Dr. Sol Taylor

Chief Engravers of the U.S. Mint, Part 2: 1917-1990

By Dr. Sol Taylor
"Making Cents"
Saturday, January 12, 2008

ohn R. Sinnock was the eighth Chief Engraver of the United States Mint, having been appointed upon the death of George T. Morgan in 1917.
    With many newly designed coins recently entering the market, Sinnock did not get his chance for a new coinage design until the Roosevelt dime in 1946. His initials "JS" appear just below the bust of FDR. Some wild stories circulated at the time that those initials were those of Josef Stalin — pure myth.
    In 1947, when the Franklin half dollar was approved, Sinnock designed the coin featuring, for the first time on a circulating coin, the Liberty Bell.
    In the early part of the 20th Century, coin designs were moving from the classic designs of the 1800s to neo-classic designs of the early 1900s including the Buffalo nickel, Mercury dime, Standing Liberty quarter, Walking Liberty half dollar, the Peace dollar and the new gold coins.
    The first "realist" coin of the century, the Lincoln cent, was the creation of a contract sculptor, Victor D. Brenner. The next realist design, the Washington quarter, came out in 1932 to honor Washington's 200th birthday. The third realist design to replace a neo-classical design was the Jefferson nickel, which came out in 1938 to honor Thomas Jefferson's 200th birthday. Except for Sinnock's two coinage designs, the coins of his era were designed by contract sculptors.
    In 1947, Sinnock died and was replaced by Gilroy Roberts, the ninth Chief Engraver of the U.S. Mint. His best known work was the Kennedy half dollar, which came out in 1964. His monogram "GR" has a slight resemblance, if you look for it, to a hammer and sickle — the logo of the USSR. Again, this assertion was pure myth. He retired in 1964 and became chairman of the new Franklin Mint, a private coinage, medal and currency company in Pennsylvania, where he served until 1971.
    Frank Gasparro, the former assistant engraver at the Mint, became the tenth chief engraver in 1965. He is best known for his Lincoln cent Memorial reverse design which bears his initials, "FG." He also designed the Eisenhower dollar (except the 1976 bicentennial reverse) and the Susan B. Anthony dollar. He is also credited with the reverse design of the Kennedy half dollar. During his tenure, the reverses for the bicentennial coinage — 25 cent, 50 cent and half dollar — were designed by non-Mint employees who won the opportunity in an open competition.
    After Gasparro retired in 1981, Elizabeth Jones became the eleventh and final Chief Engraver of the U.S. Mint. She was also the first woman to hold the post — athough other women previously held the post of Director of the U.S. Mint. A well-known medallist, she applied for the position and was appointed by President Reagan. She served until 1990 when the position was left vacant and eventually abolished. She is best known for her work with the Franklin Mint, Medallic Art Company and the Judaic Heritage Society.
    The current technology renders the position as redundant and obsolete, with computer technology handling the details that once required a skilled engraver's eyes and hands. The Mint still employs a staff of skilled engravers, engineers and die makers, although their role is very different from 50 years ago.
    For more life history of each chief engraver, enter their names in a Google search.

    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.