The U.S. Mint, founded in 1792, has been producing and regulating United States currency since its creation and through the centuries, has employed some remarkable designers and engravers. These engravers, or artists, have made a name for themselves in the numismatic world by sculpting unique, one of a kind works of art to be struck on some of the world’s most precious metals. Here is a celebration of just a handful of those men and women who have made a contribution to the world of currency.
Bela Lyon Pratt
A naturally gifted sculptor by record of his mother’s account, Pratt, born in December of 1867 in Connecticut, was a fan of all arts. After engaging in cello, guitar and oboe, the family man would go on to become one of our nation’s greatest contributors on our list of influential engravers.
In 1907, Pratt was commissioned to design a $5 and $2.50 piece that would later go on to become known as the Indian Head and Quarter Gold Eagle. The former (slightly controversial for its time) and the latter were initially received well. Both designs would become well-loved and coveted items to numismatists and enthusiasts alike.
The creator of the Double Eagle was a renowned sculptor during the American Renaissance era. An Irish born immigrant, Saint-Gaudens would go on to apprentice under a cameo-cutter until the age of 19. Upon this time, he returned to Europe to further study and perfect his craft. At the turn of the 20th century, he would then be hand selected by President Theodore Roosevelt to design what would be known as one of the most beautiful coins in United States history.
Adolph A. Weinman
Born in Germany in the latter of the 19th century before immigrating to the US at the age of 14, American sculptor, Weinman, once studied with Saint-Gaudens at the Art Students League of New York. Remembered for his works such as Descending Night and Civic Fame, Weinman would become known for the Walking Liberty, featured on the half dollar from 1916-1947 along with the Mercury dime and various medals in which he was commissioned by the Armed Services.
James Earle Fraser
Particularly famous for his End of the Trail sculpture, Fraser pulled memories from his childhood on the frontier in Minnesota. While these life experiences were expressed in numerous works seen throughout Fraser’s career, many would argue his greatest contribution to his craft and United States history is the 1913 Indian Head nickel. A prominent bust of an American Indian profile featured on the obverse and an American bison on the reverse, the coin would be produced from 1913-1938.
James Barton Longacre
The 4th Chief Engraver of the United States Mint, Longacre held his position from 1844 until his death in 1869. The successor, Gorbracht, began his career as a portraitist after apprenticing at an engraving firm. Fifteen years after being appointed his last position, Longacre would design the Indian Head cent, his greatest contribution to the Mint and certainly his best-known work. Though the cent would be comprised of the same obverse, two reverses would be designed and put into circulation, the laurel wreath and the oak wreath with shield atop.
While this is merely a handful, there are many more men and women who deserve recognition for their artistic contributions to numismatics and the United States Mint. For more information or inquiries, please visit any Bellevue Rare Coins location in the Greater Seattle Area.
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