- Augustus Saint-Gaudens
- Robert Scot
- Christian Gobrecht
- Charles E. Barber
- George T. Morgan
People collect rare coins for many reasons, including their historical significance and beautiful designs. Behind each rare coin stands a talented designer who left his lasting mark on the world, with hard currency that continues to increase in value today. In many instances, the coin designers worked at the United States Mint, while others were esteemed artists of their time. Let’s explore the fascinating history of the five most famous coin designers in the United States.
Born in Ireland in 1848, the son of a shoemaker, Augustus Saint-Gaudens grew up in New York City. After showing an early interest in art, by the late 1890s, Saint-Gaudens became one of the best-known and influential sculptors of his day.
In 1905, after viewing an exhibit of Greek coins at the Smithsonian, President Theodore Roosevelt was inspired to revamp the U.S. Gold Eagle ($10) piece and the Double Eagle ($20) gold coin. Roosevelt commissioned Saint-Gaudens to redesign and elevate these important early American U.S. gold coins into beautiful works of art. Experts widely agree that he succeeded. Saint-Gaudens played an outsized role in the development and beautification of early American coinage
The Saint-Gaudens “Double Eagle,” is considered today by many to be the most magnificent and sought-after U.S. coin of the 20th century. The Double Eagle is highly prized by collectors and has both intrinsic “rarity” value and vast appeal due to its alluring beauty.
Robert Scot was the first Chief Engraver of the U.S. Mint. Scot was born in Scotland in 1745. After immigrating to America, he began his career engraving plates for Virginia currency banknotes. In 1781, Scot moved to Philadelphia with his family. He set up an engraving shop on the corner of Vine and Front Street.
In 1793, our young nation began to lay its groundwork—construction started on the Capitol building, and the office of Chief Engraver of the United States Mint was also created that year.
After the intended first Chief Engraver, Joseph Wright lost his life to Yellow Fever, George Washington appointed Robert Scot to replace him.
Scot’s early designs include the Flowing Hair silver dollar and the Liberty Cap half-cent. In 1795 Scot created the designs for the first gold coin of the U.S. Mint, with one design featuring a drapery for Lady Liberty. This design was then continued later on with the Draped Bust silver half dollar. In 1796, Robert Scot introduced the Heraldic Eagle reverse, which notably was a modification of The Great Seal of the United States. Today, the Heraldic Eagle still appears on many coins, ensuring Scot’s legacy lives on.
Christian Gobrecht was born in 1785 in Hanover, PA. As a young man, he apprenticed with a watchmaker and learned engraving. By 1811, Gobrecht was living in Philadelphia engraving bank notes and dies. Initially, his role was as an engraver at the U.S. Mint and eventually, he became the third Chief Engraver. He held the latter position from 1840 until 1844.
Gobrecht had a profound impact on early coinage in the United States. In 1836, Gobrecht designed his most famous work, the 1836 Flying Eagle Dollar. Today, collectors call this the Gobrecht dollar, and it is considered the basis for most of the Liberty Seated coinage that was created over the next 55 years. From half-cent copper coins to $10 gold pieces, Gobrecht’s designs were featured on nearly every denomination of coinage.
Charles E. Barber
Charles E. Barber, born in 1840, served as the sixth Chief Engraver of the United States, from 1879 until his passing in 1917. Barber had a long and prolific career as a coin designer. His best-known coin designs are the Liberty Head coins — Barber dime, Barber quarter, and Barber half dollar, as well as the “V” Liberty Head nickel.
Barber also designed the infamous $4 Stella “Flowing Hair” piece. In 1879, Congress authorized the U.S. Mint to produce a small test run of $4 gold coins so that Congressmen could review them and consider a proposal for a coin that could be used in international trade. Barber created a design that featured a portrait of Liberty facing left with long, flowing hair on the obverse, known today as the Flowing Hair type.
While the quest for an international coin failed and none of these pattern coins ever became a regular issue, collectors then and for generations have coveted these illustrious coins. After the limited run was produced, rumors surrounded the Stellas. While it was said that no coin collector could obtain a Stella from the U.S. Mint, the Congressman who had received the special order apparently used them as gifts and perhaps even payment. It was said that these great works of numismatic art were seen in special necklaces adorning the bosoms of Washington’s top madams, whose brothels were said to be patronized by those same congressmen.
George T. Morgan
George T. Morgan, born in England in 1845 ultimately became the seventh Chief Engraver of the United States Mint in 1917. Morgan is most famous for one of the most iconic designs in the history of U.S. coinage: the widely loved Morgan silver dollar.
The venerable Morgan silver dollar is one of the most popular coins in the numismatic community today. Nearly one billion Morgan silver dollar coins were minted from 1878 through 1921. The silver dollar was created to coin the metal mined from the enormous silver lodes that had been discovered in Nevada. While the first Morgan silver dollars were minted at the Carson City Mint from 1878 to 1893, others were produced in Denver in 1924 and in New Orleans from 1879-1904. Both Philadelphia and San Francisco minted the coins throughout their history.
There is rich and dramatic history for Morgan silver dollar collectors. Over 270 million Morgan silver dollars met their fate in the melting pot under the provisions of the Pittman Act of 1918. The U.S. government ordered this dramatic move to save Great Britain from a banking collapse and may have also helped the Allies win the war.
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