Tonight's guest of honor is the only commemorative quarter-dollar of the classic commemorative series, the 1893 Queen Isabella issued in conjunction with the World's Columbian Exposition held in Chicago. The coin is represented by an example in PCGS
The Isabella quarter-dollar was sponsored by the Exposition's Board of Lady Managers. It was one of the many efforts by Susan B. Anthony to promote women and help ensure that women were seen as having significant responsibilities within the Exposition -- it was not simply a "men's club." The Board insisted on a female theme for the coin, and was actively involved in the coin's design. Mrs. Potter Palmer, president of the Board of Lady Managers, served a lead role in the coin's development. Read More: Commems Collection
The coin we are all familiar with is the work of Charles Barber
. Its obverse features a left-facing, crowned portrait of Isabella, Queen of Castile and León, while the reverse features "a kneeling female figure with a distaff in hand in the act of winding flax; with suitable inscription. The distaff is used in art to symbolize patient industry, and especially the industry of women." (From a letter from the Mint to the Board of Lady Managers.)
The story of the design of the Isabella quarter-dollar is one of several twists and turns and possibly one of misattribution. Contemporary accounts suggest that Kenyon Cox was commissioned by the Board to design the coin, and that he provided design sketches to Barber for modeling. At the time of the Exposition, this was not refuted. In the 1960s, however, Cox's son made a statement indicating that his father was not at all involved with the coin's final designs. I believe it's hard to say one way or the other, as no sketches attributed to Cox are to be found in Mint records (but Mint records are not complete).
At the same time, it is known that the Board of Lady Managers worked with Caroline Peddle on the coin's design. Her initial sketches showed a full, front-facing, seated portrait of Isabella on the obverse and a lengthy commemorative inscription on the reverse; the wording was proposed by Mrs. Potter Palmer. Charles Barber
, however, was not in favor of outside artists being used to design and model US coins
. So, something of a "battle" ensued in which Barber began by criticizing Miss Peddle's designs and recommended instead a bust portrait vs. figure portrait for the obverse. He also successfully pushed to take control of the design for the coin's reverse. Miss Peddle then threatened to discontinue her work on the coin and went so far as to send a letter to the Lady Managers indicating that she had decided to decline working on the coin.
She was, however, eventually convinced to send in her completed model for the redesigned, bust portrait for the coin's obverse. Though it is generally believed that the portrait seen on the coin is the work of Barber, the lack of definitive records stating such allows for the possibility that Peddle's obverse model may have actually been used.
As an alternate to the initially proposed reverse inscriptions, the Lady Managers suggested depicting the Woman's Building that was part of the Exposition. Barber objected to this idea as well, arguing that it was unsuitable for a coin as small as a quarter-dollar. (I wonder what he would have thought about some of the Statehood Quarter
designs!) He prepared several heraldic eagle designs for the reverse, but none were selected for use. After several additional design exchanges between the Board and the Mint, Barber ultimately arrived at the designs seen on the coins.
The Mint at Philadelphia struck 40,000 Isabella quarter-dollars - $10,000 worth - to fulfill part of the overall funds assigned to the Board of Lady Managers by the Appropriations Committee of the House of Representatives. Unfortunately, sales of the coins did not meet expectations, and almost 16,000 of the coins were ultimately returned to the Mint for melting.
The coin shown is a lustrous white example in MS-64. I've been looking for an upgrade to the piece, but haven't found one that surpasses this one in eye appeal (at least to my eye!). I've been able to examine quite a few with a higher technical grade (i.e., a few less marks), but I haven't yet seen one that I liked better in terms of overall eye appeal. Someday...
Also shown is a medal issued by the Board of Lady Managers for the Exposition. The obverse of the piece presents a portrait of the Board's President -- Mrs. Potter Palmer; the simple reverse design is primarily inscriptions. It's a neat little tie-in to the group that sponsored the quarter-dollar and the woman who actively saw it through.
Enjoy!1893 Isabella Quarter-Dollar -- Obverse1893 Isabella Quarter-Dollar -- Reverse1893 Board of Lady Managers Medal -- Obverse1893 Board of Lady Managers Medal -- Reverse