of an exclusive Numismatic Guarantee Corporation (NGC) label, honoring the prolific designer. Bearing a likeness of Weinman along with a facsimile of his signature, this stylish brown label is the perfect way to display your Weinman-inspired collection.

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