Monday, January 24, 2011

Mint Engraver: James Barton Longacre

This article is taken from

James Barton Longacre was appointed chief engraver of the United States Mint on September 16, 1844, after the death of Christian Gobrecht. He served in the post until his death on January 1, 1869.

Longacre's work was on the: 
Liberty Head used on the 1848 gold $1 and $20
Indian Princess gold $1 and $3 of 1854
Indian Princess pattern silver coins of the late 1860s
two-cent piece
Shield nickel
five-cent pieces of the 1860s
Indian Head cent
This is but a short list, and many other items could be added. In total, Longacre's dies were used on hundreds of different pattern coins and trial pieces.
Through the influence of John C. Calhoun, Longacre was appointed as chief engraver at the Mint on September 16, 1844, to succeed the late Christian Gobrecht. While Gobrecht had been a medalist and coin engraver of high repute, Longacre's experience in the medium of struck pieces was limited or nonexistent. However, he was a talented artist, seems to have learned quickly, and by 1849 created his first major new coinage design, the Liberty Head for the gold dollar and double eagle, this project being quite complex and bringing criticism to the engraver when problems were found with the high relief of the portrait. However, adjustments were made, and the design endured on the double eagle until well into the following century, to 1907.
At the Mint during his tenure, particularly in the late 1850s and through the 1860s, various local engravers assisted him, these including William Barber and Anthony C. Paquet-both of whom became well known-and, less well known, P.F. Cross and William H. Key. The latter had an active business in Philadelphia and produced many store cards, tokens (including many connected with the Civil War series), and medals. Neither Cross nor Key are remembered or cited in the annals of pattern coinage, although no doubt they did some of the work on dies we associate with Longacre.
The chief engraver seems to have had little patience with certain of his associates and superiors in the Mint and thus became involved in several notable disputes. In particular, for a long time he was opposed by Chief Coiner Franklin Peale, who ran his own private business using Mint facilities and who was involved in many shenanigans, until he was fired by President Franklin Pearce in December 1854, after which point Longacre had an easier time.
Longacre remained chief engraver until his death on January 1, 1869.  In 1928 the New York Public Library mounted an exhibit of the work of 100 notable American engravers, including works by Longacre. In October 1985 in The Numismatist, in "Longacre, Unsung Engraver of the U.S. Mint," an article by Tom DeLorey, sketched the biography of this important 19th-century man, an engraver who was misunderstood in his time, but who later became a household word in the numismatic community. The DeLorey text was illustrated by sketches and photographs of patterns, a number of which had not been published earlier.

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