Weinman was a designer and sculptor who contributed a sizeable amount of work to the collective body of U.S. art. He is best known for his design of the Walking Liberty half dollar and the Mercury dime.
Adolph A. Weinman’s Early Life
Adolph A. Weinman was born Adolph Alexander Weinmann in 1870 in Durmersheim, a German town in the valley of the Rhine River along the French border. He moved to the United States with his mother when he was 14 to live with a relative in the grocery trade and later Anglicized his surname to Weinman.
When he was 15, Weinman’s talent for drawing and modeling with clay led him to a five-year apprenticeship with Frederick Kaldenberg, a legendary maker of smoking pipes in New York. Kaldenberg’s pipes featured intricately carved designs and were featured in numerous expos.
Weinman began taking night drawing classes at Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in the first year of his apprenticeship. Later, he studied drawing at the Art Students League of New York.
Adolph Weinman’s Artistic Career
After school, Weinman found work as an assistant to several sculptors and medalists like Philip Martiny before he opened his own studio. One of Adolph A. Weinman’s first commissions was award medal for the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis in 1904.
One year later, in 1905, Weinman collaborated with elderly Augustus Saint-Gaudens on his inaugural medal for President Roosevelt. Saint-Gaudens employed Weinman to model this medal, resulting in artistic success.
Weinman was one of three sculptors invited by the Commission of Fine Arts to craft and submit designs for a new dime, quarter, and half dollar in 1916. Herman A. MacNeil’s design was chosen for the quarter and Adolph A. Weinman’s designs were selected for the new dime and half dollar.
Adolph A. Weinman’s Iconic Coin Designs
Weinman based his designs on a bust of Elsie Kachel Stevens, wife of writer Wallace Stevens, that he had worked on in 1913. Steven’s likeness was used for the closeup of the Mercury dime and as part of the full figure of Liberty walking on the half dollar.
Adolph A. Weinman’s designs entered circulation in October of 1916 and January of 1917 and enjoyed nearly three full decades of popularity. The Mercury dime was not issued past 1945 and the Walking Liberty half dollar was discontinued after 1947.
Weinman’s Walking Liberty was revived for the American Silver Eagle series in 1986, and it is still featured on the obverse of the Silver Eagle today.
Other Notable Works by Adolph A. Weinman
Weinman’s sculptures can be found in places of prominence across the United States. His sculptures of Abraham Lincoln in Madison, Wisconsin and in Hodgenville, Kentucky are nothing short of austere and lifelike.
Descending Night was a Weinman sculpture commissioned for the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco in 1915 and recreations of this provided him with steady income. Adolph A. Weinman’s work can be found on the Jefferson Memorial, Manhattan Municipal Building, Missouri State Capital, National Archives Building, and in many other places throughout the U.S.A.