Dr. Sol Taylor

Chief Engravers of the U.S. Mint, Part 1: 1793-1917

By Dr. Sol Taylor
"Making Cents"
Saturday, January 5, 2008

hen the first United States Mint opened in Philadelphia in 1793, Robert Scot was appointed as its first chief engraver. His role was to design, manufacture and maintain our coinage designs, dies and tools to make and modify our coinage.
    Scot's Liberty head design dominated almost every coin issued during his tenure, which ran from 1793 until his death in 1823. Most denominations, from the half cent to the $5 gold coins, dated from 1794-1807, were of his design. Some of the coins issued during his tenure were designed by his staff members, including Henry Voight and John Reich.
    Scot was succeeded by William Kneass as the second "Chief Engraver of the United States Mint" (the official title). Kneass is best known for his assistant, Christian Gobrecht, whose designs reigned for most of the century. Kneass designed the Capped Liberty head designs of 1829-1838 for the half dime, quarter dollar and $5 gold coin. He suffered a stroke in 1835 and died in 1840. In the interim, his assistant took over the main duties of chief engraver.
    Christian Gobrecht, 1785-1844, served as Chief Engraver from 1840-44. In that short period, he is best known for his silver dollar designs — many of which bear his full name. These pattern dollars are highly prized by collectors today.
    Gobrecht's Seated Liberty design reigned from 1836-91 and included every silver denomination from the half dime to the half dollar except the 20-cent piece. He also designed the half-cent Liberty head of 1840-57, the large cent of 1837-39, the $5 gold coins of 1839-1908 and the $10 gold coin of 1838-66.
    Gobrecht was succeeded by James B. Longacre, best known for his innovative Indian head cent design — actually Miss Liberty with a feather headdress, first issued in 1859. His model was his young daughter Sarah, perhaps the first person actually to pose for a U.S. coin.
    Longacre served as chief engraver from 1844-69. He was the first engraver to include his single initial in the design of a circulating coin: In 1864 a tiny "L" was included in the ribbon holding the headdress. That practice was taken up by all subsequent chief engravers as well as contract engravers.
    Longacre also designed the shield nickel, the two cent piece, the silver and copper-nickel three cent pieces, two of the three $1 gold designs, a $3 gold piece and the first of the $20 gold pieces.
    From 1833-39, Longacre and James Herring published "The National Portrait Gallery of Distinguished Americans," which included portraits and biographical sketches of "the most eminent citizens of our Country."
    William Barber succeeded Longacre in 1869 and served until his death in 1879. His primary coinage designs were limited to the short-lived Trade Dollar of 1873-85 and the very short-lived 20 cent piece. The Seated Liberty image closely followed the current Britannia image on many coins of the Victorian era. He did manage to design numerous pattern pieces for future coinage, and his son, Charles, eventually built a large collection of these unreleased patterns which make up a great portion of the U.S. patterns book by Judd. He was succeeded by his son in 1879.
    Charles E. Barber served as chief engraver from 1879 to 1917. In that period he brought forth a series of coins today known as "Barber" coins, including the "V" nickel of 1883-1913 and the dimes, quarters and half dollars of 1892-1916. The silver coins bear his tiny initial, "B."
    Charles Barber designed the Hawaiian coinage dated 1883 as well as several coins for Cuba and Venezuela. He designed the obverse for the (U.S.) Columbian half dollar, the Lafayette commemorative silver dollar and the Isabella quarter dollar. He also designed numerous patterns for almost every denomination including the $4 Stellas, of which only two types were made and very few exist today.
    His estate revealed more than 200 pattern coins that he designed (including those designed by his father). A complete list can be found online by searching on "Roger W. Burdette," a current numismatic author.
    Charles Barber was most often in the news with his negative views of "outside" designers (those who weren't Mint employees) such as Augustus Saint Gaudens and Victor D. Brenner. He criticized Saint Gaudens' double eagle design and caused various design changes to be made. President Theodore Roosevelt held firm, and the $20 design was put into general production by 1908 and circulated well into the early 1930s.
    Barber objected to the use of Brenner's three initials, "V.D.B.," at the lower reverse of the new one-cent coin of 1909. After only five days of production, Barber got the "VDB" issue stopped and had the initials removed from the dies before resuming production. To pacify Barber, the Lincoln cent went without initials until 1918, after Barber had died. They were replaced in very small, incused letters beneath Lincoln's shoulder and are there to this date.
    Barber was succeeded by his assistant, George T. Morgan, who achieved fame with his earlier design of the Morgan dollar (1878-1904 and 1921). Morgan and Barber also designed various commemorative half dollars.

    Dr. Sol Taylor of Sherman Oaks is president of the Society of Lincoln Cent Collectors and author of The Standard Guide to the Lincoln Cent. Click here for ordering information.