United States Mint Chief Engraver Series: Frank Gasparro

Lincoln Memorial Cent, Kennedy Half Dollar, Eisenhower Dollar, Susan B. Anthony Dollar.

This 4-coin resumé alone should be enough to tell you that their designer is one of the most important to have come from American coinage history: Frank Gasparro. Any of his designs may just be sitting in your pocket as literally billions have been circulated within the United States at any given moment.

Frank Gasparro was born in Philadelphia on August 26, 1909, just days after the first Lincoln Cent was produced. The oldest of seven, Gasparro grew to become an apprentice under Giuseppe Donato who was a well-known sculptor. In continuance with his art education, he later joined the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts alongside some of the most prominent artists of his time as well as working overseas mastering a multitude of skills before returning to the United States.

At the age of 32, Gasparro finally settled in at the United States Mint as he was hired as a junior assistant to then Chief Engraver John R. Sinnock in December of 1942.

Frank Gasparro’s Coin Design History

Lincoln Memorial Cent

In December of 1958, President Eisenhower announced a design change for the reverse of the US cent to commemorate the 150th Anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth. A competition was held and 23 total designs submitted, but only Gasparro’s came out on top. After multiple design changes and complaints of Gasparro’s initials featured in the bottom right corner of the building, the new Lincoln Memorial Cent was released in February of 1959 with Frank’s initials still intact. The coin world loved that the US Cent was able to depict the likeness of the same person on each side of the coin. In this case, Lincoln was on the reverse and the obverse for the new design.

Kennedy Half Dollar

Gasparro hired on at the United States Mint during the reigns of John R. Sinnock, but after Sinnock’s passing in 1947, Gilroy Roberts took over and served as Chief Engraver. Roberts eventually retired in 1964 and Gasparro was naturally the next in line and finally became the tenth Chief Engraver of the US Mint in 1965. Before the passing of the torch though came the assassination of then-President John F. Kennedy in November of 1963."

Just a few short hours after the President’s passing, Gilroy Roberts was contacted by the Mint Director for the possibility of depicting Kennedy on a coin. The idea was approved less than a week later and the half dollar was chosen by the preference of Jacqueline Kennedy. While Roberts worked on the obverse of the coin, Gasparro took control of the reverse. The coin overall was inspired by the Kennedy presidential inauguration medal and given the reverse that was similar to that of the Great Seal of the United States. The coin has been in production since 1964 and continues to be produced today.

Eisenhower Dollar

In 1969, the interest in bringing back the dollar coin into circulation was high and with the recent passing of former president Dwight D. Eisenhower, many insisted on commemorating the former Army General. Chief Engraver Gasparro was one of them and was tasked on the creation of the new design meanwhile instructed by Congress to include the commemoration of Apollo 11 on the reverse. The ultimate design was showing an eagle landing on the moon and was modeled after the Apollo 11 mission insignia. The new Eisenhower Dollar was selected and was first minted in 1971.

Kennedy-Eisenhower Connection

President Eisenhower was the first to establish NASA in 1958 and created the Apollo Space Program in 1960. While President Kennedy was in office, he publicly declared his eagerness to become the leader of the space race. Within a decade, Kennedy’s goal to send men to the moon became a reality as Neil Armstrong from Apollo 11 became the first to step foot on the surface on July 20, 1969. Perhaps one of the greatest achievements of man, the 50th Anniversary of the Moon Landing will take place in 2019.

Susan B. Anthony Dollar

With the size of the Eisenhower dollar in question due to resources, the US Mint began playing with numerous ideas for designs for a smaller dollar. Gasparro decided on a rounded coin with 11 sides on the design of the rim. This coin was also to honor Apollo 11 and the 11 sides were to reference the Apollo 11 Goodwill Message.

Gasparro’s original flowing hair design for the smaller dollar on the obverse was initially accepted but was quickly changed to honor Women’s Rights. Susan B. Anthony would then become the face to honor the movement as a leader of the women’s suffrage. Gasparro produced a middle-aged version of her looks and the design was approved after the controversy of a younger and older version was shot down. The same design of the Eisenhower reverse was scaled down to fit the smaller dollar and the Apollo 11 was once again depicted on the US coin. Production started in 1979 and quickly stopped circulating in 1981.

The Susan B. Anthony dollar would be Gasparro’s final coin design before retiring from the United States Mint in January of 1981. He produced a number of other medals and commemorative coins during his time as Chief Engraver. After retirement, Gasparro worked as a teacher until he passed away in September of 2001 at the age of 92.

Source: https://www.usacoinbook.com

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